La Rioja: a road trip around towns, wines and landscapes
I always had the image of those vineyards with the colors of autumn in my head. La Rioja, that Spanish region so close to Madrid, was throughout these months a stone’s throw away for a perfect weekend getaway.
But I decided to leave it for the end of our motorhome trip since it would be the month of November and by that time all those large tracts of land would be in their maximum splendor of colors. And I was not wrong.
In this article, I am going to propose a small weekend road trip to leave you with more desire to discover the different corners that La Rioja has to offer. And everything starts in Logroño, capital of the autonomous community.
LOGROÑO, CAPITAL OF LA RIOJA
As a worthy capital, Logroño prides itself on its delicious cuisine and of course, its wine. There are many places where you can enjoy your meal but perhaps the most typical place is along its small Laurel street, where bars after bars offer each a different specialty, and where at night it fills up with life.
There are around 60 bars that offer the possibility of traveling through the local cuisine and trying migas, champis, matrimonios, among other delicacies. The origin of the street name comes from something a little away from gastronomy: there was a time when in that street the prostitutes lived and worked, and in order to warn of their availability, they hung a branch of laurel on the balcony.
But before filling the stomach, the ideal thing is to walk around this beautiful city, very easy to retrace on foot, to discover its rich architectural and cultural history. Logroño was always recognized as an important junction on the Camino de Santiago, and Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge), built in 1884, is the “gateway” to the city.
Another unmissable enclave is the Cathedral of Santa María de la Redonda (Redonda means Round in Spanish), with its twin towers. It is neither round nor its towers are equals since one is a few meters higher than the other.
Its name comes from the previous building built in the place: a Romanesque round church. The Cathedral and its towers are a clear example of the classic Riojan architecture that can be found in other towns of La Rioja, such as Haro or Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
But I’m not going to bore you with hard data that you can find in Wikipedia, but I rather prefer to tell you about the sensations of traveling through this region, that’s why I’m going to talk about …
ELCIEGO, HOME OF THE FAMOUS MARQUÉS DE RISCAL WINERIES
Since I saw a photo of the Marqués de Riscal Wineries on the internet, Elciego happened to be within my destinations to visit in Spain. That architectural wonder of the Canadian genius Frank Gehry, responsible for works such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or the Prague Dancing House, contrasts very strongly with its surroundings, and at the same time mixes with its colors.
The aim of the architect was to find in these curvilinear forms the graces of the wine, its joy, and its different colors -titanium rose (in allusion to red wine), gold (the mesh that covers the Riscal bottles) and silver (the capsule that covers the cork stopper) -. The materials used for its construction are not accidental either since they represent metal, glass, and wood, all elements that are present in a wine bottle.
In a first impression, this piece of architecture is hard to understand, it is a big visual impact, and it confuses you if you compare it with its 11th Century surroundings (when there is written documentation of Elciego for the first time).
But as its author says, it is a work that needs time to settle, perhaps like wine itself. And as you walk away from it and appreciate it from a few meters back, precisely from the vineyards of the winery, everything begins to make more sense and the work is revealed before our eyes as a modern wonder that plays with the surrounding lands.
And we see it like this:
The best way to know the history of the Marques de Riscal winery that dates back to 1858, and is, therefore, the oldest winery in La Rioja Alavesa, is through a delicious two-hour tour of its interior.
And I say and remark delicious because for 12 euros, in addition to understanding the whole complex wine process, we can taste two wonderful wines from the winery, one white and one red.
Children are welcome on this excursion, and instead of tasting wine, they will taste a grape juice. But for greater enjoyment, I recommend dividing the tasks between you and your partner and visiting the winery at different times, since children will definitely get bored listening to how the winery was born, how the fruit turns into a bottle, and so on.
But wine lovers will enjoy it without hesitation.
ELCIEGO, ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TOWNS IN SPAIN
But behind that architectural work by Frank Gehry, there is a town. And a very beautiful one indeed. Elciego was one of the most “vivid” Spanish small towns that we were fortunate enough to visit.
Unfortunately, Spain is usually full of small abandoned towns or with just fifteen inhabitants (have you read the article from Cabañas del Castillo? Read it here), so Elciego was a very pleasant surprise.
It is true that we arrived during “El día del pincho” – The Tapas Day- (how lucky we are, right?), but it looked like a very happy and young town (I would also be happy if my town was surrounded by vineyards).
So in addition to enjoying its beautiful architecture, we could delight our palates, tasting a different tapa in each bar (and a glass of wine … it was a rather dizzy night after this tapas-wine tour and the winery tour).
NÁJERA, A CHARMING LITTLE TOWN IN LA RIOJA
We continue our tour of La Rioja with the municipality of Nájera and its beautiful natural environment.
Nájera is one of those Spanish places that are worth visiting, even if it is only to walk through its streets one lazy afternoon. Its natural environment makes it a must-see in La Rioja: crossed by the river Najerilla and sheltered by several peaks that do not exceed the 700 meters in height.
If you look through its narrow streets you can see the orange hills dominating the heights that give a very particular aspect to the place.
Among its most outstanding buildings is the Convent of Santa Elena, whose 17th-century church is the only part that can be visited. If you go up a street near the Convent, you get to the castle viewpoint from where you get a very nice view of Nájera and its beautiful natural environment.
Other must-see places of La Rioja that we left for a second trip are Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Haro, Ezcaray and San Millán de la Cogolla.
But as we always say: nothing better than going slow, enjoying each place, trying to breathe the place and not doing the “cover as much as possible” routine, and leaving places to see so that you always want to return.
La Rioja is a Spanish region better known for its oenological and gastronomic activity than for its natural and architectural charm.
And the charm is something you will find in every corner, so a route through this part of Spain is highly recommended, even if you are not a wine lover, especially in autumn, when nature overflows with colors and the weather accompanies with many days of sunshine but without the heat of summer.
Remember you can check other magical Spanish places in this article: 5 Natural Wonders in Spain to disconnect.
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