Rioja is well known for its wines and wineries. Fewer people know that Rioja is home to the Monastery where Spanish language was first written. Today there are 2 monasteries, Yuso and Suso, and both of them have a lot of cultural value. These monasteries are located not far from river Oja, which is supposed to be responsible for the region´s name (Rio-Oja) Rio meaning river in Spanish language.
Another not so well known fact about Rioja is that it is located in El Camino. Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a very important center for pilgrims that undertake El Camino every year. Logroño, the Capital City at La Rioja, is also part of El Camino, though being a bigger city it may not hold the same charm as Santo Domingo does.
Every year many pilgrims decide to stop for a few days in Rioja and visit wineries and enjoy local food and wine. A walking wine tour in Rioja can be a great way to spend 2 or 3 days in this region of Northern Spain. Santo Domingo de la Calzada is located in the area called as Rioja Baja. This part of the Rioja wine producing region is not as famous as Rioja Alta or Rioja Alavesa, but it offers also many interesting wineries and beautiful vineyard landscapes. A few kilometers north of Santo Domingo de la Calzada you will find Cuzcurrita and Sajazarra. These 2 villages are home to a good number of wineries, and offer interesting monuments, castles and good restaurants to enjoy Rioja food.
A bit further North, some 25 kilometers north of Santo Domingo you will find yourself in Haro, which is home to some of the most famous wineries in Rioja., like Muga, Lopez Heredia, Rioja Alta, Ramón Bilbao or Cvne. Haro´s bodegas are located here for one very simple reason. Wine had to be transported North to the Harbour in Bilbao. From Bilbao the wine was shipped to Bordeaux and other important European harbours. Haro was a cross of roads, and the train Station at Haro became crucial in enabling the expansion of Rioja wines and wineries. You can learn more about the history of Rioja and wine in this post.
Rioja has been one of those spots in Spain that has managed to remain authentic. The villages are quiet, the bells can still be heard, many local people enjoy easy lives, without the stress of large cities. The only exception is Logroño. Despite it is not a large City itself, it shows a deep contrast with the small villages that are spread all around the landscapes of Rioja and Rioja Alavesa.
As in the case of many other wine regions, a river is responsible for the fertile valley. The Ebro river is Spain´s second largest river. It dies at the Mediterranean sea, south of Barcelona, in the region of Tarragona. It´s delta is a natural park and an example of sustainable agriculture.
The Ebro river in Rioja divides the terriroty. North of the river we find Rioja Alavesa, that belongs to the Spanish Basque country. South of the Ebro river we encounter Rioja. The river offers some of the best hikes in Rioja and at some of its villages it offers fantastic opportunities to enjoy kayaking.