Photo: Monasterio de Yuso by S.Butler
BBC Travel are currently featuring a min travel guide to the La Rioja region of Spain. The edited down feature comes from the original text I wrote for the Lonely Planet Spain guidebook. Here is a link to the feature - http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20110616-mini-guide-to-la-rioja-spain/1
And here is the article in full.
Mini guide to La Rioja, Spain
Photo: Architect Santiago Calatrava’s winery, Bodega Ysios, shimmers in the Spanish sun. (BBC)
The tiny province of La Rioja is distinguished by its ochre-coloured earth and bright blue skies, and by its famous wine (the official wine region also includes small parts of the neighbouring Basque Country and Navarre).Vineyards line the banks of the Río Ebro, while hilltop towns such as Haro and Logroño straddle the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.
The hamlet of San Millán, situated in a deep green valley, is the location of two Unesco-listed monasteries. The most extravagant is the Monasterio de Yuso. To visit, you’ll need to take a guided tour (monasteriodeyuso.org; 10am-1.30pm and 4pm- 6.30pm Tue-Sun Easter-Oct; £4.40).
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is small town Spain at its best. A large number of inhabitants still live in the partially walled old quarter, a labyrinth of medieval streets where the past is alive and the sense of community strong. Santiago-bound pilgrims still make up the majority of visitors.
The small village of Briones offers commanding views over the surrounding vineyards. Here you’ll find the space-age wine museum Dinastía Vivanco, which explores the history of viticulture over several floors (dinastiavivanco. com; 10am-6pm Tue-Thur and Sun, Fri-Sat 10am-8pm; £6.50).
Bodega Ysios is La Rioja’s answer to the Bilbao Guggenheim. The winery’s aluminium and cedar roof seems to match the flow of the mountains that frame it. Tours are by appointment (ysios.com; Camino de la Hoya s/n, Laguardia; 11am-4pm Mon-Fri, 11am and 1pm Sat and Sun; £5.30).
One hundred and twenty million years ago, the village of Enciso was at the heart of dinosaur territory. Spend a peaceful day searching the slopes for dinosaur footprints. Get a map from the Centro Paleontológico de Enciso (dinosaurios-larioja.org; £2.50).
Eat and drink
Pintxo are the Basque version of tapas and La Taberna de Baco has a cracking list of around forty different plates. It also serves regional casseroles and salads (00 34 941 213544; Calle de San Agustín 10, Logroño; lunch and dinner; plates from £2).
At Bodega la Petra you have the chance to dine inside one of the cave houses (homes built in natural caves) burrowed into the gorges around Arnedillo and Enciso. The restaurant serves a selection of vegetarian dishes and their speciality, roasted cuts of meat (00 34 941 394023; Avenida de los Cidacos, Arnedillo; lunch and dinner; mains from £8).
Dine in the 17th-century vaulted cellars of Los Calaos de Briones. Aside from the atmospheric setting, the regional menu is exceptional and features locally produced hams and sausages (00 34 941 322131; loscalaosdebriones.com; Calle San Juan 13, Briones; lunch and dinner; mains from £10).
Haro’s best restaurant, Beethoven, is actually a group of three next to each other. All offer good regional food such as stuffed sole and wild pheasant (restaurantebeethoven.com; Calle de Santo Tomás 5; lunch and dinner Wed-Sun, lunch Mon; mains from £13).
Posada Mayor de Migueloa, in the former Viana Palace, offers twists on local cuisine such as venison with honey and grapefruit jus (00 34 945 621175; mayordemigueloa.com; Mayor de Migueloa 20, Laguardia; lunch and dinner; mains from £15).
In the small village of Briñas is Casa de Legarda, a guesthouse that dates back to 1634. Areas for guests’ use are furnished with typical antiques but some rooms are contemporary and painted in bright colours such as cerise and turquoise (00 34 605 600646; casadelegarda.com; Calle Real 11, Briñas; from £35).
Casa Rural Legado de Ugarte mixes tradition with boutique styling. The townhouse has been renovated preserving its stone walls and beams. However rooms are eclectic and colourful, with candy-striped wallpapers and velvet wingback armchairs (00 34 945 600114; legadodeugarte.com; Calle Mayor 17, Laguardia; from £65).
From the driftwood art in the communal spaces to the lollipops and red pouffes in the rooms, a huge amount of thought has gone into the Hotel Marqués de Vallejo. It also has a prime location in the heart of Logroño’s historic quarter (00 34 941 248333; hotelmarquesdevallejo. com; Calle del Marqués de Vallejo 8, Logroño; from £85).
History hangs in the air at Los Agustinos, which was originally founded as a convent in 1373. Now the 62-room hotel offers Haro’s most luxurious accommodation in spacious rooms furnished with antiques and floral-print décor (00 34 941 311308; hotellosagustinos.com; San Augustín 2, Haro; from £115).
Occupying a former monastery in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the Parador Santo Domingo Bernardo de Fresneda offers by far the best value among the region’s paradores – Spain’s luxurious state-owned hotels in historic buildings (00 34 941 341150; parador.es; Plaza de San Francisco 1; from £120).
When to go
Early summer is the ideal time to enjoy the warm weather and good hiking in the fertile valleys and dramatic mountains. Or plan your trip to coincide with the grape harvest in September and October.
Regular trains connect Haro with Logroño (£11) and Logroño with Bilbao (£19; renfe.com); there is also a local bus network (autobusesjimenez.com). The best way to get around the region is to hire a car at Bilbao airport (from £20 per day; europcar.com).
How to go
Bilbao is the closest airport. International and budget carriers such as British Airways, Iberia and easyJet fly to Bilbao from London Stansted (from £75; easyjet.com) and Edinburgh (from £230; ba.com). A bus connects Bilbao airport with the city centre and car hire is available at the airport.