From avant-garde architecture to outdoor pursuits and culinary delights, this area of northern Spain is a traveller’s paradise, discovers Sarah Jane Evans MW, who shares her Rioja travel guide.
Rioja: Where to stay, shop, eat and relax
With amazing tapas, quirky hotels, stunning architecture and wine festivals, see Decanter’s recommendations for the best restaurants, tourist attractions and top places to sleep in Rioja.
Tapas in Logroño has been elevated to an art. It’s more fun to go out at 9pm or later in the evening before dinner (or even instead of it) into the narrow maze of streets around Calle del Laurel. After a day wine tasting, you may prefer a small beer (caña) but there are lots of local wines to choose from on chalkboard lists. Each bar has its own speciality; one will have garlic mushrooms, another a spicy sauce for the tortilla, a third pinchos – little kebabs.
A bustling tapas bar in Logroño with a more formal restaurant upstairs, serving modern and traditional dishes. Try the suckling pig with crispy crackling served with an orange and vanilla sauce. lascubanas.net
La Chatilla de San Agustín
Traditional Riojan cooking: revuelto (scrambled eggs) with fresh vegetables; lentils with chorizo and steak served on a sizzling hot stone to cook at the table. Excellent Rioja-only wine list. Calle Sa Agustín 6, Tel: +34 9 41 20 45 45
This, one of Rioja’s newest and most distinctive wineries, opened in 2007. A good-value tasting menu with traditional dishes such as Rioja-style beans with chorizo, and roast lamb.
Two restaurants in the same family-run hotel in Ezcaray. In the El Portal restaurant, Rioja’s first Michelin-starred chef, Francis Paniego, creates modern Riojan cuisine, while in Echaurren Tradicion, his mother Marisa offers the classics. echaurren.com
This asador (barbecue restaurant) in Fuenmayor offers the classic Riojan feast of suckling pig (cochinillo) and baby goat (cabrito) with roast potatoes and whole heads of garlic. Carretera de Vitoria 4, Tel: +34 9 41 45 04 22
Marqués de Riscal
The world’s most famous winery hotel, by Frank Gehry, is a true icon with its riotous titanium roof. Get a bedroom in the building rather than the next door annexe to appreciate the full quirkiness. Restaurant under the guidance of Francis Paniego of Echaurren; Caudalie treatments in the spa. starwoodhotels.com/luxury
Rioja’s trendiest new hotel in Villabuena de Alava. The rooms are a cleverly arranged stack of boxes with views. hotelviura.com
A former convent in Haro, laid out around an internal courtyard. The dining room is in the former cloister. hotellosagustinos.com
Marqués de Vallejo
A good base in Logroño for exploring the region. This is a reliable, modern hotel housed in an early 20th-century building. hotelmarquesdevallejo.com
Rioja & the Five Senses festival
There are any number of wine festivals in Rioja throughout the year, but Rioja & the Five Senses (September 3-19, 2011), is one of the biggest and most wide ranging. Attend tutored tastings or a tapas competition for innovative creations and feast on a range of wines and traditional tapas dishes. elriojaylos5sentidos.com
Wine train & Vinobus
Book a ticket on the wine train, which takes a gentle journey through Rioja’s vineyards and includes winery visits. Or try the Vinobus, organised by the Rioja tourist board, which runs from July to October (Spanish only spoken). The tourist board also runs evening stargazing events at wineries in the summer (only Spanish spoken). lariojaturismo.com/vinobus