{"api":{"host":"https:\/\/pinot.decanter.com","authorization":"Bearer YjIzZjBiNTk4NTI2YzI3Y2YxYWRkYTQ5M2JhMGFmNDJjOTFkN2YzYzk5ODc5NTJkY2JlOTZkNzkxOTY3Y2NkZg","version":"2.0"},"piano":{"sandbox":"false","aid":"6qv8OniKQO","rid":"RJXC8OC","offerId":"OFPHMJWYB8UK","offerTemplateId":"OFPHMJWYB8UK","wcTemplateId":"OTOW5EUWVZ4B"}}

PREMIUM

Exploring Rioja: Something for every wine tourist

From Michelin-star dining and helicopter trips to family adventure parks and walking trails, here’s our guide to what’s on offer in the region for different types of wine tourist, whatever your needs and whatever your budget.

Rioja is arguably Spain’s most famous wine worldwide, but it’s fair to say that the region is still finding its feet when it comes to attracting international visitors. And it’s not for a lack of attractions: as a travel destination, one of Rioja’s greatest assets is that there is plenty to see and do beyond visiting wineries or drinking wine.

For history lovers, the region boasts a rich past, with pretty medieval villages perched on its hills, and ancient neolithic tombs and stone lagares dotted across the Sierra de Cantabria foothills, which can be easily reached by car.

If you want to focus on outdoor activities, the region offers an ample and well-maintained network of country paths for hiking and biking, with events such as the Orbea Rioja Alavesa Wine Gravel Trail (@orbeagravelriojaalavesa) combining cycling with winery visits and even cooking lessons for participants and their families.

Along with wine, food is one of the main draws of Rioja, with countless tapas bars in Logroño, the region’s largest city, as well as in towns like Laguardia, Labastida, Haro or Alfaro. Fine-dining establishments have also sprung up in recent years, and Rioja now boasts seven Michelin-star restaurants, most of them offering menus at more friendly prices than elsewhere in Europe.

Visitors seeking a bit of luxury in Rioja will be pleased to discover that a number of recent openings cater for generous budgets, with more coming soon. Family-friendly wine tourism has improved, too, with a greater number of accommodation options particularly suited to children, and wineries organising activities involving all the family. Dogs are also now welcome in a growing number of places.

In this article are my recommendations for things to do and places to stay all over the region (please note that these aren’t strict itineraries), according to your needs. Unless indicated, prices are per night for two people, including breakfast.

Visitors make use of the region’s network of cycle paths, passing Queirón’s El Arca vineyard in Rioja Oriental

Visitors make use of the region’s network of cycle paths, passing Queirón’s El Arca vineyard in Rioja Oriental. David Silverman / Getty Images


Getting there

The nearest airports to Rioja are Bilbao (a 90-minute drive) and Madrid (about 3.5 hours), and there are regular flights from London Gatwick and other UK airports, with a journey time of two to two-and-a-half hours.

Public transport is infrequent between villages in Rioja, so renting a car is recommended if you want to explore Rioja at your own pace. The roads are generally well maintained and traffic is light. If you’d rather avoid driving, companies such as Gran Turismo Rioja, Rioja Wine Trips and Ameli Rioja Tours operate chauffeur-driven services as well as private wine tours around the region.


Illustrated map of Rioja

Credit: Maggie Nelson


Best for foodies

 The centre of Logroño with its many lively bars and restaurants

The centre of Logroño is home to many lively bars and restaurants. Credit: Guido Cozzi / Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

In northern Spain, San Sebastián deservedly ranks among Europe’s greatest cities for food lovers, but for a less crowded and genuine foodie experience, Logroño certainly deserves a visit.

The largest city in Rioja boasts three restaurants with Michelin stars. Two of them serve a fusion of Latin-American flavours – with Basque (Ikaro) and Riojan (Ajo Negro) roots – while Kiro Sushi is a little piece of Japan in the heart of wine country. A 20-minute drive southwest, in the tiny village of Daroca de Rioja (population 56, according to the 2022 census), Ignacio Echapresto creates stellar dishes at two-star Venta Moncalvillo using vegetables from his garden, which is visible from the dining room. His brother Carlos manages a fabulous cellar featuring 1,800 wines, including some old Rioja vintages.

Some wineries, such as Baigorri in Samaniego, a half-hour drive from Logroño, invite visitors to combine a tasting with a meal at their premises. An architectural landmark in the region, Baigorri’s restaurant has views of the surrounding vineyards and the cellar, and serves local dishes with a contemporary twist.

Rioja is home to about a dozen products with protected geographical indications, including chorizo, cheese, mushrooms and pears, so buying ingredients locally and cooking them is a good option for visitors staying in self-catering accommodation. Stalls at the colourful San Blas market in the centre of Logroño offer a wide variety of fresh produce.

Echaurren

Echaurren

Foodie stays

Echaurren

Padre José García 19, Ezcaray

A 30-minute drive from Haro, Echaurren started as a post house in 1898. Fast-forward to 2023 and that humble family-run inn is still managed by the descendants of the first owners, but the Paniego Sánchez siblings have transformed it into an elegant hotel featuring comfortable rooms and suites designed with a modern touch. Extras include artisan mohair blankets made locally, and a bottle of wine and snacks as a welcome gift.

Food lovers will certainly want to experience at least one of the hotel’s three restaurants – Echaurren Tradición, El Portal (two Michelin stars) and Bistró El Cuartito – or enjoy some light bites in the evening (the croquetas are a must) at the tapas bar. Sommelier Jose Félix (‘Chefe’) Paniego curates an excellent wine list featuring some of the most dynamic producers in Rioja, as well as old vintages from classic bodegas, and wines from around the world. From €215 per night.

Casa Rural Zaldierna

Aldea Zaldierna 82, Zaldierna

Tucked away in a beautiful hamlet near Ezcaray and the Valdezcaray ski resort, life in Zaldierna (official population: 23) is slow-paced. Close to several mountain routes, the Casa Rural Zaldierna guest house is a good base for hikers and gourmets alike.

Chef Antonio Pérez (who has worked at Echaurren and Quique Dacosta in Dénia) and his wife Pilar leased the 18th-century house in 2015 and made it their home. They live on the top floor and rent two modest but quaint bedrooms (with ensuite bathrooms) on the first floor, just above the restaurant and the front garden, which is a great place in which to unwind on summer evenings with a glass of wine.

A stay at Casa Rural Zaldierna includes a hearty breakfast and the chance to enjoy a traditional dinner – wild mushrooms and game are the specialities – at a very reasonable price (€60 plus drinks). Pets are welcome, too. From €80 per night.

Mayor de Migueloa

Mayor 20, Laguardia

Few places in Rioja exude the old-world charm of this 17th-century manor house. Nestled within the gates of Laguardia, its stone and timber structure houses a hotel, a restaurant, a wine bar and a working bodega.

The spacious rooms have tiled floors and antique furnishings and are equipped with all mod-cons. There are nice views of the street below from the fourth-floor room’s balcony, however it’s important to note that, being a listed building, there is no lift.

The restaurant on the first floor serves traditional food such as lamb chops roasted on vine shoots with locally grown vegetables, while the charming wine bar serves some of Mayor de Migueloa’s limited-production wines. From €125 per night.


Best for families

Exterior of the Vivanco museum in Briones

The Vivanco museum in Briones. Credit: Blanca Saenz de Castillo / Alamy Stock Photo

A winery tour might not be the most appealing activity for wine lovers with young children, but with a bit of planning, it can be a rewarding experience for the whole family.

During the harvest, wineries such as Valdemar just outside Logroño, or David Moreno in Badarán, open their doors for a hands-on experience of grape- picking and foot-stomping.

In Laguardia, a horse-drawn-carriage ride through the vineyards with wine tasting and snacks at Eguren Ugarte is a fun way to spend a morning during summer visits. There is a good restaurant within the estate, but another option is to dine on the family-friendly outdoor terrace at Villa Lucía before watching an interactive 4D film that takes kids on a whirlwind tour of Rioja.

The Vivanco museum in Briones contains a huge collection of wine- related artefacts as well as interactive exhibits and workshops to keep children entertained.

Some family activities in Rioja are only available during school holidays, but one held all year round is the ‘guess that aroma’ game – for adults and children alike – at Lozano in Laguardia.

Farm visits are always a popular choice with younger children. Rioja Natura in Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a refuge for abandoned animals. During the two-hour tours, children can interact with the animals and feed them with food provided by the guides. The wide outdoor spaces are perfect for a family picnic, but if you fancy a traditional meal with a great wine list in a child-friendly restaurant, La Vieja Bodega is just a 15-minute drive away.

Rioja can be hot in the summer, so the swimming pools and adventure trails of El Barranco Perdido paleo-adventure park in Enciso (southern Rioja) can be a great day out. Just outside the park, the fun continues on the dinosaur trail, a 90-minute circuit with dozens of life-size dinosaur figures and footprints.

Reception of Parador de Calahorra

Parador de Calahorra

Family stays

La Macana

Carnicerías 1, San Vicente de la Sonsierra

This stylish 18th-century manor house is rented whole and offers five double bedrooms (three ensuite), an airy multi- purpose room with uninterrupted views of Sierra de Cantabria, a balcony overlooking the village’s medieval hilltop castle, and a stunning open-plan living room and fully equipped kitchen.

The house is renovated in a modern style, full of soft colours and designer furniture, and its owners Lorena Martínez Acha and Eladio Araiz are friends with many Rioja producers and can help you plan winery tours or other activities.

A picturesque and lively village, San Vicente has a handful of grocery stores, tapas bars and restaurants such as La Cofradía del Renegado and Casa Toni. The minimum stay is two nights and there is no breakfast. From €1,250 for two nights.

Parador de Calahorra

Paseo del Mercadal, Calahorra

This modern red-brick construction lacks the charm of other historic palaces in the network of state-run Paradores, but the hotel is a practical option if you want to visit El Barranco Perdido (45 minutes away, see opposite), the natural hot springs in Arnedillo (half an hour away), or the villages and wine producers of Rioja Oriental.

The spacious rooms and common areas are decorated in a traditional style, but the bathrooms are modern and come with an array of toiletries. As in other Paradores hotels, breakfast is self-service and plentiful, and the staff are very friendly.

Far removed from the tourist circuit, Calahorra is an important vegetable-producing town – it even has its own vegetable museum and hosts a vegetable festival in April – and the town centre has a genuine local vibe. From €133 per night.

Finca La Emperatriz villas

Ctra. de Santo Domingo a Haro, Baños de Rioja

Set in a 101ha estate that once belonged to the last empress of France, these one- and two-bedroom villas provide a true haven of tranquillity, only interrupted by the occasional cackling, meowing and whinnying of the hens, cats and horses that live on the property.

The three houses have ensuite bedrooms fitted with fine fabrics and organic toiletries, as well as fully equipped kitchens, living rooms with sofa beds, and access to a private back garden – the perfect spot to enjoy a complimentary bottle of Finca La Emperatriz wine while watching the sunset.

Haro and its many pincho bars and restaurants are a 10-minute drive away, but if you opt to stay in you can help yourself to seasonal produce from the communal vegetable garden. The friendly staff bring breakfast to your villa every morning and are on hand to show you around the vineyards or serve wine and tapas at the estate’s wine bar and shop. From €205 per night.


Best for luxury

El Puntido restaurant interior

El Puntido. Credit: Daniel Acevedo

With its rich tapestry of gold and ochre, autumn is a good time to visit Rioja and admire the changing colours of its vineyards, but if you travel in late spring and early summer you will enjoy longer days, warm weather and fantastic festivals such as La Cata del Barrio de la Estación. Being held this year on 15 June, it is a chance to visit the premises and taste fine wines from some of the most renowned wineries in Haro such as Bilbaínas, CVNE, Gómez Cruzado, La Rioja Alta, Muga and Roda, while savouring tapas prepared by top Riojan chefs.

Wine is obviously a key part of life here, but food doesn’t lag far behind. At Viñedos de Páganos, the Eguren family not only makes single-vineyard wines but it has also opened El Puntido, a fine-dining restaurant offering seasonal tasting menus and views of the surrounding vineyards and villages of Laguardia and Páganos. Driving along the vine-lined roads is an option, but as the El Puntido estate has its own heliport, you could splash out and fly there by helicopter.

If seeing Rioja from the skies sounds appealing, Aero Rioja offers scenic flights and introductory flying lessons, while Arco Iris takes visitors on hot-air balloon flights across La Rioja Alta. Lasting four hours in total, the views of the vineyards and mountains from the sky at dawn make for a truly unforgettable experience.

A guest room in La Casa Cosme Palacio

La Casa Cosme Palacio

Luxury stays

Hotel Marqués de Riscal

Torrea 1, Elciego

This titanium-clad hotel designed by Frank Gehry is one of the most famous architectural landmarks in Rioja. As well as imposing views of the medieval village of Elciego and the sea of vineyards on the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria mountains, the five-star accommodation offers multiple services such as free bicycles and take-away picnics.

The hotel is divided into two separate buildings. Most of the rooms are in the Spa wing, which features an indoor pool and a vinotherapy spa, while the Gehry wing is home to a wine bar with outdoor space, two restaurants (one boasting a Michelin star), a library with a rooftop terrace, and some of the hotel’s most luxurious suites. From €579 per night, including a tasting and tour of the Marqués de Riscal winery. See Decanter‘s Dream Destination coverage of the hotel for further details.

La Casa Cosme Palacio

Calle San Lázaro 1, Laguardia

Nestled outside the ancient city walls, Casa Cosme Palacio offers the ultimate luxury venue for corporate events and group holidays. Services include a 24-hour butler for up to 26 guests, beauty treatments, a fitness centre, outdoor pool and electric bikes. It’s part of the Entrecanales Domecq e Hijos group of wineries, so as a guest you can enjoy exclusive private vineyard tours, wine tastings and vintage wine-paired dinners at Bodegas Cosme Palacio next door.

The property, with nine bedrooms and four suites, also provides a dedicated guest manager for tailored itineraries and restaurant reservations. Booking is for the entire property and prospective visitors must send an email to request a booking. From €5,000, including meals (depending on the number of guests and nights).

Hotel Viura

Herrería 19A, Villabuena de Alava

With its cubic exterior, this stylish four-star hotel stands in contrast with the historical feel of Villabuena, a quaint village boasting 43 wineries for its 300 inhabitants.

Inside, the decor is just as eclectic as its façade, from the exposed bedrock in the lobby to the urban chic feel of the rooms. For an extra bit of privacy, it is worth booking one of the airy suites and enjoying the private terrace, taking in the peaceful vibe of the village with a glass of Rioja in hand.

On the top floor, there is a small gym with windows looking out over Villabuena, as well as an outdoor lounge and a small library. In summer, hotel guests get free access to the village swimming pool. With a ceiling covered with hanging barrels, the restaurant offers traditional dishes such as a roast lamb and vegetable stew with a contemporary twist. From €115 per night.


Best on a budget

Exterior of Agroturismo Valdelana

Agroturismo Valdelana. Credit: Sergio Otegui

Logroño is an essential stop for visitors to Rioja, and eating out doesn’t have to be expensive. The city is home to eight wineries, all of them open to visitors, as well as some imposing churches such as the cathedral.

Along the River Ebro are some pleasant paths to jog or stroll along, but the action is in the old town, where two streets stand out as the places to go for pinchos. On Calle Laurel and its side streets there are a plenty of small bars serving speciality pinchos.

These include Soriano (famous for its grilled mushrooms) and La Concordia, which serves a variety of delicious Spanish omelettes. Nearby on Calle San Juan, Tastavin and Torres both offer quality pinchos as well as a diverse selection of wines by the glass, some served with Coravin and at a fraction of the price you’d pay in cities like London or New York.

When it comes to partying, Rioja has a lot going for it. Whether it’s the famous Batalla del Vino or ‘Wine Battle’ in Haro, where people throw wine at each other with wild abandon, or the Fiestas of San Juan and San Pedro in Laguardia in June, featuring a baby bull run, there’s always something going on, particularly in the summer months.

A more introspective but fascinating activity available all year round is the Dolmen Route, a 20km walking and cycling itinerary through ancient megalithic tombs such as El Sotillo or La Hechicera. Set among vineyards, it is a great way to see Rioja Alavesa from a different perspective.

The Dolmen Route

The Dolmen Route. Credit: Ruta del Vino de Rioja Alavesa

Budget stays

Hostal la Numantina

Sagasta 4, Logroño

Being an overnight stop on the Camino de Santiago, Logroño has a wide range of budget hotels and hostels for pilgrims and other visitors.

La Numantina has been operating since 1922, and its 22 cosy rooms – some with small balconies – cater for one to four people, and are equipped with private bathrooms, wifi and air conditioning. There’s no breakfast service, but as the hostal is right in the town centre, there’s no shortage of options for a morning coffee. For your evening pinchos, Calle Laurel is a couple of minutes’ walk away – just far enough to avoid the noise of the crowds drinking al fresco on busy nights. Downstairs there is a communal space with sofas, a coffee machine and a microwave. Pets are welcome, too. From €79 per night.

El Mirador de Eloisa

Carramolino 10, Rodezno

This charmingly renovated farmhouse offers six large ensuite bedrooms, most with large balconies. From the two suites, one equipped with a hot tub (Los Almendros) and the other boasting a large bathtub (El Rebollar), there are views of Labastida and the Sierra del Toloño mountains.

Owner Elena Maiso welcomes her guests personally and prepares breakfast with local produce, even when the house is rented whole for up to 14 people. Lunch and dinner are not served at El Mirador but you can tuck into a simple but homemade- style menú del día at either of the two restaurants in Rodezno, or drive 10 minutes to Haro.  Alternatively, Maiso can provide a farm-to-table picnic basket for a day out in the vineyards. Rodezno also has as a public swimming pool that’s open in the summer months. From €75 per night.

Agroturismo Valdelana

Puente Barrihuelo 67-69, Elciego

If you fancy staying in a bodega but can’t afford the luxuries of its famous neighbour (Marqués de Riscal), Bodegas Valdelana manages a six-bedroom guest house built above a medieval underground cellar. As well as rooms with private bathrooms and air conditioning, the accommodation also includes a fully equipped communal kitchen and a sitting room with sofas, a fireplace and a balcony, with views of Elciego and Frank Gehry’s hotel.

The room price includes a guided tour of the winery’s museum plus a tasting of olive oil and four wines, but it’s worth joining the outdoor tour, which includes a visit to a vineyard (home to 130 grape varieties) and offers spectacular views of the River Ebro and the sea of vines below the escarpment. For those unafraid of heights, there’s also a high swing. From €91 per night.


Related articles

Pedalling Priorat: A Catalonia cycling guide

Decanter’s Dream Destination: Akelarre, San Sebastián, Spain

Top Seville restaurants and wine bars

Latest Wine News