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Decanter’s Dream Destination: Marqués de Riscal, Rioja, Spain

Every month Decanter selects a must-visit destination for wine travellers. Nestled in the sun-baked Tempranillo vineyards of Rioja, this is one of the world’s most recognisable winery hotels, says Alicia Miller.

In the dusty outskirts of pretty Elciego, it rises like a beacon. A tangle of metal and glass, an explosive futuristic figure set among rows of manicured old Tempranillo vines. Marqués de Riscal, the hotel owned by the well-known winery of the same name in Rioja, isn’t just a place to stay. It’s a large-scale art piece.

Not that you’d expect much less from Frank Gehry, the visionary who also designed the nearby Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Paris’s striking Louis Vuitton Foundation. Arresting deconstructivism is the signature of this starchitect – and even though the hotel opened back in 2006, it still feels electrifying.

Ribbons of colourful Japanese titanium and stainless steel bend and dive as if caught in suspended animation. They dress the front of honey-stoned 19th century buildings in striking high drama. It’s a bold, contemporary statement that’s dished up, in poetic contrast, on the grounds of Rioja’s oldest winery.

Old and new

The Gehry Suite

Established in 1858, with its first wines bottled in 1862, Marqués de Riscal is one of Rioja’s most pivotal names. Founder Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga brought the winemaking traditions of the Médoc to sun-drenched northern Spain. In fact the property still harvests from some of the oldest vines in the region, including pre-phylloxera plantings.

The winery introduced Sauvignon Blanc into the region and was instrumental in the establishment of DO Rueda in 1980.

Today Marqués de Riscal is among Rioja’s most celebrated brands, and provides a comprehensive visitor experience in a ‘city of wine’. It includes the original bodega, El Palomar – the winery for its premium range – and hospitality facilities galore.

Among those facilities is the hotel. Its 61 bedrooms are dressed in crisp whites and the rich ruby hue of young Tempranillo. Leathery sofas, light polished woods and marbled bathrooms join terraces and big windows.

Views are of the surrounding verdant vineyards, undulating hills and, in many cases, the rising honey-stone figure of the historic Church of San Andrés in the distance. In a region that prizes tradition while also pushing for innovation, this old-meets-new stay feels a perfect fit.

Exploring Rioja

The library terrace

There are plenty of wines to taste on site – whether via a winery tour or in the hotel Vinoteca, which pours the label’s own wines alongside slivers of jamón and creamy croquettes. But once you’ve had your fill, more of Rioja’s finest wineries are on your doorstep.

To the northeast by Laguardia, Bodegas Ysios and Bodegas Javier San Pedro Ortega await. In Haro, to the west, one of Rioja’s winery epicentres, you can simply stroll between the likes of Bodegas Muga and Bodegas CVNE.

Prefer to keep it local? The hotel has free bicycles to borrow so you can spin along pathways cutting through the vines and along the Ebro river. Staff will even pack a picnic to take away with you.

Relaxation o’clock

The Riscal Suite terrace

When you’re ready for downtime, Marqués de Riscal delivers. You’ll want to spend yours in the excellent Spa Vinothérapie Caudalie, which puts the antioxidant properties of the grape front and centre. Book in for a skin-softening Crushed Cabernet Scrub or toning Winemaker’s Massage.

Then, shoulders unclenched, make for the open-air terrace of the Restaurant 1860 Tradición for a lazy alfresco meal. Or for a more serious gastronomic affair, choose Restaurant Marqués de Riscal instead. In this Michelin-starred spot you’ll get a multi-course parade of gussied-up local ingredients, including Idiazábal cheese, red prawns and black olives.

And, of course, there’s a riveting wine list to help it all down. Older vintage Marqués de Riscal pours include the likes of Cosecha 1945 and Barón de Chirel Reserva 1994. But you can also choose from dozens of other exciting Riojas, both red and white.

For more information visit marquesderiscal.com

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