Logrono (La Rioja), Spain May 2023 (Tour 7)

This will be a brief entry and limited mostly to photos. The facts are, this was a very short visit to Logrono and I am over a month behind in terms of bringing this blog up to date. At this rate Tour 8 will be underway before I finish the Tour 7 entries. So sorry.

It was time to make our way back to England for our friend’s wedding but we could never visit La Rioja without taking time out in Logrono, however limited. During previous visits we had used one of the city’s two NH Hotels and we had stayed over for the Thursday and Friday nights which are the best nights for pinchos (tapas) – pinchos are half price on Calle Laurel every Thurday. Because of time constraints we would do this visit differently. We would spend just the Sunday night in Logrono (it would be interesting to see what Calle Laurel is like on a Sunday evening) and, having just left the Hotel Teatrisso, we would give the NH Hotels a miss and, instead, evaluate Logrono’s campsite, Camping la Playa. The campsite is within easy walking distance of the city centre and, more particularly, Calle Laurel.

Just yards from the campsite there’s a pedestrian bridge (Punta de Hiero) across the River Ebro and it leads almost to the centre of the town. It took little more than 10 minutes for me to reach Calle Laurel.

There was time enough to check out the Cathedral of Santa Maria although these particular photos were taken during Tour 4. During this visit the front of the Cathedral was covered in scaffolding.

There was also time to revisit the local graffiti but, there wasn’t too much different from our last visit.

And then it was back to Calle Laurel for those wonderful mushrooms. These were from the Angel Bar

I was pleasantly surprised with Logrono on a Sunday. Many restaurants were open during the afternoon and there were a great many people out and about, families mostly. I returned to the city centre during the evening with Vanya and it was a little quieter but, again, the majority of the restaurants and the pinchos bars in Calle Laurel and surrounding areas were open.

We enjoyed our Sunday night on Calle Laurel but Vanya and I much prefer the rush and excitement of a Thursday, Friday or Saturday (especially Thursdays when there are fewer tourists and the pinchos are half price). There’s a warmth and joy about Calle Laurel on Thursdays which we’ve not seen replicated in any other Spanish towns or cities that we’ve visited and; it sadly it isn’t there on a Sunday evening in Logrono either. Sunday is more about eating.

Of course, our dogs may think differently. They seemed to appreciate a quieter Calle Laurel.

Vanya back at her favourite pinchos bar, Meson del Abuelo.

Once again, sorry for producing such a simple entry. I think that to some extent I took the easier way out because other Logrono entries can be found on this site and I am loathe to repeat myself.

San Asensio (La Rioja), Spain May 2023 (Tour 7)

The previous nights wine tasting session in Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron saw Parabolas para Volar, a Rioja made with 100% Garnacha grapes, declared the undisputed winner of the ‘Battle of the Wines’ and it prompted Vanya and I to immediately book a wine tour and tasting session with Bodegas Lecea for the very next day.

This was the Parabolas para Volar which prompted Vanya and I to visit Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio. The wine was one of a limited edition of just 500 bottles and was not therefore included in the standard wine tasting session

However, six of these seven wines were included in the tasting session.

This proved a most generous wine tasting event. We were presented with a wide range of wines including a Gran Reserva, a dessert wine and one speciality wine (which I wasn’t quite so sure about, where the grapes had been pressed by the villagers bare feet) and all were served with appropriate nibbles. The tasting session was well managed and enjoyable but it was the tour itself which set this event apart and which I found totally enthralling. Bodegas Lecea is one of just three or four wine producers in Spain where, except for the growing of the grapes, everything to do with the production of the wines occurs underground (in a 500 year old network of caves). We were underground throughout the whole experience except for the wine tasting which took place in the wineshop above ground.

I should explain. Bodegas Lecea is located in the side of a hill in the Las Cuevas neighbourhood of San Asensio. Inside this hill are more than 300 cave cellars which were dug out by local farmers in the 16th century such that their wines could be stored at a constant temperature of 13 degrees centigrade. The Lecea family currently maintain four connected but very distinct cellar systems and continue to make their wines underground in the traditional way in concrete vats.

The caves are many metres underground and stretch in all directions. The tragedy is that no map of the cave systems exist and extending the current caves can be dodgy.

The tour’s focus was towards traditional wine making techniques and included elements as diverse as how and why grape vines are trained (see left) and why wine used to be stored in large pig skins (right).

