Bilbao | Rioja

The Bilbao | Rioja area in northern Spain is an important industrial center, well-known for its innovation through technology development centers and a top tourist destination because of its wide range of its cultural sites, diverse geography, world-famous cuisine, and the excellent Rioja wines.

Bilbao has undergone an important transformation from a 19th century industrial city to an urban model combining new industries, services and technologies with art and culture. One of the most recent examples is the Guggenheim Museum.

The Port of Bilbao, Spain’s third largest, combines shipping and a vibrant cruise ship destination.

The Rioja region is located about 100 kilometers south of Bilbao. ‘Rioja’ is the most famous denomination of origin for wines in Spain and has been called “the land of a thousand wines” as traditional soft, delicate blends of red grapes are made along with single varietals made in a modern style characterized by intense ripe fruit.

Economy - Bilbao and the Basque Country

Bilbao, the most important city in northern Spain, is located on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and has historically been the gateway to the Iberian Peninsula. Originally a seaport, in the 15th and 16th centuries the city became a center of commerce between Spain, Europe and America and the region began to develop iron ore mining.

In the 19th century, the city developed industries such as iron, steel, shipbuilding, ship-owning companies, chemical products, banking and electricity, followed later by paper, cement and glass. In the 20th century the region developed the machine tool, automotive components and aeronautical industries.

Currently almost half of Basque companies work in industries related to iron and steel, especially construction materials, metal and machine tools. Other important sectors include food, machinery, electric and electronic goods, automotive components, aeronautical industries, paper and graphic arts, wood products and furniture.

The post-industrial age has obliged Basque companies, especially those operating in mature industries, to undergo a process of modernization. This has culminated in the creation of several technology centers for advanced R&D projects that employ over 5,000 technicians.

The service sector is a priority for the regional government. Banking, insurance and transportation sectors historically have been important in the Basque economy. Today there is increased emphasis on the development of the areas of culture, transportation, technology, telecommunications, and the port of Bilbao.

Today, it is the most important industrial, commercial and financial center in northern Spain. More than two million people live in the area, representing 5% of the population of Spain. The GNP generated by the Basque economy represents 6% of that of Spain.

The Rioja region

The Rioja region lies in the Ebro River valley, one of the most highly developed areas in Spain connecting the Basque Country to Catalonia.

Its main industries are related to agricultural products: grapes for Rioja wines, fruits and vegetables and livestock for the production of meat. Other important industries include the manufacture of shoes, furniture and metal products. The importance of Rioja wine has given rise to wine-related industries such as cooperages, capsules, graphic arts for labels and boxes, presses, bottling machinery, and tourism.

Rioja wines represent 40% of sales of quality wines in Spain and an increasing share in over 100 international markets. 

The vineyard area covers almost 64,000 hectares (158,000 acres), with an average annual production of 360 million bottles. Rioja was granted Denomination of Origin status in 1926 by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and in 1991 became the first Qualified Denomination of Origin (Denominación de Origen Calificada) in recognition of the high quality attained by its wines and the strict quality control imposed on grapes and wine in the region.

The Rioja wine district is located in the provinces of La Rioja, Alava and Navarra. It is divided into three regions: Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa are in the west, influenced by the Atlantic and the Rioja Baja is in the east, influenced by the Mediterranean.

The Ebro river, bisecting Spain, runs right through the Rioja region, creating a series of microclimates that allow a diverse range of wines to be made.


The Bilbao-Rioja area offers a wide range of activities to visitors. Accommodations run from luxury hotels to quiet country homes, from seaside locations to the mountain areas. There are summer festivals in every city and village. In Bilbao-Rioja, gastronomy is more than good food, it's a delicious art. Whether you're looking for traditional dishes, nouvelle cuisine, or typical "pintxos", visitors can choose restaurants to suit every palate and budget.

Looking for culture? You can visit the region’s wide variety of museums, starting with the world famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Learn about wine and taste at the 700 wineries in the region and follow the Route of the Monasteries (Monasteries of Suso and Yuso, World Heritage sites).