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The medieval walled village of Laguardia in the Rioja Alavesa region in northern Spain is a great place to spend a relaxing weekend. This village was founded as a fortress located on the top of a long, narrow hill with a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. For centuries, battles between the armies of Castille and Navarre took place in the region for the control of the plain between the Cantabrian mountains and the Ebro river.
Today, even though some of the village is located outside the walls, once you pass through one of several gates you will find yourself surrounded by palaces with coats of arms with courtyards behind huge wooden doors, squares and narrow streets, under which a honeycomb of over 300 caves where wine used to be made (and in several, still is) runs the length and width of the village.
Places to stay
Inside the walls:
The Hospedería de los Parajes, on Laguardia’s main square is connected to an underground cave with a wine bar. From a table on the terrace, you can enjoy a drink and take in the comings and goings of locals and visitors while you wait for the City Hall clock to chime with figurines appearing that perform a Basque dance.
Posada Mayor de Migueloa retains the original flavor of the former Palace of Viana, built in 1619. Under the hotel you can visit a cave where wine has been made and aged. In addition to eight rooms, the hotel has two restaurants and a wine bar.
Outside the walls:
The Hotel Villa de Laguardia, a short walk down the hill from the village, is a modern four-star hotel with 84 rooms, a wine and oil spa and the Viura restaurant that specializes in northern Spanish cuisine.
Hotel Marixa, a cozy, family-run hotel featuring a restaurant overlooking vineyards and the Cantabrian mountains.
Places to eat
Each of the abovementioned hotels has a restaurant serving Riojan and Basque specialties. There are 34 restaurants in Laguardia, so there’s no shortage of places to go. We have always enjoyed a meal at Amelibia, a short walk down the hill from the main square. Another popular restaurant is Héctor Oribe in the nearby village of Páganos.
What to do
The sky’s the limit in and around Laguardia.
Interested in history?
- Visit the nearby dolmens (prehistoric stone structures). You can learn about the dolmen route here.
- The church of Santa María de los Reyes, with its porch depicting the twelve stone apostles with their multicolored robes and other Biblical scenes. The polychrome artwork dates from the 17th century.
- The Spanish fable writer Samaniego was born and lived in Laguardia. Under his house you can visit one of the largest underground caves/wineries in the village at a depth of seven metres. On Saturdays at 5:30 and 7pm, actors dressed in period costume representing Samaniego and his wife put on a historical performance for visitors.
- Europe’s largest existing Iron Age reservoir, built over 2,000 years ago with a capacity of 300,000 litres, guaranteed the local inhabitants’ water supply. A museum above the reservoir explains where the water came from, and how the structure was built. Archaeologists suggest that pagan rituals were held here, judging from remains found at the site.
- Bodegas Ysios – Architect Santiago Calatrava’s masterpiece is just outside the village.
- Bodegas Campillo – a modern winery surrounded by vineyards
- Bodegas Palacio – one of Spain’s oldest wineries, founded in 1894
- Bodegas Baigorri, in the nearby village of Samaniego
All of the above suggestions and many more can be found on the Laguardia Tourist Office website.