Left: Large chimneys were dug out to help release the toxic fumes given off by the fermenting wine. Right: Some wines in the cellar are more than 60 years old. The Lecea family open one of these older wines each year although the colour tends to be brown and the wine must be consumed within 15 minutes or it will oxidise.

Our tour of the bodega ended in the wineshop with the wine tasting, which I have already described as being as well managed as any we have previously attended. I would highly recommend the tour and tasting session.

Unfortunately for Vanya the wines were mostly red but I did alright out of that.

What else is there to say about San Asensio? There are a couple of things which are perhaps worth adding.

Firstly, on the last Sunday of every July San Asensio has a wine fight, the Battle of Claret, not unlike that in Haro on 29 June. Some 30,000 litres of claret are donated to the town by the wineries and cooperatives in the area. Town officials supervise the loading of sulphate machines, water guns, buckets and anything else that can hold wine and then commence battle against anyone who passes by. Once everyone is covered in wine (and suitably sozzled) the participants dance their way through the town to the Plaza Vieja to continue the celebrations and tour the local bars for yet more wine and, of course, pinchos.

Secondly, I was told the San Asensio Monastery is worth a visit. We didn’t have time for that after a well meaning employee of the Bodegas Lecea directed me the wrong way out of Las Cuevas through a series of almost impossible lanes and alleys. To make matters worse, the sat-nav in the Van once again chose to play up and completely failed me. I persevered but it took over an hour to navigate my way out of the rabbit warren that is this part of San Asensio. Next time we’ll walk.

Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron (La Rioja), Spain May 2023 (Tour 7)

As has been said before, it is not often we revisit places during these Tours but we were always going to return to Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron and Vanya’s “best ever boutique hotel”, the Hotel Teatrisso, with it’s distinctive themed rooms and the wonderfully warm welcome provided by it’s owners Laura and Jose Angel. During our first visit, last September, we stayed in the studio suite ‘Africa’. We promised then we would return and that our next visit would be over a weekend so as to enjoy the hotel’s evening activities. We took the last available room; a charming attic room the ‘Salon de Baille’ (the Dancing Room). The hotel was full except for this room because the owners were to host a wine tasting dinner on the Friday evening and a “Teatrisso Night” on the Saturday.

Laura and Jose Angel, owners of the Teatrisso.

A couple of slightly ‘different’ photos I took of the hotel’s interior.

And so to the wine tasting. Headlining as the ‘Battle of the Wines’ this was wine tasting with a difference. Estela Lecea, the granddaughter of the founder of Bodegas Lecea, has travelled extensively throughout South America and was keen to share her experiences and compare two wines produced by Isabel Nicul in the Casablanca Valley in Chile with two produced by the Bodegas Lecea in the San Asensio area of La Rioja. Each of the wines were paired with gourmet tapas prepared by Teatrisso’s very own Jose Angel and it was a fascinating evening (notwithstanding my limited understanding of the Spanish language) with both wine and food proving amazing. Nevertheless, there was an easy winner – a sensational red Rioja produced by Bodegas Lecea named ‘Parabolas para Volar’ (literally ‘Parables to Fly’ which is the title of Estela’s book about her travels). This was a 100% garnacha rioja, limited edition wine (just 500 bottles), which was complemented with a ‘Casserole of Iberian Pig Cheeks glazed in Red Wine and served with Potato Parmentier’. Wow!!

By local standards the winning wine was not cheap but nothing could have stopped me buying some (three bottles) and Vanya and I determined there and then to visit the Bodega in San Asensio the very next day.

Left: A flyer advertising the ‘Battle of the Wines’. Centre: The battle is underway in the hotel’s old cinema with Estela Lecea presenting . Right: The ‘Casserole of Iberian Pig Cheeks glazed in Red Wine and served with Potato Parmentier’

Beanie was as interested in events as anyone.

The winning wine and my favourite, Parabolas para Volar.

Things just couldn’t get much better. There was second function organised for the Saturday night. Termed the ‘Teatrisso Night’, it was a celebration of the owners having bought and converted a rather dilapidated 16th century merchant’s house (which had subsequently served as a 1920’s cinema, theatre and dance hall as well as being a barracks for Italian soldiers during the Spanish Civil War) into the lovely boutique hotel it is now.

