The surounding Area
One of the less well-known towns of La Rioja, but famous for its brightly coloured, high quality woollen blankets, scarves and knit wear. This is also the town closest to the hidden ski-slopes of Valdezcaray Ski Resort just 14 kilometers away. This offers a unique opportunity to combine wine tasting with winter sports, a fantastic way to blow away the cobwebs if you happen to visit during the winter months.
The unofficial capital of wine-making as opposed to the comarca (county), Haro has a long tradition of tapas, as well as innumerable wine bars. It’s outskirts are dotted with wineries and it’s not surprising then that the town goes in for parties in big way from Carnival in February, Holy Week (Semana Santa - Easter) when folks get high on mulled wine and of course the annual Batalla de Vino (battle of wine) at the end of June.
Street in Laguardia
Really two cities in one, Laguardia has a network of tunnels and rooms that run beneath its streets that were used by the Knights Templar in the middle ages. Even today, nearly every house in the village has its own underground chambers, many of which are linked to others by a network of tunnels, and some it is rumoured, even go out as far as some of the surrounding wineries. Laguardia is a fantastic place to tapear (tapas hop), and nearly everyone in town turns out on a Sunday morning to stroll from bar to bar for a copa (glass of wine) and tapa (snack) in each.
The capital of the region and the most cosmopolitan in terms of shopping and commercial activities. The old town is pleasant and it’s a great place to eat, however, it does not have the atmosphere of smaller towns and villages in La Rioja.
San Vicente de La Sonsierra
For a taste of the bizarre this town is infamous for “Los Picaos” - an annual repentance that involves self-flagellation. The custom was outlawed by Franco in all but the most off-the-beaten-path places. Nevertheless, during this time “sinners” repent by donning white robes and repeatedly whipping themselves while they make a pilgrimage through the streets to the church asking God for forgiveness. The procession lasts about 20 minutes during which time each “sinner” will receive between 800 and 1000 lashes.
Non Wine Related Activities
Black Grape are happy to recommend some of our favourite activities in the area:
The Sierra de la Demanda is one of the oldest mountain ranges in Spain providing a natural frontier to La Rioja and Castile y León. The twisted ancient forests, extraordinary black lakes and sense of isolation here give it a magical Harry Potter air that makes exploration all the more rewarding. Combined with visits of the various monasteries that lay hidden here such as the lonely Monastery of Valvanera, and the Yuso and Suso monasteries (birthplace of the modern Spanish language) hiking these parts gives a true taste of old Castile.
The opening of the Marques de Riscal Spa set a new precedent for luxury wine travel in La Rioja, offering the Bordeaux-based Caudalie vino-therapy package in sexy design surrounds. Treatments include wine-based scrubs and baths, massage, wraps, facials and other beauty treatments as well as an elegant wet-room with views over the vineyards.
New for 2009, the Hotel Villa Laguardia opens its olive oil and wine Spa also with fantastic views and hip décor, but aimed at a more budget conscious traveller.
For a back-to-nature experience where dinosaurs used to roam there are natural hot springs (52.2ºC) in Arnedillo
The Valdezcaray Ski Resort is arguably the least well-known in Spain and yet it boasts 12 runs (1 black, 3 red, 4 blue, 4 green) making it ideal for day excursions to mix in with the wine-tasting. At over 2000 metres snow cover is reliable, though there are 85 snow cannons if the weather lets you down. Open from Nov-Apr.
Golf - Club de Golf Sojuela
Numerous golf courses are located in the area. Club de Golf Sojuela Opened less that 10 years ago near Logroño so it’s easy to get to and pristine. Manicured greens contrasted by oak forest and wild pines ensure plenty of challenge without completely flooring you. 18 holes. Green fee (non members) €35 a day.
La Rioja is one of the best places in Spain to indulge in the ultra-trendy mini-cuisine known as tapas, and it’ll cost you a fraction of what you’ll spend in San Sebastian or Madrid. Because town centres are also relatively small, it’s easy to get to all the best bars in a night, bearing in mind tapas’ eating diplomatic protocol: one drink, one tapa per place to ensure everyone gets a share of the wealth. In most places the tapas are displayed beneath glass counters so it’s easy to just point at what you fancy. However, it’s always worth lurking around the bar a while to see what comes out fresh, and hot, from the kitchen. Throwing your napkins and toothpicks on the floor is all part of the etiquette (the dirtier the floor the better the place), it all gets swept up at the end of the day. Standing is more de rigueur than sitting, and locals love a chat: no matter what language you speak.
The Spaniards know how to make a party! One of the best things you can do while in La Rioja is to join one of the local village fiestas. Practically all villages have their fiestas and religious festivities and most of them with wonderful and peculiar traditions. Haro and San Asensio are known for their wine fights and San Vicente de la Sonsierra for its Easter procession with “Picaos” (People whipping their backs to blood).
Look at the website below for dates.
Important links for maps and guides concerning trekking and bicycling in the area:
Ruta Del Vino Rioja Alta
Maps and description for numerous routes in the close vicinity. Very suited for both trekking and bicycle. Click on “Mapas”.
Las Vías Verdes
Vías Verdes are old disused railway lines that have been recovered and reconditioned for use by walkers and cyclists. Tjeck out the one starting close to the house in Casalarreina and going to Ezcaray. Vía del Oja.
Senderos de La Rioja
A website with a powerfull map application for locating trekking routes