Despite being Spain’s smallest autonomous community, La Rioja is one of the country’s most impressive, prosperous, and scenic regions.
Here, you will find award-winning gastronomy, picturesque traditional Spanish towns, some of the most beautiful routes of the Camino de Santiago and of course, world renowned Rioja wine from scores of famous bodegas that have been managed by local families for generations. This province is a gem where wine is often cheaper than water and you can get some of the finest wine in all of Spain for 70 centavos a glass. Need I say more?
La Rioja is comprised of numerous small towns and villages, many of which still retain their antique, medieval charm and ambiance. The Ebro River, the biggest river in Spain, can be seen running through many of these towns and is surrounded by lush untouched nature. In between the towns along the freeway are gorgeous views of rolling hills, majestic mountains and endless vineyards. The province is absolutely breathtaking in the fall when everything from the vines to the trees change color and also in the winter when the mountain tops are covered in snow. It´s the perfect place to travel for those who are looking to spend time in the rural countryside that offers delicious provincial cuisine.
The most notable towns in La Rioja include Logroño, Haro, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Nájera, Ezcaray and Briones, the last of which is home to the famous Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine. Below are the must-see places for anyone visiting La Rioja, all of which are relatively close to one another and possible to travel to by car or bus! So whether you go there en route to Santiago or on your own personal pilgrimage for good food and drink, you will find that some of the most unique and enchanted experiences await you in Spanish wine country.
Logroño is the capital of La Rioja and the largest, if not only, city in the region. With a population of 150,000 people, it’s a classy little city that isn’t overwhelming but has everything you need. The old historic center is wonderfully preserved and features a grand cathedral, cobblestone pathways and elegant buildings with colorful facades.
It is here that Calle Laurel, one of the most famous districts in Spain for excellent tapas, is located along with multiple Michelin-rated restaurants in the surrounding area. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons; this area is alive with people, locals and tourists alike, crowding into popular bars to have snacks, drink wine and socialize, keeping in line with good Spanish tradition. Also in Logroño there is no shortage of swanky cafes and bars all of which are plentifully stocked with the best wines the region has to offer.
Logroño is the best place to find lodging in La Rioja as there is a wide range of cheap pilgrim hostels as well as fancier hotels, and all bus routes to surrounding villages and major cities go through the central bus and/or train station. There aren’t as many bodegas in the capital city as in the surrounding towns but there are a few notable ones such as Franco Españolas and Marqués de Murrieta.
Logroño is accessible by bus or train from major cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Burgos and Bilbao.
Haro is one of the most visited and more populous towns in the region as it is home to the most famous bodegas in La Rioja, many of which are more than 100 years old. A few of these renowned centennial wineries include Martínez Lacuesta, Bilbainas and Gómez Cruzado which are established family businesses that utilize both traditional and modern techniques for the production of their exceptional and beloved wines. Reservations are required in advance for visits to all bodegas, which range in price from 4-12 euros and include a guided tour through the cellar’s production line and a tasting of two or three of the company’s most popular wines.
The historic center of Haro is absolutely charming with picturesque plazas, churches and views overlooking surrounding wine country. Haro has its own famous district for tapas called La Herradura and many restaurants that serve excellent Riojano cuisine, one very well-known restaurant in particular called Beethoven. Haro is also the site of Spain’s famous wine battle which takes place on June 29th every year, where hundreds of people squirt and get drenched in (mostly red) wine.
Haro is located about 35 minutes from Logroño and is accessible by car or local bus lines.
The small medieval town of Laguardia is technically part of Basque wine country as it is located in the Basque province of Álava. But it is also called ‘El balcon de La Rioja,’ for sweeping 360 degree views of surrounding wine country can be seen from all sides of the town and it’s only a 15 minute bus ride away from Logroño.
The town of Laguardia is tiny, as it only spans over three parallel streets, and is enclosed and protected by the stone wall of a castle on top of a peaceful hill. There are no new buildings in the village and the narrow streets are lined with cozy restaurants, cafes and bakeries with churches on either end. Down below under the hill, there are a few beautiful and amazing bodegas, some which are subterranean such as Eguren Ugarte and others that are more modern such as the famous architectural site of Bodega Ysios. Laguardia is the perfect place for a day trip to visit a bodega, have lunch and walk around in an old village that appears frozen in time.
San Millán de la Cogolla
San Millán de la Cogolla is a small village in the mountains, 43 kilometers from Logroño, where the famous Yuso and Suso monasteries can be found. The monasteries of San Millán de Suso and San Millán de Yuso, which mean upper and lower respectively, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and were homes to monks and monastic communities throughout history. The upper Suso Monastery is where the famous monk San Millán resided and where the Spanish (Castellano) language was born, thus carrying much historic significance. The views around the mountain are beautiful and are incredibly tranquil and peaceful.
There are only a few restaurants and cafes in the small village and it is accessible by local buses from Logroño.