The Teatrisso Night commenced with a brief wine tasting session in the hotel’s wine cellar where we were introduced to a very pleasant local rose wine (rosada in Spanish). The main events followed which were (a) a powerpoint presentation by Laura, who gave us a brief history of the building and outlined how she and Jose Angel went about transforming it and (b) a small banquet prepared by Jose Angel of 6 gourmet tapas, each with an appropriate local wine. I think I floated up to our bedroom at the end of the evening.

Left: Another flyer, this one advertising the Teatrisso Night. Right: Sampling the rose wine in the cellar. Did I mention that there is a fresh water spring in the wine cellar?

A couple of the gourmet tapas prepared by Jose Angel. His food was seriously good although I couldn’t quite manage the Bacalao (Cod). It was simply too strong.

Four photos of slides from Laura’s presentation. These were photos of the building prior to the restoration. What they have achieved is amazing.

There’s more about Cuzcurrita and the Teatrisso in an earlier blog (Tour 6 in 2022). I’ll end this particular entry with a few more photos taken from on or around the Plaza Mayor.

I had the bar on the main square to myself this visit. The bar down by the bridge over the Rio Tiron was busier but the village band was practising there. I’ll let you know!

Left: The village church,the Parroquai di San Miguel Arcangel, from the main square. Right: The same church from under the 15th century road bridge across the Rio Tiron.

The last time we visited Cuzcurrita I never got to see inside the church. It was the same again this time. We’ll just have to try again (next year?).

Meanwhile, more wine tasting in San Asensio tomorrow.

Haro (La Rioja), Spain May 2023 (Tour 7)

It was with some reluctance that we left Penafiel and made our way to Haro. We had enjoyed our four days there and would have stayed longer but for the dogs being booked in to see a vet in Haro (rabies top-ups) and, besides, Vanya had reserved us a room at her favourite hotel just down the road in Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron for two days.

Vanya has a soft spot for Haro, more so than me. I think Haro is an increasingly tired looking town and needs a facelift but it remains one of those places we are happy to come back to because we love the Barrio de la Estacion wine village. This really is the wine capital of the Rioja Region and it wasn’t long before we were back in the wine village, sitting outside Bilbainas (Vanya’s favourite bodega in Haro), enjoying their wares and purchasing more of her favourite sparkling wine. From there we moved to the CVNE Bodega such that I could sample their reds. We’d not visited CVNE before but I was not disappointed and, after sampling a Gran Reserva, I was happy to buy a few bottles. The Van is filling up.

The Compania Vincola del Norte de Espana (CVNE) and their Gran Reserva. Needless to say, Vanya stayed with their white Rioja – Monopole.

Hitherto we have favoured the old part of Haro, around the Plaza de la Paz, not least because of the cafe bar and pinchos culture which surrounds the area (and, yes, we enjoyed that once again) but this visit we spent longer in the more developed part of the town over by the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de La Vega. Most visitors intent on checking out the churches here favour the Parroquia de Santo Tomas (the Parochial Church of Saint Thomas) which dominates the old town but I consider the Basilica far more interesting and it’s altar is truly beautiful.

Looking from Jardines de La Vega towards the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de La Vega.

… and the inside of the Basilica with a detail from the Altar.

That ceiling in the Basilica is something else.

Okay, so the main entrance to the Church of St Thomas and it’s altar are also pretty impressive.

Left: That’s the Church of St Thomas as seen from the Jardines de La Vega and Right: there’s the same church as seen from an almost deserted Calle Santo Thomas.

The other very impressive aspect of this newer part of the town is the Mercado adjacent to the Jardines de La Vega. It is not a particularly large supermarket but in terms of content it is one of the best in this part of Spain and comes as close to a Waitrose as you will get here.

In terms of what there is to see and do in Haro, I’ll not risk repeating myself here but will, instead, refer you to the previous blogs I have written about the place. You need only search ‘Haro’. However, I will add that despite it’s tired appearance (Please, give it a facelift!), Haro remains a pleasant town to visit and we will continue to return.

Sajazarra (La Rioja), Spain September 2022 (Tour 6)

While staying over in Cuzcarrita we took the Van out to explore the nearby village of Sajazarra (a Pueblo Mas Bonitos de Espana). We also revisited Haro for another wine tasting session organised and paid for by our hotel but that is another story.

Sajazzara is small but pretty fortified village just 4 miles north of Cuzcarrita. It has a 13th century church and and a 15th century castle (which is not unlike the castle in Cuzcarrita but it too has been converted into a private residence and is no longer accessible to the public). The village has less than 150 inhabitants and that number is declining. The reality is that these small villages no longer provide sufficient employment opportunities for the young and so they move to the cities for work and rarely return. If they do return, it is often to sell the home left to them by their parents. A surprisingly high number of properties were up for sale in the village during our visit.

A primary reason for our visiting Sajazarra was because it has a restaurant, the Asador Ochavo, which was recommended by the owner of our hotel as a place to get a reasonable meal. It isn’t as highly regarded as the restaurant in Cuzcarrita but at least it remains open out of season.

The Asador Ochavo…
This is a stock photo taken from the restaurant’s website. The place was very busy as we arrived and we had a bit of wait before getting a table…

Vanya didn’t eat but I knew we wouldn’t be getting much in the line of hot food back in Cuzcarrita and so I tucked into Grilled Morcilla (blood sausage not unlike black pudding) and Chorizo with a Spicy Salsa as a starter (jolly good it was too) followed by the biggest slab of Roast Lamb I have ever had. Not bad at all.

There’s no doubt we will return to this region of Spain. We have seen quite a bit of La Rioja this trip and small towns and villages like Cuzcarrita and Sajazarra have whet our appetites for more… and, of course, the wine doesn’t get much better.

Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron (La Rioja), Spain September 2022 (Tour 6)

This quiet little town deserves listing in Los Pueblos Mas Bonitas En Espana (i.e. the prettiest little towns in Spain) but the locals voted against it because they don’t want it invaded by tourists. I can relate with that although it is perhaps a short sighted view given the way most small villages seem to be going in this part of Spain.

A 15 minute drive from Haro, Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron is a small town of less than 500 people. The older part of the town down by the River Tiron has a simple beauty about it. There’s the Plaza Mayor, the 18th century baroque church of St Miguel, a 15th century castle which is now a private residence, a couple of cafe bars (the holiday season is over and there were just these two open), a number of small bodegas (all busy harvesting their grapes), a couple of small hotels and I saw two small shops but, otherwise, the old town is made up of predominantly 16th century stone houses of various shapes and sizes. One of the larger stone houses, on a corner of the Plaza Mayor, was remodelled in 2015 and is now a wonderful boutique hotel – the Teatrisso Hotel Hospederia. We were booked into the Teatrisso for two nights and would have stayed longer but we were scheduled to take the ferry from Bilbao back to the UK in just a week’s time.

The Teatrisso Hotel was originally a palatial private residence and it stayed in private hands for almost 300 years until, early in the 1920’s, it was converted into a small cinema and then, in the early 1930’s, into a tiny dance hall. 1936 saw it used to house Italian soldiers assigned by Mussolini to aid Franco’s Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. Thereafter it fell into disuse until purchased in 2015 by the current owners, Laura and Jose Angel, who have worked hard to transform into the quintessential boutique hotel it is now.

The Reception area and staircase up to our room.

The Teatrisso has just 12 rooms all with a cinematic theme. We chose to stay in the Africa room which was clean, comfortable, tastefully furnished and… well, just perfect. Next time we stay (and there will most certainly be a next time) we will endeavour to stay over a weekend (when Laura and Jose Angel sometimes provide food and wine tasting). Descriptions and photos of all the hotel rooms are to be found on their website ‘Teatrisso.com’.

And the town? There’s a cafe bar on Plaza Mayor, next to the church of San Miguel (Saint Michael). The square was popular throughout our stay and, while meals were not easily available (the town’s only restaurant was closed) the cafe bar provided pinchos with their 1 euro glasses of White Rioja and there was an honesty bar back at the Teatrisso which, in addition to providing a good range of wines, offered olives, cheese, dried meats and bread. Invariably, we were among the last to leave the cafe bar. By the way, there’s a second bar down near the bridge across the River Tiron and that wasn’t bad either.

The Plaza Mayor during the day…

Across the river from the old town are a handful of small bodegas and beyond these is a track leading up to a viewing point above the village with wonderful views north to the mountains and south across a number of La Rioja vineyards.

