Wednesday, 17 August 2016

LA RIOJA - Much more than a Wine

La Rioja is the smallest administrative region of Spain with only 300.000 inhabitants in 5000 km2 however is not easy to find in the rest of Spain where in such reduced place such mix of ancients cultures, old paths surrounded with a natural landscape that resume all the climates and biodiversity of Iberia  
Given such mix of different cultures, roads and travellers that local Monks decided to write a manuscript to understand each other given birth to the Spanish Language in the actual Monastery of  San Millan de la Cogolla.
La Rioja Monasterios.
When the Roman empire start to fall, the Visigoths arrive to Spain (c.V) creating some insecurity in the Riojan valleys forcing the local population to live in caves in remote parts of the forest, with the time new communities grow around the caves and new temples that afterwards La Rioja freed them self of the Muslin regime the new Christian monarchs subsidise to become important  centre of the culture and Christian faith
German favourite Monasteries

Monsaterio de Valvanera
From Finca de los Arandinos , you can start going to the Santa Maria de Valvanera Monastery ( in Anguiano). Valvanera means water veins valley. That monastery represent all about La Rioja, has traces of Visigoths architecture, Romanesque and renaissance surrounded by a forest of pines, oaks, beech trees and high peaks mountain. You will feel the spirituality of the place remain intact
As mentioned before the Monsterios de San Millan de  Cogolla also known as Monasterio de Yuso and Suso are a world heritage site and birth of the Spanish language,  a mandatory stop.  To know more about the place
After you visit Valvanera and San Millan you can head to nearby charming town of Ezcaray or keep going to finish in one of the towns that is one of the highlights of the Saint James Path, the baroque town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada with his spectacular cathedral tower, beautiful square and rich monastery altarpieces. The town is full of legends and traditional eateries.
In your way back,  in Najera is another must stop in the Monsatery of Santa Maria la Real where are buried the kings of the old kingdom of Pamplona-Najera build in 1056 sourranded by artificial caves  from those troublesome years. The cloister is breathtaking.
Logrono, the capital
Logrono is the capital of La Rioja with around 150.000 inhabitants, at the side of the majestic Ebro River. Unlike other capital cities in Spain, Logrono is quite modest in monumental architecture, but the best of Logrono are the old streets where thousands of programs cross the city every year on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
David favourite walk.  Starting from my aunt and uncle flat, David favourite walk start in Calle Portales to enjoy baroque buildings with very well conserved shops and cafes under the arcades, after you pass the old Post Office building (today under eternal refurbishment) and the local Museum in San Agustin Square he head to contemplate one more time the fantastic baroque cathedral towers but always glazing to his left to spot the Cafe Moderno facade and already 100 years of history.
Once we leave the Cathedral stroll around the San Juan Street until find de buzzing Fresh Market and surprise him-self of how crazy sound the stall owners.
Now when the clock has not even reached noon he knows is time to have some tapas in the frenetic Laurel Street. In a couple of streets around 50 tiny tapas restaurant, most of them only specialize in just one single dish always serves with a small glass of rioja. Without doubt David top favourite is El Soriano, which serve the best mushrooms pintxos that you had ever tested.   (that is very true!)
After a couple of pintxos and red wine glasses, the best for him is going down for Calle Sagasta and cross the Iron Bridge designed by English over the rio ebro and admire from the Rio Ebro Park the gentle skyline of Logrono predominated by bell churches and storks nest in some locations.
Back to the old town using the old Stone bridge is time to head back but this time through the Sant Way official path, the Rua Vieja, check what is on in the recently opened Cultural Centre a must stop for architectural lovers. And if the sun is too strong just have rest inside the church Santiago Real with a beautiful square and tower.
Streets of Ezcaray
Very close to Finca los Arandinos, only 7kms you can visit Navarrete, part of the Saint James path, you can visit the emblematic church and enjoy a coffee with the locals in the different terraces. The whole town centre is listed
Ezcaray 40 min by car from the hotel, no far from Santo Domingo and San Millan, really worth a visit. A little medieval Spanish gem that invite to walk through the street and under the porticos with Flemish and Renaissance elements collides in the street.
LaGuardia , without doubts my favourite, a fortified wall town in a top of the hills with views to la Rioja Alvesa vineyards, lovely houses, shops and historical buildings combine in this town in the border with the country basque. Good place to enjoy a long lunch in the many good quality restaurants. Only 30 minutes from the Finca and a good point to visit the best design wine cellars. Book you visit to the Calatrava design “bodega” Ysios
Haro is the official capital of the wine in LaRioja, the stand up of the town is the city hall build in neoclassic style, but also given their rich industrial past the house-palaces in baroque style are an authentic delight. Also pay a visit to the Wine interpretation centre and local artist modern art museum Museo del Torreon
Torrecilla de Cameros might not be historical rich as the towns mentioned above, but just go there and cross the medieval bridge over the Iregua River is a real experience to feel close with nature. Dont forget to try the local cheeses and visit the natural areas.
Landscapes and Parks

