La Rioja, a hidden region in northern Spain
Everything you didn't know about La Rioja
Who does not know the wine from La Rioja´s? This Spanish region with more than 500 wineries is internationally known for the quality of its wines. A while ago I had the honor to stay with my colleague Sofia, and at the invitation of the Tourist Office in Logroño, for a few days in the Rioja area. I had been there before, as a pilgrim, but my focus then was different as i only looked at other pilgrims.
After a beautiful drive, past Burgos, we arrived to Logroño. Logroño is located on the banks of the Rio Ebro and in the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. It is the commercial center of the region with all its activity. Many residents in this city are involved in the wine trade. Although it is an old city, it does not have many important buildings. In recent years the city has expanded considerably and has been renewed. In 2012 the city was declared gastronomic capital of Spain! Calle Laurel is the main attraction of the city with the highest concentration of gastronomic specialties and tapas in La Rioja.(and, of course, the place to be seen and where you can discover the friendly nature of the "riojanos".
Visit a bodega
After arriving at the hotel we were shorty picked up by bus to visit a bodega. A family business, where the 4th generation now runs the business. Passionate, and of course while enjoying wine and tapas, we get an explanation of the wine making process, the marketing of the wine and the interaction with other aspects in the city, such as culture.
The next morning, after a short bus ride through the beautiful surroundings of the Rioja, we quickly find ourselves in a completely different atmosphere. We visit the Yuso and Suso monasteries. Yuso is a monastery from the 11th century, originally a Benedictine monastery. Part of the monastery has now been transformed into a hotel. Suso is the oldest of the two buildings and dates from the 6th century. The Spanish written and spoken language is born in these monasteries; the first literature in Castilian was written here and developed into one of the most spoken languages in the world. For these reasons, the monasteries were recognized as a cultural world heritage site in December 1997 and added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. There is a serene atmosphere in the monasteries and we are amazed by all the splendor inside and a collection of old books. A beautiful place for everyone who is looking for peace and reflection!
Haro wine capital
We continued our route to Haro, the wine capital of the Rioja and visit one of the oldest bodegas in the city. There are cobwebs on the wall and the smell is strange, but they are the best conditions for storing the wine. The spiders eat all the vermin that does not belong in the wine cellars and a high humidity ensures that the wine matures perfectly. Wine is still made in a traditional way in this bodega. Special to see!
Time for the inner person. La Rioja's kitchen is simple and uses top quality products in the region. The area's popular agricultural tradition offers the kitchen a wide variety of local vegetables and legumes: bell pepper, garlic, onions, artichokes, asparagus, and lettuce. We were served a typical dish from this region called "Cochinillo", suckling pig. There are special restaurants where the dish is prepared in special wood ovens. Due to the lack of wood-burning stoves in present-day houses, the dish is often brought to the village baker in an earthenware dish where it is placed in the wood-burning oven after baking and before dinner. This ensures a crispy crust and deliciously tender meat! So enjoy.
After lunch we visited the wine museum in Haro. We got an explanation of everything that has to do with wine: the ingredients, the tools, the process, the people, the vineyards. An innumerable wealth of knowledge is involved, which is often transferred from generation to generation.
Did you know that Rioja is Spain's very own Jurassic Parc? A dinosaur route leads along the 22 most important layers of stone in which the footsteps of the animals are recorded for eternity. The true enthusiast goes to Enciso, where he gets much more than a handful of skeletons. A ferocious Tarbosaurus, the size of a real one, guards the entrance to Valdecevillo, one of the jewels of the route. Who dares?
Back in Logroño we, of course, ended our visit in Calle Laurel. While enjoying yet another passionate explanation from the president of the foundation about the bars, we enjoyed all the beauty La Rioja has to offer.
In short .....
After this visit I can say that I am enormously impressed by Rioja and I look at this with totally different eyes. An area that is best known for its wines, but has so much more to offer. In addition to visits to wineries, you can also do other activities related to wine such as horse riding, ballooning, cross country driving. This region is closely linked to the pilgrimage to Santiago and also has a lot to offer in the cultural field. In addition to the capital, Logroño, other places are worth exploring, such as Santo Domingo de la Calzada and its cathedral or San Millán de la Cogolla and its monasteries. And if we add the surprising world of nature to it, then La Rioja with its Mediterranean forests, high mountains, lunar landscapes and nature parks, such as the Sierra de Cebollera and the biosphere reserve of Arnedillo, is a hidden region in northern Spain!
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