The official guide to Pamplona, its Fiesta and the Running of the Bulls

The Mayor of Pamplona, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, Orson Welles’s daughter, the only English bullfighter, the greatest American and Spanish bull-runners… there is no other guide to Pamplona in the English language.

The most dangerous event in the world takes place in the middle of its biggest party. Every morning at 8am, from July 7th to July 14th, a herd of fighting bulls are stampeded through the streets of Pamplona during its Feria of San Fermín, the Spanish Fiesta, which over a million people attend every year. This is the guide to surviving – and enjoying – Fiesta, both in the encierro’– the ‘bull-run’ – and outside of it (and includes information on what to do for the other 358 days of the year in the city.)

With a foreword from the Mayor of Pamplona, this the only official guide to the city in English. It also contains contributions by John Hemingway, grandson of Nobel-prize winning author Ernest Hemingway – who made Pamplona world famous – and a memoir by Beatrice Welles of her first visit there with her father, Orson Welles, producer, director, writer and star of the greatest film ever made ‘Citizen Kane’. It includes chapters on how to run by ‘Buffalo’ Bill Hillmann – the best young American runner – and why to run by Joe Distler – the greatest American runner ever – and photos by veteran EPA photographer Jim Hollander from his half-century of experience in Pamplona.

The book has been co-authored and edited by the award-winning English author and travel writer – and former bullfighter – Alexander Fiske-Harrison whose book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight was a finalist for the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year 2011, the world’s oldest – and richest – sports’ writing prize.

It also has advice pages from the very greatest Spanish and Basque runners: Julen Madina Ayerbe, Miguel Angel Eguiluz Lopez, Jokin Zuasti Urbano and Josechu Lopez Jimeno – with over 10,000 runs between them… there simply is no other guide book.

It includes links to the most important bull-running videos, hotel and travel information and booking sites, Spanish phrasebook and details of other, smaller bull-runs throughout Europe. Includes additional photos by award-winning Spanish photographers Nicolás Haro and Carlos Cazalis.

Out now on Amazon (US) – click here – for Amazon UK, click here, for Amazon Australia, click here, for Amazon Canada, click here and similarly for Spain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, China, Japan, India



How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona


Alexander Fiske-Harrison

With contributions by  John Hemingway

Joe Distler, Bill Hillmann

& photography by Jim Hollander


With a Foreword from the Mayor of Pamplona

And a brief memoir from Beatrice Welles, on her father Orson
Nothing like it on Earth: San Fermín is carried into the streets (Jim Hollander)
Nothing like it on Earth: San Fermín is carried into the streets (Jim Hollander)

Introduction by Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Editor

Sitting in the Plaza de Castillo, the main square, of Pamplona in April you’d never know what was going to happen to the town in three months’ time. Sat at these same tables at Café Iruña ninety years ago Ernest Hemingway watched it happen and wrote it best of all: “At noon of Sunday July 6th the festival exploded, there is no other way to describe it.”

Each July a million people descend on Navarre’s capital city for the feria of San Fermín, a city whose normal population is less than 200,000. There are many great festivals in the world – the Samba-pulsed abandonment of Carnival in Rio, the beer-strewn Bavarianism of Oktoberfest in Munich, the Jazz-ridden saunter of Mardi Gras in New Orleans – but only in one does each day begin with a stampeding herd of Spanish fighting bulls charging down its main streets, accompanied by, or sometimes carrying impaled on their horns, the very brave, the very foolish, the very drunk and, along with them the few who know what they are doing because of one simple reason: they do it time and time again.

There are hundreds of ferias each year in Spain and they almost all involve bulls, but there is only one Feria del Toro, and that is San Fermín in Pamplona. The largest bulls in the country are brought here and, in an age-old tradition, every day from July 7th until July 14th, they are released from their corrals at 8a.m. and run along a fenced off pathway up the steep calle Santo Domingo, across the Plaza de Ayuntiamento, along calle de los Mercaderes, round the hard perpendicular corner called la curva, then down calle Estafeta, around another slightly gentler curve called telefonos, down into the entry tunnel of the bullring across the callejón, the bullfighters’ service ‘alleyway’ round the ring, and onto the sand where their attention is caught by men with capes, many of whom are former bullfighters themselves, and who take them safely into the corrals within the ring.

In a mere half mile, 800-odd metres – sometimes run in less than two minutes by the cattle, sometimes terrifyingly, agonisingly, longer, should they separate and become as dangerous as only a suelto, a ‘loose’ bull can be – this city defines itself.

The bulls crest the curve of calle Estafeta (Photo: Jim Hollander)

When I first came to Pamplona in 2009, I was writing a larger book on the world of the bulls of Spain, and had been in the ring myself with some two-year-old animals – small, quarter-ton beasts used for training by the bullfighters. After that, a great professional matador called Juan José Padilla promised to show me how to run. However, he dropped out (in fairness to the now famously one-eyed Padilla, he had been gored in a bullfight a few days before) and I arrived on my own without the faintest idea of what to do – there was not a single guide book at the time which told me what to expect and how to survive it.

