The best places in La Rioja wine country are covered by the triangle of
These places will give you a good idea of La Rioja. You can do a day trip too, and come back to Bilbao or San Sebastian.
The town of Haro has museums, palaces, baroque churches and food! Visit the Wine Interpretation Centre for an insight into winemaking and history of wine in the Rioja region. Haro is the wine capital of Rioja.
Haro is also well known for its wine battle la batalla de vino every year on June 29th, when residents throw thousands of litres of wine at each other.
Marques de Riscal in Elciego
Marques del Riscal is the world famous winery with the Frank Gehry luxury hotel housed in its complex.
A visit to Rioja is not complete without a visit to Marques de Riscal. The winery is the main attraction, the Gehry hotel complex is spectacular but there is nothing else here.
Make sure to book in advance if you plan to stay for a meal. Lunch at Marques de Riscal here is a good option but it is expensive (Michelin-starred)!
The very pretty walled town of LaGuardia is the typical village of La Rioja, built as a defense on a hill for the kingdom of Navarra. Laguardia has streets full of bars and numerous wineries. Many tunnels made for escaping Laguardia during a siege have been converted to wine cellars.
You must go to Laguardia with enough time, half a day is ideal. Maybe reach for a late lunch and stay beyond dark. The city walls have fantastic views of the vineyards below. Nearby 5 km away, below amongst the vineyards, is a nice hotel Eguren Ugarte where you can stay the night if you have a late night in Laguardia. There are also places to stay in Laguardia itself.
Rioja route - Getting there and around
Rent a car in Bilbao and first go to to Marqués del Riscal (to see the Frank Gehry hotel complex). From there drive on to Haro or to Laguardia. The drive from Bilbao to Laguardia takes 45 minutes.
You can also reach Haro by public transport (bus) but from there you can not continue by bus to Marques de Riscal or to Laguardia. You can get taxis at Haro to continue your journey. But frankly it is better to take a car from Bilbao, unless you are going only to Haro.
The route around the region is very simple: leave Bilbao in the direction of Logroño, on motorway A-68, and continue until reaching Haro. Exit at Haro and continue along the road to Laguardia.
La Rioja - No need of specific route
La Rioja is a small region and it is easy to go around to visit the small towns and wineries. Because it is small you do not need a specific route to follow in La Rioja. Just look up the wineries that are convenient for you to visit or the ones that stand out.
My favourite and recommended wineries are:
Haro, Briones, Cenicero, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Laguardia, Marques del Riscal, Arnedo. There are many more wineries, some of them are spectacular for the architecture of the buildings and hotels.
Do not miss the monasteries in La Rioja.
Very few foreigners visit the monasteries in La Rioja region
- San Millan de la Cogolla
The monastery town of San Millán de la Cogolla is very important place from the cultural point of view. Here is where the Spanish language has its roots. It is located in a beautiful valley about 40 km from Logrono.
The main monasteries in San Millan are Yuso (lower) and Suso (upper). Apart from their historical significance they are also architecturally rich (Visigothic, Mozarabic and Romanesque). The Suso monastery in the hills above the town is the original and accessed by a special bus. Suso is also smaller than Yuso.
The Monastery of Valvanera in the Sierra de la Demanda is a spiritual place in the middle of a mountain landscape, full of springs, waterfalls and streams. It is only 45 minutes from San Millan de la Cogolla. The views from here are dramatic. And there is even a bar and restaurant to relax.
- Santo Domingo de la Calzada
If you decide to go to San Millan make sure to visit the foothill town Santo Domingo de la Calzada. It is on the Pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela, and is famous for its Cathedral and pilgrims’ hospital. The wine and food are also well known.
Other nearby Rioja towns
In the region are also the nice towns of Ezcaray, famous for hiking and skiing); Calahorra, for its Cathedral and old Muslim town; and Casalarreina, a farming town 15 minutes from Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
Getting around La Rioja
The whole region is full of wineries and the distances are very short. To move around you are better advised to use the car or take a tour (with transport) of an already organized route that will allow you to drink and eat without worries. If you are not driving, taxis are easily available to take you from one town to another. Buses also run but they may not always fit your schedule.
The Wine La Rioja region can be split as
- Rioja Alta
- Rioja Baja
- Rioja Alavesa
For a tourist, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja are of most interest as many medium and large wineries are clustered around easily accessible towns.
Rioja Alta (translates to 'high Rioja') centres on the historic town of Haro. Haro is easily accessible by car from San Sabastian or Bilbao, two popular home bases for tourists visiting Basque country. While there are no direct buses from San Sebastian to Bilbao, you get frequent ALSA bus from Bilbao. Haro has a number of wineries and is perfect for a day trip.
If you are driving down to Haro, continue onwards to Logroño. Between Haro and Logroño, you will come across many of the medieval towns: Laguardia, Elciego, Sajazarra, Labastida, Villabuena de Álava, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, and Briones. Laguardia and Briones are destinations in themselves each deserving at least half a day.
Laguardia is famous for its vineyards and Poblado de la Hoya, one of the most important archeological site of Basque region. Briones houses an impressive wine museum. The exhibits of the wine museum cover all aspects of wine including the history of wine production and consumption and also how glass bottles, corks and barrels are made.
Ideal Rioja Plan
Stay 2 days and one night in La Rioja. Spend the night in LaGuardia. Focus only on 3 things, it is enough:
- Laguardia town: It is the most beautiful town on a hill you will see in the entire region. Make sure you are there at sunset whatever happens. Spend the night here, you will not forget the experience.
- Wineries: My suggestion is a maximum of 2 nearby wineries nearby. Drive to see Marques de Riscal hotel and Ysios for their architecture. Taxis are easy.
- Monasteries: Very few visitors go here but the monasteries are unique and beautiful.