If you love the smooth, warming, soothing, delicious hug in a glass that is Rioja, then you’ll fall in love with its Spanish homeland, as I did. As with most wine regions, there are vast stretches of verdant vines, bursting with grapes for harvest, lovely towns and sun, sun, sun. A car is a must. As for sleeping, there are great campsites dotted about, and for those who prefer 5 stars, the arty Hotel Viura, in the sleepy villabuena de alava, is on my list of best hotels in the world; the restaurant too.
Five Rioja must-dos:
- Order the regional speciality, chuletillas al sarmiento (lamb chops grilled over a fire of vines and served with roasted red peppers) – delicious!
- Head to Arnedillo thermal springs: cover yourself top to toe in the mineral-rich red mud, sit in the sun til it cracks, then wash it off in the 52 degree Cidacos river. There are hotels boasting indoor springs, but outside, soaking up the nature with the locals, is best.
- Visit one, or more if possible, of the big wineries, or ‘bodegas’: I highly recommend Campo Viejo, hidden in the vine covered hills of Logrono, or Faustino, in Oyon, with its exhibit of oil painting portraits that don the bottles. Book ahead for tours and tastings at both.
- Feast on tapas, aka ‘pinchos’, on Calle Laurel – Logrono’s infamous lane of tapas bars.
- Walk the narrow, winding streets of the beautiful medieval walled town of Laguardia. Plenty of bars, restaurants, wine tasting cellars, architecture and shops to entertain.