Bilbao | Rioja

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.

The Rioja region boasts a centuries-old grape growing and winemaking tradition but hasn’t stopped evolving. There’s a plan for every kind of wine tourist including underground cellars from as early as the 16th century, ‘industrial’ wineries founded in the 19th century that are still active today, the world’s most widely acclaimed museum of wine culture and avant-garde structures designed by internationally renowned architects.

Imagine discovering, in one picturesque neighborhood, the highest concentration of centuries-old wineries in the world. That’s what you’ll find in Haro’s deliciously walkable, “Barrio de la Estación.”

For centuries, wines from Rioja were shipped in horse or ox drawn wagons on dirt roads over mountain passes to the port of Bilbao and from there, by ship to the rest of Europe and America. The opening in the mid-nineteenth century of a railway line from Tudela to Bilbao, that included a station in Haro, prompted Spanish and French entrepreneurs to build wineries around the station to facilitate shipment of their wines.

Imagine you’re a young couple with two small children.  You’re also wine lovers and would like to visit a Rioja winery.  But you have a problem:  you can’t find a baby sitter and your parents are busy.  What do you do with the kids?  The answer is simple – bring them with you to Bodegas Valdemar where they have an experience that is tailor-made for children:  “In Search of the Magic Grapes”. Bodegas Valdemar received a ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award for innovative wine tourism experiences from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network for this program.

Spain’s Rioja region offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy great food and wine.  Many wineries themselves have restaurants in-house, from the Michelin-starred Marqués de Riscal restaurant and the 1860 Tradición, both inside Marqués de Riscal’s City of Wine, to cozy spaces serving traditional Riojan and Basque fare.

Several wineries stand out however, for offering guests unique, unforgettable experiences that take them outside the winery to the vineyards, exciting not only the taste buds but the other senses as well.  Bodegas Valdelana and Bodegas Ontañón have created two of the most interesting adventures.

Located in the vineyard-carpeted valley of the Ebro river beneath the majestic Cantabrian mountain range and dotted with wineries, Rioja is a photographers’ paradise.  Here are some of the best views in our region. We encourage you to take your own shots!

Bilbao | Rioja

10 Must-Try Dishes in Bilbao and Rioja

Here are five fish and shellfish-based dishes from the Basque Country and four meat/vegetable dishes as well as a cod dish with vegetables from the Rioja region that you absolutely have to try while visiting northern Spain. We’ve included links to recipes in English if you want to prepare them at home.

The Rioja ‘n’ Rollers share several characteristics:  in spite of their young age, they’re highly trained, with experience gained in their families' vineyards as well as in wineries around the world; they’re in love with small plots overlooked by big wineries, they don’t think that they’ll ever get rich making and selling wine and want to do things differently with unusual blends.

Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio is one of many underground wine cellars that lie underneath most of the villages in the Rioja region.  Sadly most of these cellars have fallen into disrepair if not completely destroyed.  Luis and his family are leading a movement to restore these old cellars that show an important part of Rioja's winemaking past.  The winery was awarded a 2018 Best Of Wine Tourism award for Architecture from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.


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