Discovering There Is More To Rioja Than Wine…

La Rioja was the biggest surprise on my tour of Northern Spain. So many Irish holidaymakers travel to Spanish cities and coastal resorts, but rarely to the countryside. I visited Chianti in Tuscany many times and loved it. Was there more to Rioja than wine?

 

After spending 48 hours in Bilbao, we took the short one hour drive to La Rioja. This was our second stop on our road trip through the Basque Country. It wasn’t long before the landscape changed. Although Rioja is one of Spain’s smallest regions, it is also one of the most diverse. We were surrounded by colourful vineyards, rolling hills, snow capped mountains and pretty villages. It was late October and the autumnal leaves were a kaleidoscope of colours.  We stopped in the old towns of Haro, Cellórigo and Sajazarra and I was genuinely struck at how beautiful this region was. Sajazarra is home to a 14th century castle and a 12th century church, which we literally stumbled upon. The town is filled with ancient walls and quaint bodegas offering wine tasting. I was in heaven.

We stayed in the fabulous Teatrisso hotel in the pretty town of Cuzcurrita del Rio Tíron. Once a 16th century farmhouse, it was a theatre, a cinema and home to the Italian army during the war. It lay empty until 2011 when an enterprising couple, Laura and Jose decided to make it their home. When we arrived we were greeted by Laura, who personally showed us around her hotel, I was immediately captivated. If only the thick stone walls could talk, I was sure there would be some stories to tell. The restoration is superb and the modern furnishings seem to fit in perfectly. Our rooms were stunning and equipped with quirky but attractive furniture. We were guests in their house but with all the comforts of a five star hotel. They even have an ‘honest bar’ where you help yourself and write down what drinks you have had. Prices were extremely good too!

Discovering Rioja

We went for a stroll around the village which didn’t take long. It is typical of many of the villages in La Rioja, picture perfect, but small. We ate in the only restaurant open in town, Asadoraker. Another family run business with home cooked food and nice wine – just what we wanted.

The next day we decided to try some wine tasting. Laura kindly booked us into the local bodega, Bohedal, and off we went. Bohedal is a small family run winery producing 100,000 bottles of wine each year. They offer a tour of their wine cellar as well as wine tasting. The personal attention was fantastic and I can honestly say I learned so much in our tasting session. I found myself smelling the chocolate, leather and pepper aromas and by the end of our wine tasting I could tell the difference between Romanian, American and French oak barrels. I was seriously impressed!

They even got the kids involved. Alex and Luke we allowed taste various grape juices while we tasted the wine! Depending on the time of year you visit, children can help crush or pick the grapes. They can also paint their own wine labels and cork their own bottles. They offer many seasonal experiences too, from Mothers and Fathers day treats to cookery classes.

Discovering Rioja
All good things must come to an end though and our time in La Rioja was over. What we saw was just a sample of what the region has to offer on a quick over night stop, and I loved it. There is so much to do here, I would suggest staying at least a week and exploring the region entirely. La Rioja is known for its old towns, wineries and culinary delights but it offers so much more. You can walk the Camino de Santigao, go skiing in Valdezcaray, play golf at Rioja Alta Golf Cub or even try hot air ballooning over the vineyards! I am also told the towns of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Logroño are ‘must see’ towns. I guess l’ll just have to come back!

Next stop San Sebastian 🍴

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Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery