Rioja. More than wine: Camino and Monasteries

Rioja. More than wine: Camino and Monasteries

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.

Rioja church

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 winery Muga in Haro

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.

Classification system of Rioja wines

We have to answer to this question very often during our winery tours in Rioja region. Wine is a highly regulated sector in the European Union and in the case of Spain the regulations are established at regional level by the “Consejos reguladores” or regulatory bodies. In the case of Rioja this is the Cnsejor Regulador del vino de Rioja, which establishes the regulation for Rioja wines on things like which varieties can be planted, maximum yield per acre permitted and so forth.

Original post: Wine Tours Spain

Richard Jennings: “Delicious Wine and Food Travel? Visit Rioja”

By Richard Jennings – @rjonwine on twitter


I thoroughly enjoyed my trip this past summer to one of Spain’s oldest and most renowned wine regions, Rioja. The scenery in this vast river valley in northeastern Spain is entrancing, ringed by picturesque mountain ranges and filled with vineyards and medieval hilltop towns. The locally grown food stuffs are super fresh and flavorful. The wines are delicious and full of history and interest. And the people could not be more gracious. I am dying to go back, and I encourage fellow lovers of food and wine to consider prioritizing Rioja as a delicious and delightful vacation destination.

To start with the food, Rioja’s ideal growing conditions produce a literal cornucopia of very tasty, fresh produce and meats. I had peaches, pears, asparagus, mushrooms and melons there that I’m still dreaming about. Camerano cheese is a smooth, rich product that has been made from goats milk in the region for over 1,000 years. Delicious meats, like locally raised chicken, pork and lamb, as well as freshly made chorizo and melt-in-your-mouth jamon iberico are plentiful and reasonably priced.

An ideal way to sample some of the fresh food stuffs is to visit the tapas bars. Two of the most renowned streets for tapas in the region are Calle Laurel in the big, capital city of Logroño, and on and around Calle Santo Tomás in the small, historic town of Haro.

I recommend taking a casual stroll down these streets in the refreshing night air and stopping in the first one that strikes your fancy. Ask what their specialty is–maybe salt cod in a black olive tapenade, roast suckling pig, grilled white asparagus with Camerano cheese, or a “tortilla,” which in Spain is a potato omelet.

Tapas in Logroño
The ideal drink with tapas is a glass of red Rioja, preferably a Crianza — which is a younger, medium-bodied wine with some oak aging — from one of the region’s many great producers. Most tapas bars there have a dozen or more to chose from. Just order one or two small plates to eat. When you’re done with that first appetizer or two, stroll on down to the next tapas bar and order their specialty. Continue on until you’re quite full and you will have tasted a wide array of freshly made delicacies and made your mouth and stomach very happy.

Al fresco dining in Haro
There are also plenty of fine dining establishments. For a good list, I recommend the two travel guides — one to Logroño and the other for Haro — at, by Tom Perry. Tom is an American who has lived in Rioja and worked in the wine industry there for decades. Other great suggestions on where to stay, taste and dine can be found in the Discover Rioja section of the Rioja Wine Board’s site.

As far as wineries go, you have several hundred to choose from. Almost all of them require that you schedule your tour and tasting in advance — hardly any have regular hours when they’re open without a reservation. But it’s easy to make a reservation through many wineries’ websites. For suggested itineraries, including groups of wineries located near each other, I again recommend Tom Perry’s online guides and

One of the most convenient and historical places to start is with some of the great, traditional bodegas located near Haro. Many of these were built after Haro’s train station was finished in 1880. There you can find R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Bilbaínas and Muga, among others.

Haro is also where a major festival, the Battle of Wine, takes place on June 29 each year. Our group of American wine bloggers participated this year and our white, disposable clothing got completely soaked with red wine, which is just how it’s supposed to be. Tourists come from all over the country and throughout Europe to join in this happy, thoroughly messy event, which is followed by impromptu cookouts down the hill from the site of the morning melee. There are also big gatherings the night before and after in the main square in Haro.

RJ and fellow survivors of the Battle of Wine
Other great bodegas that welcome visitors, with advance reservations, include those I’ve written about at length in other posts here: Franco-Espanolas, Hermanos Peciña, Miguel Merino, San Vicente and Sierra Cantabria.

There are also wineries with stunning architecture, like Frank Gehry’s “City of Wine,” housing the Marques de Riscal hotel next to the 18th century bodega, and the striking, undulating Bodegas Ysios, designed by Santiago Calatrava, whose arches and curves echo those of the mountain range behind it.

Bodegas Ysios
Another must-see destination in Rioja for all wine lovers is the massive wine museum outside the medieval walled town of Briones in Rioja Alta. It’s called the Dinastía Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine, and it’s located right next to the Dinastía Vivanco winery, one of the few in Rioja that’s open regular hours for tours and tasting.

The museum is billed as the world’s biggest wine museum, and I have no reason to doubt this claim. It is by far the greatest and most extensive I have yet visited, the result of 40 years of collecting by the Vivanco Family. The museum has three beautifully designed floors including not only ancient winemaking artifacts and treasures, but also richly produced videos explaining aspects of the wine production process, and a gallery of artworks from all ages celebrating the fruits of the vine. I was particularly fascinated by displays containing samples of glass wine bottles as they developed, gradually, into their current forms, starting with ancient Roman examples. The museum also features a mindboggling collection of over 5,000 imaginative (and sometimes pornographic) corkscrews, dating back to the late 1700s.

View of the medieval walled town of Briones from the grounds of Dinastía Vivanco
The winery here is one of Rioja’s most modern and lavish, and well worth a tour. For notes on Dinastía Vivanco’s wines, which are quite good, in a concentrated, modern style, see the complete report on my blog in:

If you’ve visited Rioja, I urge you to share a comment or two about it here. I know I’ll be back soon. Maybe I’ll meet you there.