Based to the North of Spain, the province of La Rioja has a varied history involving a number of occupations. To most readers, however, the area is famed for the mouth-watering selection of wines that originate from the region, ensuring that La Rioja is as closely identified with the production of such bottled beverages as celebrated French territories such as Bordeaux and Champagne. There is much more to La Rioja than simple tasting tours around the wine county; read on to discover the many and varied experiences that any visitor can expect to enjoy.
The history of La Rioja dates back to the Roman Empire, and has been the site of a great many ownership disputes ever since. Following a Muslim invasion in the 8th Century, the province exchanged hands between British, French and – of course – Spanish occupation from the Medieval era right through until the 19th Century. Many monuments to these skirmishes still stand in the form of houses of worship. While the territory was declared an independent province in 1812, the name La Rioja has only been in place since 1980. Previously, the area was known as Logroño, which still acts as the Capital city to this day.
Language and Climate
La Rioja is still a part of the Iberian Peninsula, which ensures that it largely enjoys a Mediterranean climate, but visitors may be advised to prepare themselves for cooler temperatures on occasion. A strong and cold wind – known by the locals as the cierzo – tends to gust through the region during particular seasons, and has been known to reach velocities in excess of 60 miles per hour.
In terms of written and spoken language, La Rioja is very Spanish-centric. If you are unfamiliar with this tongue, it is strongly advisable to develop at least an intermediate understanding before making a visit. Despite the tourist attraction of La Rioja’s Wine County this province does not boast a particularly international community of residents, so don’t expect to be able to communicate freely unless you can hold your own in a Spanish-speaking conversation.
Where to Stay
La Rioja is divided into ten major cities, the largest of which are Logroño, Calahorra, Arnedo and Haro. The former is the Capital city, the closest to Wine County, and certainly the liveliest part of the province when the sun goes down, offering plenty of bars and tapas restaurants. It’s also the centre of the San Mateo festival if you happen to be visiting during September. Logroño is also the terminus and collection point of the VinoBus, La Rioja’s only reliable public transportation service – more on that below.
Transport in La Rioja can be something of a contradiction; being a rural area it is strongly advisable to hire a car in order to make your way around freely, but obviously if you will looking to sample a number of different wines that will not be ideal. A tourist bus, named the VinoBus, operates at set times and dates to escort tourists around the many vineries in the province, but otherwise you may be best served by devising a rota of shared drivers when traveling with multiple people.
In terms of actually reaching La Rioja in the first place, Zaragoza is the closest airport, located around 90 miles from the province. The Logroño train station will take you into Wine County, and can be reached from both domestic and international locations.
Culture and Attractions
We’re going to take it as read that a trip around a number of wineries and vineyards is high on the agenda of any visitor, and there are certainly no shortage of destinations all across the province to cater to this particular interest. Scattered across the various cities of La Rioja, the VinoBus will assist you in touring these destinations.
If you are traveling with younger people or teetotalers, however, there are plenty of other activities to pass the time. Logroño alone boasts five museums, while historical and theology enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy in the numerous churches and cathedrals, many of which are of cultural significance. Tierra Rapaz is a zoo of sorts, which specialises in birds of prey, while parks are also located throughout all cities – many of which involve cycle paths and hiking trails. If you head to the nearby Ezcaray mountain range you’ll even be able to indulge in a little skiing or snowboarding.
Alternatively, you could simply head to Calle San Juan or Calle del Laurel in downtown Logroño for an experience of La Rioja’s nightlife – these streets will allow you to eat your fill of Tapas before dancing the night away.
Naturally you’ll be enjoying liquid lunches throughout much of your stay in La Rioja, but any fine wine is best paired with a delicious meal. Tapas restaurants are plentiful, especially in downtown Logroño, but food is a sizable part of the province’s culture.
Although chorizo sausage is largely omnipresent throughout Spain, Rioja is one of the only regions in which you will find a spicy variation, which plays a large role in the popular local dish Patatas Riojanas – essentially a potato-based stew that contains this peppery meat at it’s heart. Lamb is also hugely popular in the form of Lechal; thinly sliced chops of the meat that are frequently cooked over a barbeque or slow-roasted.
Trout is also popular, with the local fishermen providing a steady freshly caught supply of this fish to diners and restaurants. Don’t worry if you are a vegetarian, however, as fresh fruit and vegetables are also prominent on many La Rioja menus. Casseroles will be available in most eateries, and red peppers are something of a specialist delicacy – whether that’s either as a common side dish or stuffed and served as a main course.