Our stay in Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron was without a doubt one of the highlights of this particular tour but, since she found the place, I will leave the final word on the town with Vanya who wrote the following trip advisor review:

My favourite hotel ever!!! The African room was spectacular, beautifully and thoughtfully decorated, very unique. The enclosed garden, with gentle background music, was perfect to sit and drink a great bottle of Rioja from the (honesty) bar in the evening. The breakfast was fresh with plenty of choice. I didn’t want to leave but we will be back in the Spring! Thank you!

Date of stay: September 2022

Logrono (La Rioja), Spain August 2022 (Tour 6)

What is to say about Logrono that hasn’t already been said in our earlier blog following our last visit? We love the place. Yes, it has comparatively little “to see and do” when compared to other similar sized or even smaller Spanish towns in Spain but, it isn’t at all spoiled by tourism and it is so very much alive especially on a Thursday night at Calle Laurel and… we had booked into a hotel (the NH Logrono Herencia Rioja on Calle Murrieta) for the Thursday and Friday nights. Yahoooo!

Despite what I have just written about the relative lack of things to see and do in Logrono (here I am talking historical buildings, monuments, etc), I took the time during our stay to revisit what is around – the parks, bridges, churches, etc – and I was fortunate enough this time around to get inside the Concatedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda. It proved a disappointment not least because of the renovation work going on inside the church. One whole side of the inside of the church, including the altar area, was almost completely covered in scaffolding.

I was also able to get a better look inside St Bartholomew’s but once again I was thwarted in my attempts to get up into the belfry for it’s views over the city. A church service was about to begin as I entered.

I was disappointed not to get up to the bell tower of St Bartholomew’s but there is always next time. On a brighter note, I discovered some great street art at the back of the church…

Of course we attended Calle del Laurel and surrounding areas on both the Thursday and Friday night and the atmosphere and food was again brilliant. There cannot be a more sociable place to eat tapas in the whole of Spain (although they call them pinchos in Logrono, not tapas nor even pintxos). Talking of the pinchos, the absolute best I tried this time were the Grilled Mushrooms at Bar Soriano (three large mushrooms grilled and dripping in garlic butter and olive oil and crowned with a small prawn). They are superb although eating them without dribbling garlic butter is an art I have yet to master. I gave the Pig’s Ears a miss this time but liked the Crujiente de Pollo Corral (fried crispy chicken) and the Torreznos (pig skin) which were served at my favourite pinchos bar of our last visit. One that I regret I didn’t get around to tasting were the Chipirones a La Plancha (plate of squid) which was served at Vanya’s favourite pinchos bar from our last visit.

That first evening back in Logrono we made two forays into Calle del Laurel, pausing in between (for a rest) on the main square. It is the quietest place on a Thursday night.

Later that same evening, as we made our way back to the hotel we paused once again. This time it was to listen to a Spanish rock band that were performing a free concert on a temporary stage at the end of Calle Murrieta. A great end to the evening.

The following day, it was more of the same.

Yes, we thoroughly enjoyed returning to Logrono and I don’t doubt we will be back there again next year.

Laguardia (La Rioja), Spain August 2022 (Tour 6)

Now Laguardia, recommended by another waiter as a place to see, is very much a contender for the prettiest town in La Rioja!

With just 2,000 inhabitants, Laguardia is not a large town but it is the capital of La Rioja Alavesa. Perched on top of a long narrow hill in the Ebro Valley, the town started as a 1oth century military fort; probably a Templar monastery. As time passed a village developed around the monastery and with the demise of the Templars the monastery was transformed into a fortress church, the Santa Maria de Los Reyes. A second fortress church was added at the other end of the hill, Iglesia de San Juan Batista and the burgeoning town was then enclosed within thick defensive walls which connected the two fortress churches.

Parts of the walls were damaged during the Carlist Wars and again in the Spanish Civil War but the town’s five main gates are mostly complete; the Santa Engracia (northeast), the Carnicerias (east), the San Juan (southeast), the Mercadal (south) and the Gate of Paganos (west). We parked the Van outside the town walls and entered via the Gate of Paganos.

This was the view north towards the Basque Mountains as we arrived in Laguardia. The Basque Mountains sit between the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees. There was a bad storm the night before and the residual cloud over the Basque Mountains looked like a tsunami crashing down from the hills. The cloud cleared within an hour or so of our arriving.

