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A dramatic change in landscape marks the journey to Rioja Alavesa. Winding away from the Cantabrian coastline towards the sprawling vineyards of wine country, the road carves a sinuous trail between valleys and ash-coloured mountains. The scent of fermenting grapes hangs thick in the air; follow your nose, aim for one of these contemporary hotels and sample the best of the region’s red wine.
HOW TO GET THERE: Driving is the only option.
HOTEL MARQUÉS DE RISCAL Calle Torrea, 1, 01340 Elciego, Álava, Araba
Turning into the driveway of this remarkable building is sure to bring the extra-terrestrial to mind; sweeping curves of purple titanium contrast vividly with the deep green hues of nearby valleys and vineyards. Frank O. Gehry, the architect who gave Bilbao the Guggenheim, is the man behind this alien creation.
The hotel’s 43 rooms are divided between the main house and the spa wing – the rooms in the main house showcase dramatic angles and overlook the village, while those by the spa have views over the wine fields. All are appropriately sleek and modern, fitted with Gehry’s cloud lampshades and cavernous black marble bathrooms. The Caudalie spa has an indoor pool and practices vinotherapy, using the natural healing properties of grapes in their wraps, scrubs, baths and massages. It’s worth stopping of here even if you don’t stay the night (rooms are expensive and prices rise with demand.)
Take a tour around the winery that dates back to 1858, making it the oldest in La Rioja. Sample one of their own vintage bottles at the wine bar – they are reasonably priced and make great presents – or as an accompaniment to a meal in their excellent Michelin-starred restaurant. Spend an afternoon enjoying the earthy local fare of the 14-course tasting menu (€85/£67). Highlights include a delicious starter of langoustine, avocado, quinoa and white garlic and a main of glacéed lamb with ginger and roasted red onion. Rooms from £235 per night
HOTEL VIURA Calle Mayor, s/n, 01307 Villabuena de Álava, Araba
Ten minutes down the road, a winding trail leads to the pretty village of Villabuena de Álava and another architectural marvel.In the heart of wine country, Hotel Viura was inspired by a bunch of grapes, but takes the form of a jumble of colourful cubes. While Gehry’s creation stands out dramatically from its environment, this hotel goes some way towards blending in; the main building is cut into the side of a rock and glass walls bring the views of the village inside. An ideal choice for couples, here cutting-edge designs meet natural beauty and cool, understated elegance.
The 33 rooms continue in the same vein, with polished concrete floors, a cream palette and glowing white cube lamps that also function as bedside tables. Beds are incredibly comfortable and the oversized power showers are divine. Be sure to head to the sail-covered roof terrace with white lounge sofas and views over the 14th-century church to the mountains behind. The lobby also has an interesting collection of design books, daily papers and a small exhibition space. In the summer, guests have access to the local village pool.
Meals are served in the basement restaurant, which ofers an impressive range of fish and local meat. Come sundown, it’s all about the wine bar that spills out into the village square. Ask the accommodating staff for advice and spend an evening shooting the breeze over a bottle of Rioja red. Rooms from £86 per night
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