Underground Tradition in Rioja

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Our 4-day Basque Country Essentials tour lingers in Laguardia, with a tasting at a family-run winery and a traditional Rioja wine country lunch. You’ll start in Bilbao for a chance to visit the Guggenheim museum. And after your Rioja sojourn, continue to a true gem of a seaside city, San Sebastian.

>>See the Historic Caves of Laguardia on Romotur’s Basque Essentials Itinerary>

The medieval village of Laguardia makes for a charming stop for anyone visiting northern Spain. But wine lovers always want to linger longer. This prettily preserved hilltop town is the perfect place to learn about the cave aging traditions that have made the wines of this region so revered.

Vineyards surround the village, arrayed across endlessly rolling hills. These long views gave Laguardia a strategic advantage in the 12th century, when it was founded to defend the kingdom of Navarra. The maze of caves—known as calados—beneath the town were originally dug as escape routes, not wine cellars.
Soon enough, a higher purpose was discovered for Laguardia’s stony, steadily cool underground corridors: cellaring wine. For over 300 years, that’s been the town’s quiet yet influential focus.

As you stroll through town, consider that each ancient house has its own wine cellar some eight meters below. The boundaries of houses, palaces, churches and underground caves don’t always match up, so some huge houses have tiny cellars and vice versa. 

(Do be prepared to walk here: car traffic is prohibited within the village walls to protect the extensive cave network.)

For a closer look, several historic Rioja Alavesa wineries, including Casa Primicia, El Fabulista, and Carlos Sampedro, share their cellaring histories with visitors. Others outside the village, like Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio and Conde de los Andes in Ollauri also invite visitors to learn about and taste the results of careful cultivation of the region’s cellaring traditions.