The town is almost totally pedestrianised with just small tractors being allowed in at harvest time to deliver grapes to the town’s bodegas. The streets and alleys are too narrow to accommodate any other traffic and they slope gently from north to south such that the wooden barrels of finished wine can be rolled down to lorries and vans waiting outside the gates. Brilliant.

We made our way along one of the narrow sloping streets to the north of the town and the Santa Maria de los Reyes. The medieval town walls and buildings are honey coloured and quite beautiful. I’ll let the photos do the talking…

It didn’t take long to reach the northern end of the town and the Santa Maria de los Reyes. Opposite the church entrance is a 12th century military bell tower, the Abacial Tower (Abbot’s Bell Tower), which the public may ascend for views over the town and across to the mountains. Unfortunately, it was closed for lunch.

Next to the church is an unusual iron sculpture, the Escultura Viajeros, which comprises a table of iron shoes and a table of handbags. It is supposedly a tribute to those who travel a great deal. Shoes and bags? I suppose it makes sense but some of those boots on the table are certainly not made for walking (as the song goes).

Just outside the northeast gate is the Paseo del Collado, a path which leads to the Castle Hotel and around most of the north side of the town. It’s a pleasant short walk and leads past an iron monument to the Fabulist, Felix Maria Samaniego, who was born and died in Laguardia.

The centre of Laguardia is the Plaza Mayor where the new Town Hall, a hotel, a couple of bars and the tourist office are all to be found. We made it to the centre and were sitting in the town square with a beer when the Town Hall Clock (almost) struck the hour and three dancers in traditional dress appeared from inside the clock and did a little dance to the music. Not sure how that works because the dancers do not appear every hour.

After a short respite in the square we carried on to the southern area of the town to the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista y Capilla del Pilar (The Church of St John the Baptist and the Chapel to the Virgin of Pilar). The large octagonal Chapel was added to this fortress church during the early part of the 18th century. At first, I didn’t realise they were connected. It was only when I was inside the Church of St John that I noticed the large chapel at the back of the church. Public access to the chapel is through the church. Both buildings are absolutely stunning inside.

Inside the Church of St John the Baptist – One of the most beautiful of churches. I especially liked it’s polished wooden floors

It was an absolute pleasure walking up and down the streets of Laguardia. We took time to stop at one of the town bodegas to enjoy some wine and tapas but we omitted to visit the cellars which, in hindsight, was a mistake. I learned afterwards that there is almost as much underground in Laguardia as above ground. Apparently there are some 300 plus caves which is where the area’s wine is now produced and stored.

We enjoyed everything about our short stop at Laguardia and I very much recommend it as a place to visit. I would definitely revisit the place although, next time, I would come outside of the summer season when there are fewer tourists and; I would be tempted to overnight in the town square hotel.

Is it the prettiest town in La Rioja? That’s a difficult question. We are forever being surprised by what we see on these trips and; we haven’t seen all the towns in this Region that we would like to see and; so often other factors will influence such a decision (e.g. the time of the year, the prevailing weather, local activities, etc) so; it is difficult to say. One thing is for certain; it’s a strong contender.

We might have stayed on longer but, it was Thursday afternoon and we were already booked into a hotel just down the road in Logrono for a couple of days. Thurday night is party night on Calle Laurel and is not to be missed. On to Logrono…

Haro (La Rioja), Spain August 2022 (Tour 6)

La Rioja, with it’s 600 wineries and 250 square miles of vines, is Spain’s most famous wine region and the town of Haro is considered the wine capital of La Rioja. There’s reason enough for us to visit Haro but, it also came recommended by a friend.

The drive from Berceo on the LR 206 and the LR207 via Alesanco and Ollauri to our Haro campsite by the River Tiron would have taken well under an hour were it not for the fact that I kept stopping to take photographs on the way. These are country roads with very little traffic (a few tractors is all) and it was too easy to just pull in to the side of the road and start taking photos of the beautiful scenery. The La Rioja Region is about wine and grain and at this time of the year the area is a giant patchwork quilt of gently rolling fields with dark green vines and straw coloured stubble set against a backdrop of the Basque Mountains and a bright blue sky. Not quite Prosecco Hills but, nevertheless, awe inspiring.

Almost everything about Haro is to do with wine. Wineries (known as bodegas in Spain) are all over the place. There is a wine museum, countless wine shops and even the statues and street art throughout the city are linked to wine.

There is also a three day wine festival in the town which includes a wine fight (La Batalla de Vino). The fight is generally a good natured event which takes place between 28 to 30 June, during the feast of St Pedro. There is a big party on the 28th June; the fight takes place immediately after mass on 29 June and; there’s another party (which includes traditional dancing) which takes place on 30 June. During the wine fight everyone wears white and throws red wine over each other using buckets, bottles, jugs, water pistols or anything else that holds wine. Thousands of litres of wine are used in the fight every year. The inaugural wine fight is said to have started in the 13th century after an argument between Haro and the neighbouring town of Miranda de Ebro.

After arriving in Hora, I did my usual preliminary exploration while Vanya stayed with the Van and practised her Spanish. The first place I made for was the Plaza de la Paz (in the old part of the town, of course) to find a suitable place to eat in the evening. Job done; there are plenty of places on the square but she would probably prefer to walk the lanes for tapas.

The most impressive building in any Spanish town is more often than not the church and the 16th/17th century Church of Santo Tomas is certainly the most striking building in Haro. It was declared a National Historic Artistic Monument in 1931. The oldest and most celebrated part of the church is it’s front entrance but I was also struck by it’s magnificent Baroque altarpiece which dates from 1740.

And so to the wine. If you want to tour one of the bodegas in the town (and there are some impressive tours to be had), you have to make appointment but; if it’s just a tasting session that you want, many of the larger bodegas in the Barrio de la Estacion area operate an open door policy where you can just walk in off the streets. Some, such as Balbainas, CVNE, La Rioja Alta and Muga have pleasant seating areas, inside and out, and have food to complement their wine list. It’s like being in an up market Austrian heurige.

I made my way to the Bodegas Muga which is currently open for tasting from noon onwards. I settled down in the very pleasant courtyard at the side entrance to their premises and was immediately presented with a wine list and snack menu. You pay for each wine you try but the prices are reasonable and the measures are very generous. What I particularly liked about the Muga is that the waiters (or are they cellar masters?) all seemed very knowledgeable about the dozen or so wines available and were more than happy to share that knowledge. There were red, white and rose Riojas available at prices between 3 and 12 euros per glass but most wines were 3 or 4 euros. There was even a fizzy Rioja. I tried a ‘couple’ of reds and my favourite by a long way was the Muga Seleccion Especial 2018 at 6 euros for a very large glass (which got even bigger after I ordered a second). I’m no expert wine taster but – intense cherry colour, long, smooth, red berries. I added the “intense” for effect lol. I promised to introduce Vanya to the Muga at the earliest opportunity.

Vanya and I made it to the Muga the very next day for the noon opening. After I had reminded myself as to how good the red wine is, I sampled the white riojas, including the fizzy. Not fussed about that one (I’ve been spoiled by Prosecco) but the other white wines were good.

Of course, Vanya enjoyed the visit to Bodegas Muga as much as me and we had to try another. We moved on to Bodegas Bilbainas for a Vina Pomal. Vanya didn’t like the Pomal and so I had to drink both but she very much enjoyed the fizzy Rioja Lumen Reserva 2019; so much so she bought some to take back to the UK. Given the price, I probably would have liked it too. As it was, I felt rather sleepy for the remainder of the afternoon.

We spent a couple of pleasant evenings during our stay on the Plaza de la Paz people watching but tended to eat at the tapas bars. It wasn’t bad food but it was a poor substitute for Calle Laurel in Logrono. It was time to move on. A waiter advised us to call in on the small town of Laguardia before going to Logrono and we promised we would.

Haro is well worth a visit and we will definitely return. As it is we were only going to stay the one day but stayed two. Next stop Logrono but via Laguardia.

Ezcaray (La Rioja), Spain August 2022 (Tour 6)

Ezcaray was described to us as the most beautiful town in La Rioja and a ‘must see’ place to visit. It sits on the edge of the Sierra de la Demanda mountains on the banks of the River Oja and is just 30 kms west of Berceo. It was an easy decision to stay on at the campsite in Berceo another night and travel to Ezcaray for the day.

With just over 2,000 inhabitants Ezcaray is not a large town but, it attracts a great many tourists throughout the year. Summer and winter, it is particularly popular with visitors from the Basque Country.

