A romantic vacation to Spain's wine country...perfect for foodies, wine connoisseurs, and couples in 5 days.
EuropeSpain4 days / August 2020
Highs & Lows
Tapas in Logroño. Touring an underground winery in Laguardia.
It's VERY hot during summer in La Rioja!
With the COVID-19 pandemic eliminating the possibility of visiting the United States, Lucie and I were forced to re-plan our 2020 summer vacations. What started as a last-minute idea, turned out to be one of our most unique and memorable vacations spent together!
Get ready to step back in time as this itinerary begins in the 12th-century village of Laguardia. From here, you'll drive 30 minutes south to the Riojan capital of Logroño before finishing near the countryside town of Ortigosa de Cameros. Rolling hills covered in vineyards so close to the road that you can touch the grapes will accompany your journey between stops.
Highlights of this region include 5-star tapas, wine (of course!), local cuisine, picturesque views unique to the region, and a wide variety of activities offered by wineries. Whether you're a professional sommelier or a non-alcoholic family with kids, there is something in La Rioja for everyone!
Apart from being one of the top places to visit in La Rioja, Laguardia is a quick twenty-minute drive from Logroño (or 1:15 from Bilbao) making it incredibly accessible.
Laguardia...a step back in time
As you enter the village through one of its five defensive gates, prepare yourself to experience what life was like during the Middle Ages.
Cobblestone streets filled with shops and cafés, 10th-century fortress walls, and spectacular views of vineyards in the valley below...it's no wonder why the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Spain awarded Laguardia a place on its prestigious list!
Touring a winery built in centuries-old tunnels
Since Laguardia occupies a strategic hilltop location, Spanish kings ordered tunnels to be dug underneath the village in order to protect its citizens. Today, many of the tunnels have been repurposed into wine cellars, storage spaces, cafés, and more.
We highly recommend making reservations for a tour at the Bodega El Fabulista — the only fully operational subterranean winery within the fortress walls. Tickets for their tours (both in Spanish and English) are only €8/person and conclude with a guided tasting of two of their most popular wines. Be sure to bring a jacket as it gets chilly down in the tunnels!
Modern architecture meets local culture
Although winemaking in La Rioja hasn't changed much over the years, it's not hard to notice the modern flair present at many of the newer wineries. One of our favorite examples was Ysios Winery.
The roof of this winery forms the shape of a pixelated rolling wave, making for an excellent photo-op with the Sierra Cantabria mountains serving as a background.
If you have time to drive to other parts of the valley, it's also worth checking out the colorful, ribbon-like structure of the Marques de Riscal Winery. This futuristic building was designed by the same architect responsible for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Heading south from Laguardia, colorful vineyards quickly give way to a European metropolitan landscape. In less than half an hour, you'll arrive in the lively downtown area of Logroño.
Tapa touring on Calle Laurel
There is no shortage of excellent food in Spain, but Logroño definitely wins a spot at the top of the list in terms of both quality and price. Here, tapas (also called pinchos in northern Spain) are king!
Unlike other Spanish cities, many bars in Logroño only serve one type of tapa. If you want to try a variety of local specialties, this means you'll need to hop from bar to bar. Luckily, there are 50+ bars packed into Calle Laurel and the surrounding city block.
To help you plan your tapa tour, we recommend heading over to the tourism office (2 minutes from Calle Laurel) to pick up their 'Pinchos Guidebook'. Inside, each bar has a dedicated page including a picture of their house special and an address.
Let's hope your eyes aren't bigger than your stomach!
Street art in downtown Logroño
Half the fun of visiting the different monuments and cathedrals in downtown Logroño is finding the street art. From 4x6 inch pieces to giant murals, some of the world's top graffiti artists have hidden their work throughout the city.
Street art has such an important place in Logroño that the city hall opened a museum free to the public — a must-see before you head over to Calle Laurel for tapas!
This spot is a summer favorite for locals, so we decided to make a last-minute stop on our way back to Madrid. From Logroño, it's a pleasant one-hour drive through windy mountain roads and small villages to get to Lake González Lacasa.
Our plan was to just enjoy the rural scenery and eat a good meal at the lakeside restaurant, but there are also paddle boats to rent and excellent trails by the waterfront if you prefer burning off some energy.
We later discovered there is a series of prehistoric caves in the nearby village of Ortigosa de Cameros. A bummer we didn't figure that out until we were already home, but I guess that means we'll have to go back!
Q & A
What would you have changed?Visiting La Rioja in August is not the best idea. Summer temperatures can easily soar to 100°F, making it difficult to enjoy long periods outside. If we could re-plan the trip, we would come in early autumn for the grape harvesting activities or late spring for milder temps.
Restaurant recommendations?In Laguardia, we splurged for a meal at Amelibia. This Michelin Star restaurant puts its own modern spin on traditional dishes and boasts an amble list of locally made wines. If you call ahead, be sure to ask for a table by the windows...the view of the surrounding vineyards is spectacular! Not only is Logroño a foodie's dream, but it's also one of the least expensive cities for tapas in Spain. Once you hit Calle Laurel, it's hard to go wrong when choosing from the dozens of bars. Most tapas run between €1-4, and unless your eyes are bigger than your stomach, you'll be full after three or four stops! Over by Ortigosa de Cameros, we recommend the Club Náutico El Rasillo. Fantastic lakeside views accompany hearty local cuisine.
Tips you would give a friend?To beat the crowds when tapa touring in Logroño, keep in mind that Spaniards have completely different eating times. Lunch typically falls between 2-4pm and dinner between 8-10pm. If you start around 1pm for lunch or 7pm for dinner, you'll have the best chance of beating the locals and finding bars ready to serve food.
Transportation Tips?While you could try and do everything on public transportation, a rental car is your best bet in La Rioja. Unlike metropolitan areas, this region lacks the infrastructure to support a large public transportation network. Buses do exist, but the timetables are limited, and finding them often involves digging through city hall websites written in Spanish.
Any surprises?Since I don't drink alcohol, I was initially skeptical of planning a vacation in the Spanish wine country. But we were pleasantly surprised to find that most wineries offer a variety of non-drinking related activities, as well as non-alcoholic options for tastings.