Anson on Thursday: The Winery in the Desert

In this week's column, Jane Anson sees the vineyards at the Bardenas national park, where Bordeaux varieties are growing in desert conditions. Vines growing in the Bardenas desertThis week, Game of Thrones is filming its sixth series in the Bardenas National Park. My guess is that not many of the 8 million viewers, or even the 1,200 extras drafted in for filming, will have heard of this UNESCO-protected, semi-arid, desert in Navarra, northwest Spain. But for those who have, the choice makes perfect sense.
The desolate landscape of the 42,000-hectare Bardenas Reales could be in Mexico, Nevada, Egypt, Tunisia, Mars… (or even Essos, Game of Thrones fans). Single-footstep roads lead you to canyons, plateaus and sun-baked rocky crags rising out of the sand. It is hard to believe that this martian landscape, whipped by wind and wearing away, sits just over an hour from the fertile Pyrénées Mountains. A link of Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns have been filmed here, as has a recent Duniya Soori Bollywood musical and a host of Spanish thrillers.
If you want to explore it for yourself, there is only one hotel that gets you really close. The Aires de Bardenas sits just back from the dusty footstep that leads into the park. It is as stark and dreamlike as the surrounding badlands, with ancient fruit crates forming the outer walls of the carpark and swimming pool. And if you head just a small further along, as the desert landscape takes over and the cracks in the sun-parched earth start to widen ominously, there is a vineyard.
The first time I saw it was a ‘slam-on-the-brakes’ moment. Vines are, as we all know, hardy and stubborn plants. They like to grow where additional shrubbery takes flight. But few places bring this home more brutally than seeing them thriving and healthy on the edge of the Bardenas desert. Read more