Parking up was easy. There is a motorhome aire at the edge of the town next to the pretty 18th century Hermitage of Nuestra Senora de Allende.

The resident hermit in the hermitage accommodation adjoining the chapel let me in for a look and it is as pretty inside as outside. There’s a magnificent altar piece but an attractive and unusual feature inside is the collection of paintings on the side walls by the artist Arcabuceros Angeles.

We carried on towards the old town and soon encountered the Iglesia Parroquial de Santa Maria la Mayor, which is a fortress like church put together in several phases between the 12th and 16th centuries. It looks more like a small castle than a church and, as we arrived, was locked as tight as any fortress could be. I was having to settle for a couple of photos of the outside of the church but as I readied myself with the camera, I was distracted.

The hotel opposite the church houses the El Portal de Echaurren restaurant, the first ever Michelin Star restaurant in La Rioja and, what’s more, it now has two Michelin Stars. The restaurant’s menu was posted outside the entrance. It claims to showcase the flavours of the Al Rioja region and looks both exciting and reasonably priced. They were charging between 22 and 32 euros for a meat main course and between 29 and 60 euros for a fish main although, no one in their right mind would settle for just a main course in this restaurant. Eating in El Portal de Echaurren is apparently almost theatre. The appetizers are served in the garden, then; guests are shown the kitchens where an entree is produced and then; the principal course is delivered to the guest’s table in the restaurant area. Personally I would like to try their tasting menu with appropriate local wines and Vanya and I have promised ourselves we will return for such an experience. Only issue is that, with a visit to the kitchens being part of the eating experience, I don’t think we’ll be able to take the dogs with us. They have what looks like a sister restaurant almost next door, El Cuartito. Perhaps El Cuartito will be more accommodating?

Promising that we would soon return, we moved on into the old town and with the help of Google Maps quickly found the centre, the Plaza del Conde de Torremuzquiz (the Square of the Earl Torremuzquiz). In fact, the Square is better known as the Plaza del Quiosco (Square of the Kiosk). It is an ancient and picturesque square of half timbered three story buildings in the middle of which is a very odd looking but very pretty bandstand set on a stone foundation. It is this bandstand which has given the square it’s nickname, Plaza del Quiosco. Most of the buildings surrounding the square have been converted into cafe bars and craft shops. It was mid morning; the square was fairly full and there was a great atmosphere about the place. We settled outside one of the cafe-bars and took a pintxos brunch. I mentioned earlier that Ezcaray is very popular with visitors from the Basque Country and that is reflected in the cafe bar menus in the town. What would ordinarily be called tapas across most of Spain and in much of Castile y Leon is termed pintxos in Ezcaray.

I’ve not mentioned that Ezcaray is good for shopping; woollens in particular. Vanya had noticed this almost immediately upon entering the town and it wasn’t long before we were retracing our steps to another square we had crossed earlier in morning, the Plaza de la Verdura. I remember it because the town’s tourist office is to be found on that square. Vanya had seen an admittedly pretty full length woollen jumper. It’s now in the back of the Van.

Ezcaray has long been famous for the production of cloth (particularly woollen clothes and blankets) and at it’s peak in the 19th century had 29 textile factories employing 1,000 workers. That’s almost all gone now with most of the old mills having been demolished but one in particular has been saved. The Royal Cloth Factory of Santa Barbara has been converted into the Ayuntamiento (town hall), a Theatre and a Hotel. It is a striking building full of character.

A part of the Royal Cloth Factory of Santa Barbara

Textile production has given way to tourism all year round in Ezcaray. The ski resort of Valdezcaray is only 14kms up the road. Valdezcaray was built in 1974 and has a skiable area of 22kms; service stations at three heights (1550m, 1620m and 1850m) and; 6 lifts capable of carrying 15,000 skiers an hour to a total 24 ski runs (including 4 green pistes, 6 blue, 10 red, 2 black and 2 yellow). I didn’t know that they had skiing in this part of the world.

We had a pleasant day in Ezcaray but, while it is a pretty little town, I wouldn’t describe it as the prettiest in the La Rioja region. I think we’ve yet to discover that place. No matter, we’ll be back if only to try one of those restaurants I wrote about. For now, it is back to Berceo and then on to another town which has been recommended by a friend: the wine capital of La Rioja, Haro.