It may be among the smallest of Spain’s provinces, but don’t let size fool you. The petite but perfectly formed region of Rioja has found fame across the world thanks to its eponymous export.
And what an export it is! Each year the region produces around 175 million bottles of hearty Rioja, and the proof of such productivity is evident for anyone to see. It seems everywhere you look, vines of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano grapes are growing from the fertile ground.
Of course, there’s more to life than just wine (or so we’re told). On a trip to Rioja you can also enjoy vigorous pursuits like exploring Mediterranean forests and medieval towns high on hilltops, as well as cultural highlights like the walled city of Laguardia and the historic town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
Where to visit
A good place to start is the regional capital of Logroño. The city is renowned as something of a gastronomic hotspot, its tightly packed streets lined with endless tapas bars. Head to Calle Laurel and Calle San Juan to sample some of the best.
Elsewhere in town you’ll find space to reflect in the city’s Santa Maria de la Redonda, a Catholic cathedral with more peace and solemnity than you can shake a stick at (not that we recommend you try this).
Along the road to the west you’ll find the medieval streets of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and its old Parador Pilgrim’s Hospital. Meanwhile, a short drive to the south sits San Millán de la Cogolla, site of the Suso and Yuso monasteries that are known as the birthplace of the written Spanish language.
The wines of Rioja
Rioja boasts over 500 wineries or “bodegas”, split between three sub-regions: the two cooler regions of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa and the slightly warmer climate of Rioja Baja.
Throughout these sub-regions the bodegas vary hugely. From the grand and well known like the Marqués De Riscal winery at Elciego with its dazzling, Frank Gehry-designed hotel, to the smaller, family-run affairs like the one at Finca Valpiedra, there are plenty of opportunities to discover the different methods of creating this wonderful wine.
As for the wine itself, around 90% of Rioja wines are reds. These come in three varieties: fresh, youthful Crianza that works beautifully with tapas; the slightly pricier Reserva that works best with grilled meats and wonderful Spanish jamón; and last but certainly not least, Gran Reserva, the finest of all Riojas and worth trying on its own.
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We have all sorts of ready-made Rioja wine trips and self-drive tours to choose from. Or we’ll happily craft one for you from scratch. We can’t wait to hear from you.