One of the best-known Spanish words abroad is “rioja.” The thousands of litres that the region produces and sends abroad have so influenced wine lovers that the designation of winemaking origin has practically been separated from the region in which the vines producing this delicious wine are grown. So the question arises: why visit La Rioja?
The quick answer is: how not to visit it?
La Rioja keeps its attractions with discretion and care. We find a region featuring spectacular gastronomy, an indispensable historical legacy for understanding the Hispanic presence in the world, and natural and historical heritage that goes back to the beginning of time.
All of this without making much of a fuss.
It is difficult to choose a representative value of La Rioja, but we will outline a few indispensable points for any curious traveller visiting the cradle of wine and the Spanish language for the first time.
So here goes.
First of all, the wineries: this is not just an old cliché; it really is a must to find out how these wines that have conquered the world are produced. A walk around the Ezcaray region, for example, will provide us with a lot of information about the different ways of making wine: from the traditional method of the Alvia winery in Ventosa to the mix of architectural heritage and modernity in the Señorío de Villarrica winery, neighbouring a golf course and the Way of St. James. These wineries can be visited along with a guide and feature a wine-tasting service.
La Rioja, the cradle of the Spanish language: there is more to this region in the north of Spain than just wine. Scholars claim that Spanish began to be spoken in Cantabria, but the first texts written in the vernacular language are kept in two monasteries in San Millán de la Cogolla: Suso and Yuso. Located on the foothills of the impressive Monte de San Lorenzo, the scriptorium of these old monasteries (the monastery of Suso began functioning as such in the 6th century and the monastery of Yuso was built in the 10th century as an extension of the former) gave rise to the first written testimonies in Spanish: the Codex of St. Emilianus of the Councils (992), the Quiso Bible (664) and a copy of the Apocalypse, by Beato de Liébana (8th century). Moreover, it organises a programme of activities that you can consult here.
Gastronomy from the old days: if anyone is a bit tired of reconstructions hiding the original dish, La Rioja is a region in which gastronomy is still based on tradition. And rightly so: Rioja’s vegetable gardens reflect the essence of old cuisine: simple, unhurried and with a taste that you will never forget. Among its vegetables, the following stand out: artichokes, cardoon, borage, which come together in a single dish to form delicious vegetable stew. Meat dishes are something not to be overlooked: excellent veal from Sierra de Cameros or the unique pleasure of lamb chops roasted with dried vine shoots, which are pruned from Rioja vines, are a must of La Rioja’s cuisine. All accompanied by wine, naturally.
A deluxe rest: since we are speaking about gastronomy and wine, we cannot help recommending the Echaurren gastronomy hotel. This hotel summarises all of La Rioja’s virtues: it is located in the Ezcaray area, the heart of La Rioja’s main winemaking region, and reflects the same ancient, unhurried spirit.
Established on the banks of the Oja River, at the foot of an impressive mountain region and thirty minutes from Haro, La Rioja’s wine capital, it is a real luxury for resting the body and nourishing the spirit. Its restaurant was awarded a Michelin Star in 2004.
La Rioja, all for discovering.