Land Art in La Cebollera
Thank you that my cousin Gabriel is professional a local expert in the region I have the pleasure to know the best landscapes of La Rioja. If you are looking more for a Natural escape, La Rioja is your place. La Rioja is where the Mediterranean climate clash with the cantabric from the north, creating all the years a very diverse landscape but especially colourful in autumn with a must visit to Parque Natural Sierra de Cebollera with wild pines, oaks and beech trees. A good place to spot deers. Also the park has its own land-art space
A different open air activity is to visit the Enciso dinosaur track finds. Yes you can find more than 1000 dinosaur track around the Enciso town which has his own learning centre.
For natural router to walk or bike in la Rioja, please download the guides from La Rioja Tourist Webpage  
Vineyards and Wine Cellars.
Ysios and Marques de Riscal
La Rioja is such beautiful region that I haven’t felt the need to mention yet the importance of the Wine culture in area. The Rioja wines enjoy of big popularity thank you to their quality and taste to the point of some vineyards has made good use of their fortunes embracing modern architecture
Our Top 3 Wine cellars are without doubt Marques de Riscal and their impressive Frank Ghery Guggenheim alike style, next to the picturesque town of El Ciego.  Bodega Ysios is well known for David and I thank you to my matron of honour Azucena. The wine tour is very interesting to learn all about how a modern Winery work, the building is a masterpiece and the wine.. and the wine will be your next favourite
The 3rd one, well the 3rd one you need to wait until 24th , but I can advise you a couple more like Eguren Ugarte for a perfect lunch or visit Bodegas Franco Espanolas, just in the other side Logrono Iron Bridge.
Most of the Wine cellar offers a tour and wine testing but booking is a must. Marques de Riscal has a 5 start hotel with spa and top restaurant

Yes! Even more, La Rioja has a lot of place to visit and must see is the Museo Wurth , lost between the countryside and a logistics centre you can visit a top art destination. Dont miss the change to see a Picasso or Magritte, Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein of one of my favourite Spanish Joan Miro exhibition

Finca Arandinos is located on the heart of La Rioja, however public transport is not an option
Most of the destinations inside La Rioja are no more than one hour by car from la Finca or Casa Josephine.
Bilbao is the nearest International Airport, AP68 is a good motorway without much traffic. Will take you around 90 minutes
From Bilbao you can take the bus to Logrono as well, only 90 minutes and we will organize to pick you up to the hotel. Train is another alternative from Bilabo, go to They don’t have many service but is cheap and the route is very enjoyable. Take 2:30 but is worth it.
If you want to visit any of the historical sites you need to remember the siesta time in Spain. Most of the places might be closed between 13:00 to 16:00.
Buy your wines directly in the wine cellars
In Spain you drink wine with food, if they put you a tapa without you asking the tapa is free
In the Laurel Street they will serve you the house wine, but you can ask for a better one
Because the area is a fertile river valley vegetables are  delicatessen, like artichockes or chard, the traditional dishes are:  Patatas a la riojana (potatoes with chorizo) , menestra de verduras (very light vegetable stew) pimientos del piquillo (stuffed roast peppers) chuletillas al sarmiento (lamb chops grilled over dry vine twigs) , bacalao a la Riojana ( cod with vegetables) , trucha a la riojana (trout in wine sauce) and caparrones (a smooth bean dish)
What to visit near La Rioja
La Rioja is in the centre of a wonderful area and not far of vibrant destinations
Bilbao, has shacked their industrial past and become a very trendy city. The Guggenheim museum is the reference, walk and shop in the big avenues is a pleasure.  Like the rest of country Basque the food is top quality and the pintxos restaurant are a wonder.
San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful cities in the world; the promenade is a world heritage and has at least a dozen of Michelin Start restaurant, some of them quite affordable. Just remember that all the Michelin start restaurant are close Monday and Tuesday, however you can visit the pinxtos area almost at any time. The fresh market is not as interesting as used to be but still worth it a visit. If you want to learn more about the rich history of the country Basque people, San Telmo museum is your stop. Also I like the aquarium and hang over the surfer beach Zurriola
Pamplona is another gentle northern Spanish with one of the best quality life standards in Europe, famous for their running of the bulls in July. The Cathedral, the citadel and the city hall are worth a visit.
Zaragoza is another human heritage city over the Ebro River. The Basilica of the Pilar is a immense baroque temple is one of the top peregrines places in Europe.
The city has a good remain of Muslim architecture, a castle from the time of the Aragon kings and even a Roman Theatre and a Roman Forum in pretty good condition.
Zaragoza communicate by high speed with Barcelona (1:45hs) and Madrid (2:30hs)
Also is worth to visit the capital of country Basque, Vitoria which has a very nice park surrounding all the city and good museum including modern art
Burgos is not far of Logrono (70 min by car) and has a must see Cathedral also hold a very interesting museum about the Human Evolution. The food experience is similar to Logrono.