Hemingway, who never ran the bulls himself, wrote his first, strikingly beautiful novel set here, The Sun Also Rises, titled Fiesta in the UK, and two good non-fiction books on the bulls, Death In The Afternoon and The Dangerous Summer. I read all three, and, to put it bluntly – and putting my vast literary respect for Hemingway to one side – they were about as much use as a violin in a gunfight.

Despite this, I took an afternoon train from Barcelona, checked into a hotel near the entry point to the encierro – the bull-run – picked up what was missing from my ‘uniform’ of white shirt, trousers and trainers: a red sash for my waist and red neckerchief for my throat, and went and had a drink with an American friend, an amateur bullfighter from the New York City Club Taurino, and he told me what I was going to face, and I’ve given you the chapter of my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, which describes what happened next.

So, if you’ve never fought a bull and have no bullfighting friends yourself, how the hell are you meant to deal with this madness and come out alive? The thought has gone through my head many times, even as I ran bulls again and again and fought larger and larger ones, culminating in killing a three-year-old weighing a third of a ton. (If that grates on your ethics: wait. There’s more on that to come, and not all of it pro-bullfighting. There’s no propaganda here.)

So, this year, a group of us came together – all the rest being people who know Pamplona far better than I – and we’ve produced this little book.

In training from an early age (Photo: Jim Hollander)
In training from an early age (Photo: Jim Hollander)

I am a British writer and broadcaster, who has run bulls, fought bulls, written books on bulls and talked about them from the The Times of London to The New York Times to The Hindustan Times in India, the BBC to CNN to Al-Jazeera. I am author of the bullfighting blog, The Last Arena and edit The Pamplona Post.

John Hemingway is, like his grandfather Ernest, an author (including of Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir.) Hemingway senior may have ‘discovered’ Pamplona for the English-speaking world ninety years ago, but John remains the only member of his family to have ever run with the bulls.

Joe Distler is, as well as being a lecturer in English literature from New York, the greatest non-Spanish bull-runner of all time and the only recorded person to run every encierro in Pamplona (that’s eight each San Fermín) from 1967 to 2012 – that’s 368 runs in Pamplona alone (he also contributed a chapter on running in other towns in Appendix II.)

Bill Hillmann is a Chicago Golden Gloves-winning boxer – Hemingway’s old sport in Hemingway’s old town – Chicago Tribune journalist and author, and one of the most experienced young English-speaking bull-runners on the streets today.

Jim Hollander came here to run before any of us in 1962, and, although he gave up running after a fatally grim year in ’77 which he describes below and has photographed every encierro since, taking time off from his day job everywhere from warzones in the Middle East to the Olympics in London as senior photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), to whom we owe a great debt of thanks for allowing us to republish so many of their back catalogue of Jim’s photos. He also authored the photographic book Run To The Sun: Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermín.

I have also translated words of advice from four of the most noted bull-runners of Pamplona and the rest of Spain – with over ten thousand encierros of experience between them – as none of the writing I have ever read on the subject in English has asked these men what they think, or represented their views and their hard – indeed bloodily – earned wisdom.

So we four Anglo-Saxon – as the Spanish call us – writers are balanced by Julen Madina from San Sebastián, Miguel Ángel Eguiluz from Pamplona, Jokin Zuasti from Pamplona and Josechu Lopez from Cuéllar. (And to counterbalance Jim Hollander, there are some photos from Nicolás Haro from Seville, my frequent collaborator, photographer for my book Into The Arena, and whose family, Fernández de Córdoba, used to breed fighting bulls themselves.)

There was one other great American who was often seen in Pamplona, Orson Welles, the titan of cinema who produced, wrote, directed and starred in perhaps the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane. I have included his daughter Beatrice’s account to me of the first time she accompanied her father here. (And to maintain my Anglo-Spanish balance, as you can see above, we began with a foreword from the Mayor of Pamplona)

My own final introductory words of advice are simple: if you want to guarantee you’ll survive running the bulls, stay off the street and watch it from a balcony. There’s a great deal more to Spain’s ultimate fiesta, ‘feast’, than defying your own fear of death, or proving you don’t have one to everyone else. If that is what you are out to do, then, in the words of our friend Larry Belcher – Texan rodeo champion turned bull-runner extraordinaire – “strap on your back-pack and get the hell out of Dodge.”

So, come to Pamplona, raise a glass, step a dance, meet a person you’ll love, lose one who didn’t love you, but whatever you do, don’t take the moments after the rocket goes off at 8 a.m. any less seriously than you would your own funeral.

AFH, Ed.

Pamplona, Easter, 2014

Out now on Amazon (US) – click here – for Amazon UK, click here, for Amazon Australia, click here, for Amazon Canada, click here and similarly for Spain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, China, Japan, India

The saddest day - the pobre de mí, ‘poor me’ – at the Ayuntiamento which marks the end of Fiesta at midnight on July 14th (Photo: Jim Hollander)
The saddest day – the pobre de mí, ‘poor me’ – at the Ayuntiamento which marks the end of Fiesta at midnight on July 14th (Photo: Jim Hollander)

Out now at Amazon – US here, UK here, Australia here, Canada here, Spain here, France here, Mexico here (all other regions available too.)