Many wine lovers don’t realize that the famous Rioja wine is from a region called La Rioja in northern Spain, which lies just above Portugal. It’s the rainiest area in Spain, and the province has stunning scenery, with green rolling hills, mystical forests, and rugged mountains. Visiting La Rioja is like taking a step back in time — much of Northern Spain has been untouched by tourism and its people live a traditional lifestyle in ancient villages. There are hundreds of wineries that you can visit throughout the region, many which are centuries old. Here’s the lowdown on La Rioja:
La Rioja is known for its Rioja, which is a musky red wine with a deep fruity flavor. It’s primarily a red wine, although it can also be made with the region’s white grapes. Most wineries, known as bodegas, have their own secret formula for the production of the Rioja. Many of the bodegas in the area are hundreds of years old and have been passed down through family generations. Rioja is best paired with beef or blue cheeses such as Stilton or Fourme d’Ambert.
There are over 500 bodegas in the region, split across three main zones; the Alavesa, Alta and Baja. Each zone produces Rioja with a distinct flavor, thanks to the differing altitude of the zones. It’s a large region, so if you’ve only got a week or two, it’s best to focus on just one of the zones. The region’s ‘wine capital’ is an area called Haro, located on the Alavesa wine route. Throughout the region of La Rioja, some of the top vineyards include Bodegas Muga, Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia and Bodegas Marques de Riscal. To make the most of the experience, we recommend hiring a car and driving through the region.
Where to stay
If you need a place to crash after too much wine and tapas, we’ve got tons of options for you in La Rioja. Some of our top picks include:
Hotel: Hotel Rurale Las Aguedas is a charming hotel, set within an 18th-century building. Guests love its rustic decor and comfy beds.
Home rental: This rustic farmhouse can sleep up to 11 guests. It’s a newly built home, built within a traditional rustic design. The house is located in the mountains and is a perfect base for exploring the region’s wineries.
Budget: If you want to keep things cheap, a great option is the Casa Rural Penalba, from $24 a night. It’s got comfy beds and hot showers.
Things to do
Once you’ve explored the bodegas, the region of La Rioja offers up some other great activities. Explore the River Ebro, once home one of the Spanish Civil War’s bloodiest battles in 1938, where you can now fish and kayak; visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Redondo, which is home to one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces the Calvary (created in 1540); and get to know the region’s interesting past at the Museum of La Rioja, in Logroño.