I spent most of the train ride looking out the window. I love train rides in Spain. The AVE is a wonderful fast train that feels like a plane on Earth. It is comfortable, clean, and with inevitable great views of the country side. Bradley and I were on an anniversary trip to a region of Spain I had been dying to see: La Rioja. My girlfriends and I almost always drink Rioja at the bars in Madrid. During my second year living in Spain, I became determined to go to the source.
Bradley and I were aware that this region was best explored by car. But because that was not something that was easily within our reach, we decided to go the “adventure” way. We arrived in Logroño (capital of La Rioja) around 9:00pm, and our previously booked taxi was waiting for us. We realized that the best place to stay for this car-less adventure was a small town called Elciego. So we paid 30€ to the taxi driver for a 30 minute ride to this town outside the city of Logroño. Our pensión was a last minute booking, far from memorable, but walking distance from our target winery: Marqués de Riscal.
Waking up in Elciego the following morning was a fairytale. First of all, this was a day I designated to completely unplug from social media. Second, there was the blue vintage dress I was wearing. The one that makes me feel like I could be Belle’s cousin from Beauty and the Beast. Then there was the rain. The street had that wet glow, the cool air was nice and crisp, and the gray sky only highlighted the green mountains. In full anniversary mode, we held hands all the way to Marqués de Riscal where we had my favorite Spanish breakfast: a really black coffee and tortilla.
We booked a 90 minute tour of the winery, which included a small tasting. Tickets are 12€ and you can book them in person or online: http://www.marquesderiscal.com/seccion_menueng.php?a=44&tipo=N&id=393 As you will notice on their website, tours are offered in four languages and on a regular basis, every day.
This winery was born in 1858 (one of the oldest in La Rioja), and since then it has grown to fame and prestige. In 2006 a luxury hotel was added, designed by renowned architect, Frank O. Gehry (who also designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao). Refer to There’s almost too much oxygen in the Basque Country. for more. The hotel offers special wine treatments at their spa, and its restaurant earned a Michelin star in 2011.
During the tour, we learned every step of how Marqués de Riscal wine goes from the grapevine to our bellies, even learning the three basic steps of wine tasting: seeing (the color and texture), smelling, and tasting. The tour guide was a lovely French girl with impeccable Spanish, and a love for wine Bradley and I appreciated.
One of the most interesting things I learned during this tour was the difference between caps and corks on wine bottles. We tried a wine of each, and our tour guide explained that caps are used if the wine did not spend a long time fermenting in the barrel. It is favorable to use a cap on young wines to keep any oxygen from getting in, which would happen with a cork. However, with older wines corks are favorable because the oxygen will improve the taste. In countries with a strong wine culture like Spain, France, and Italy, caps have not been well received because people view the wine as “cheap” or of “low quality.” In cultures like the United States, Mexico, and Paraguay, the cap has been well received because it is easier and more comfortable. I used to be one to judge a wine by its cap, and used to prefer the cork for “quality.” Now I prefer to judge a wine by its taste.
We saw so many “undressed” bottles, a term used for bottles that have not been labeled yet. Labeling of the wine changes according to the regulations of each country, so bottles cannot be labeled until they know exactly where they are going. In Marqués de Riscal, 65% of the wine is exported and 35% stays in Spain.
After the tour, we went out for lunch in the only open restaurant in Elciego. We enjoyed a regional soup and another black coffee to recharge batteries. We walked off the food baby, and had the whole main square to ourselves on that lazy, gray Saturday during the “siesta” hours when everything shuts down. Because our bus back to Logroño was not until the evening, we decided to return to Marqués de Riscal in order to taste a couple more wines. We chose to drink a young red wine, and the most expensive on their menu to see if we could taste a difference. We did like the expensive one better, but that’s not to say the young wine was not good! Both tasted delicious.
Once in Logroño, we had a little scare with the pensión we booked online. Let me warn you about the Pensión La Estación near the bus station in Logroño. Our experience was sketchy: it is located in a regular building, with no sign on the door, and the woman that welcomed us was in her pj’s. The whole place smelled strongly of food, and though we had made a reservation online, the woman insisted that was not possible because all the rooms were booked and occupied. While we waited for her to make a call to the owner, Bradley and I decided to bail. We politely expressed our discontent with the place and service, and headed out without hesitation. Even if they had had a room available, my gut feeling was to get out of there. Honestly, hotels were not that much more expensive so it is not worth the savings to stay in a pension. Especially on our anniversary getaway!
We ended up finding what seemed like the only room available in Logroño, but thankfully we absolutely loved our hotel: Marqués de Vallejo. Their service was fantastic, the location is central, and the room was pretty wonderful. Check them out at http://www.hotelmarquesdevallejo.com
The few hours we spent in Logroño, we decided to walk down the famous Calle del Laurel. Because all Bradley and I really care about is eating well, we selected Letras de Laurel for our lunch spot. This is where I had the best asparagus I have ever tasted, and the chuleta dish that is typical of La Rioja. Something I LOVED about La Rioja cuisine is the wine salt they use for seasoning. It is purple, and adds unforgettable flavor to everything…like the asparagus dripped in fresh olive oil, and sprinkled with wine salt.
La Rioja is a great romantic spot for wine and food lovers. I would highly recommend it for a couple looking to get away, or a small group of friends wanting to relax. The prices are also friendly for those traveling of a budget, so don’t be afraid to splurge a little. I, for example, regret not buying that expensive wine salt when I had the chance at Marqués de Riscal. But do I regret buying a glass of their 150th anniversary wine…I think not. La Rioja is not necessarily the place where you will want to lose control, but it can certainly be the spot to give in and pamper yourself. And if you are up for it…you can even dine at the Michelin star restaurant.
DISCLAIMER: letsgosomewhere was created for my personal enjoyment and passion for travel writing. There is no business relationship between the places I recommend on my posts and myself. I am just a traveler who expresses her opinion freely.