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The beautiful square in Laguardia where we had a lovely lazy lunch after visiting a winery
We revisited Rioja Alavesa last weekend and have come back buzzing from the trip. Totally Spain has organised hundreds of holidays to Laguardia and neighbouring areas in the past decade and we continue to be bowled over by the towns and villages, the wineries and the views every time. We decided to approach this trip through the eyes of one of our clients who has never been before and we did so by taking one of our own custom packages.
What do we like in the Rioja Alavesa Wine Region? We love visiting Riojan wineries. Many bodegas are stunningly beautiful, their wines are exciting and varied, and the backdrop of the mountains and valleys is beyond words. Of course, the Riojan cuisine, as always, is amazing. Soul food with wine.
What did we do in Rioja in just over 24hrs ?
Tight on time we still managed to tour 3 wineries, laze over lunch and coffees in a cosy mediaeval plaza in Laguardia, had a spa treatment and, to cap it all, ate our evening meal by the outdoor hotel pool while watching the sun set over the vineyards. Magical.
Why do we keep recommending Laguardia to our clients? Laguardia is the quintessential Riojan hamlet. It´s honey-coloured streets are both cinematic and, around mealtime, so enticingly aromatic. It is a beautifully kept 13th century fortified town. As with all walled cities such as Carcassonne or Lucca, it has a magical mediaeval atmosphere. What makes Laguardia extra special is the underground network of 300 or so caves – many of which are still used to produce or store wine. No vehicles are allowed into the centre except the tractors delivering the grapes to the caves in September – so it’s extremely child-friendly!
The beautiful honey-coloured stone in Laguardia. See how the wine barrels get a second lease on life?
It’s a lovely place to visit a winery, have a long lunch, take a stroll around the town by the tree-lined Paseo del Collado and savour a coffee in a square – which is exactly what we did! Our lunch in a restaurant called El Portico on Calle Mayor beside the Abbot’s Tower included typical dishes such as ‘patatas a la riojana’ – a great stew with potatoes, smoked paprika and chorizo and succulent ‘rabo de buey’ – oxtail stew. Doesn´t get more slow food than that. The Ayesa wine included in our set-course-menu was made in Laguardia. We had coffees at Hospederia Los Pasajes on the Plaza Mayor from where we saw the cutest chime at 5pm.
Visiting the Wineries of Laguardia
El Fabulista is a traditional cave-winery in the centre of Laguardia that produces young wines from tempranillo grapes. Here they still press their grapes by foot! Our guide Julia explained the traditional techniques of wine-making and spoke of the former owner of the palace and cave – Felix Samaniego (a well known writer of fables and erotic fiction). She said that by request, they can provide an actor dressed in period costume to read passages of the writer’s work during the wine-tasting section of the tour.
The Ysios winery was designed by Santiago Calatrava
Next was the Ysios winery – now owned by the Domecq group - part of the Pernod-Ricard empire. The winery commissioned Spanish-architect Santiago de Calatrava to pick the site and design the bodega and that he did in 2001. Our guide Silvia took us around the building and illustrated the architect’s work as well as that of the winemaker. Ysios is also a tempranillo producer – working with a number of artists and celebrities to create their wines. A great visit and wonderful wine!
And from the new we went to the very very old. The Marques de Riscal winery was established in 1858. The tour weaves in and out of some wonderful gardens and historic buildings. We also saw the exterior of Frank Gehry´s City of Wine building (a hotel, spa and Michelin-star restaurant completed in 2006) but it wasn’t the focus of the tour. We did get to see a lot of the production stages of their wines and were like children on a school tour when we were taken to the bottling and boxing section of the winery – something we didn’t get to see elsewhere. Our guide was again fantastic.
The Marqués de Riscal winery which has a titanium hotel, spa and restaurant designed by Frank Gehry
Old production techniques are still maintained for some wines at Marqués de Riscal
Unfortunately we didn’t leave enough time to visit and eat at Baigorri – we had run out of time. We recommend you try it out.
Where to stay in Laguardia
We stayed at the 4-star Hotel Villa Laguardia at the edge of Laguardia – making it ideal for coming and going to the wineries. The food is excellent and very reasonably priced. It has a lift with brilliant panoramic views of the vineyards. And the Wine Oil Spa circuit is fantastic after a day’s sight-seeing!
When to visit Laguardia
This is a great destination all-year-round. We’ve enjoyed Rioja Alavesa during busy grape harvest season in September/October when the vineyards are alive with activity. In June when everything starts to bloom and then in again in Autumn for the colourful foliage. And in December, when the weather was chilly, hearty Riojan stews and warm welcomes. This time – in early May we were able to appreciate the snow-capped mountain tops of Ezcaray (part of the Sierra de Cantabria mountains) whilst eating outdoors and basking in that embracing spring time sunshine. Laguardia is a unique and affordable holiday in the peak summer months as well as it is off the beaten tourist trail.
How to get around Rioja Alavesa
We recommend Rioja Alavesa as a self-drive holiday. We can arrange a driver-guide for you if you prefer not to drive yourself. Visits to the wineries need to be pre-booked and Totally Spain can take care of that and can make arrangements for you to dine in a winery or even in a vineyard. We can also arrange for you to take part in the harvesting.
Want to visit the wineries of Rioja Alavesa?
Let TotallySpain.com put a custom Rioja package together for you offering a mix of both the new and the old, the small and the large, the traditional and the avant-garde.