Culture Call: The Five Best Places to Visit in La Rioja, Spain

Culture Call: The Five Best Places to Visit in La Rioja, Spain

This province of northern Spain home to a handful of sleepy, sun-baked villages laced with streams and world-renowned vineyards, all hemmed in by medieval walls crumblier than over-baked croquetas. Planning a summer trip to La Rioja? Make the most of the area with these five great villages and hotel recommendations.

familiar with the wine, but have you visited the terroir? While
plenty flock to the cooler French province of Champagne or spend
summer sizzling in Bordeaux or popping corks in Italian Prosecco
vineyards, what of La Rioja, Spain’s foremost wine region? We like to think
of it as Europe’s underdog – home to a handful of sleepy,
sun-baked villages, hemmed in by medieval walls crumblier than
over-baked croquetas and sheltered by the sublime Cantabria
Mountains. Pour yourself a glass and settle down: we’ve trawled
through the vines and picked out the five best villages to visit in
La Rioja.

Keen to soak up Spain’s La Rioja province? Here are five of the
best villages to visit.



Why we can’t wait to visit again: Most people
stay in nearby Haro. Not us. Every year Haro hosts a “wine battle”
(Batalla de Vino), during which bottles of red in their thousands
are chucked and sprayed all over the place – a thoroughly Spanish answer to champagne showers. Yes, it
might look like a quaint, by-the-book Spanish town thanks to its
protection as a site of cultural heritage, but there’s mischief to be
had in the rowdy tapas bars which spill out onto Haro’s tiled
streets. It’s a great place to spend the day, but we’ll bed down in
Briñas, if only to play the contrarian. This village is as
dastardly kitsch as they come – signposted by a dusty spire, licked
by a gently tumbling river and wrapped in vineyards.

Where we’re staying: Hospedería Señorío de Briñas

Before you go: Get into the swing of things
with a virtual tasting courtesy of Dalston’s Newcomer



Why we can’t wait to visit again: We’re going
to stretch out those lockdown legs by walking the length of the Oja
River, visiting Hispano-Flemish-style parish churches and ticking
off all the romantic bridges we can find. Thanks to Excaray’s
slightly higher altitude in the foothills of the Demanda Mountains,
Ezcaray is known for producing top-quality vegetables, dairy and
livestock. Accordingly, its restaurants don’t disappoint. You’ll
want to huddle around a barrel at El Rincón del Vino with a bottle
or two. Ezcaray is technically on the cusp of the Basque Country, but it’s just on the border so
we’re squeezing it into a La Rioja trip anyway.

Where we’re staying: Echaurren Hotel Gastronómico

Before you go: Grab a copy of Jon Bonne’s
The New Wine Rules, a refreshingly unfussy
etiquette guide for discerning wine drinkers



Why we can’t wait to visit again: We’re suckers
for some Frank Gehry architecture and this unassuming town is home
to his first-ever venture into hotel design – the Hotel Marqués de
Riscal. It bears all the curvy metal sheets and swooping wooden
struts you might recognise from the Fondation Louis Vuitton in
Paris or the Guggenheim Museum not far away in Bilbao. There are
plenty of historical marvels to ogle in this town, too. For
instance, the Church of San Andrés and the 17th-century hermitage
of the Virgen de la Plaza. Time your visit right, towards the
beginning of September, and you might just catch the rowdy Virgen
de la Plaza festival where people jig to music thrashed out on
tabours and pipes of yore. We suggest you schedule a couple of
early evening wine tastings before hitting ye olde

Where we’re staying: Hotel Marqués de Riscal

Before you go: Flick through Green Architecture for an overview of the 21st
century’s most prolific, eco-conscious architects – Frank Gehry



Why we can’t wait to visit again: We’re
dreaming of Entrena’s herbaceous wild gardens, but if you’re the type who is, er,
horticulturally challenged, the USPs of this village might be lost
on you. Between the vines and in the patches of greenery that sprout
among the village’s hefty medieval foundations, you’ll catch a
glimpse (and a whiff) of wild rosemary, thyme and pointy
restharrow. Hardcore gardening nerds will also be interested to
learn that the village’s market gardens are irrigated by the River
Antiguo which meanders around Entrena. On a map, this old fortress
town resembles a bisected onion – lots of wibbly-wobbly concentric
circles – but that’s simply a case of eccentric, 11th-century urban
planning. Confused? You’ll understand when you get there.

Where we’re staying: Finca de los Arandinos Bodega

Before you go: Rustle up a few dishes from
Monika Linton’s Brindisa cookbook, which contains regional
recipes from provinces all over Spain. Spoiler alert: it’s not just



Why we can’t wait to visit again: We’re long
overdue for a city break and Logroño is the provincial capital
of La Rioja. This is La Rioja, so you won’t find a
bells-and-whistles, drive-thru McDonald’s or a 24-hour bubble-tea
café. Still, it has a little more verve than the region’s wisened
old villages. From about midday to midnight, the tinkling of
half-full rioja glasses and lively chatter ricochet around its
ochre-tinged, medieval streets. It’s a place for energised
wine-lovers, not those prone to deep slumber after a couple of
glasses. Curious as to why there are so many backpack-laden, pole-toting walkers around?
They’re likely to be pilgrims tackling the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route; Logroño is a
popular pit-stop.

Where we’re staying: Hotel Calle Mayor

Before you go: Get to know the sculptural work
of Óscar Cenzano. His studios are based in Logroño.

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