Whilst it fair to say that many people visit Rioja for the wines, the area is also stunningly beautiful and filled with history. The Camino De Santiago passes through this region and it is a hiker’s paradise. For those less energetic a stroll through one of Rioja’s quaint towns is a must. So by all means go stock up on those powerful Riojan Reds but keep some time aside to do some exploring as it is well worth it. Here are some of the places we managed to swing by on our tour:
Whilst not the prettiest of the Riojan towns, Haro is considered the heartland of Rioja Alta and houses some of the best known bodegas. We chose to stay here for it’s location and choice of wines.
The old town district of Herradura (see photo) is filled with bars that serve the most delicious tapas at night. The town also has a cathedral and basicila of note. The cathedral is home to an impressive collection of wines for mass from around the world.
However Haro’s main draw is the ability to while away many an afternoon meandering from bodega to bodega in the Station district sampling some of the finest wines Rioja has to offer.
Ermita de San Felices
Just outside of Haro is a small chapel perched on an impressive cliff face dedicated to the patron saint of Haro and Rioja, San Felices. Translated as Saint Philip in English, you cant help but notice that it could also be interpreted as ‘Happy’ or ‘Joyful’ as would I be surrounded by all that lovely wine.
To get to the chapel you have to walk a short distance up a path but it is worth it for the views over Rioja Alta with the all important River Ebro flowing through it from the Sierra Cantabria mountain range that proctects this region from the harsh northern climate and as such allows the grapes to grow.
San Vincente de la Sonsierra
A beautiful old town about 15 minute drive from Haro with stunning castle ruins from the age before Spain was united under the Catholic King and Queen. At the time the castle overlooked the river border towards their arch enemies the Kingdom of Navarra. Now it provides unparalleled views of acres of vineyards.
The town also has some pretty cool artwork on a number of it buildings and is well set up for tourists with QR codes for all the main momuments linking you to a website full of history, culture, religion and architecture.
Of course San Vincente has its own bodegas all of which offer tours and winetastings.
An incredibly well preserved walled city in the neighbouring region of Alava (Alavesa wine region), but still only 30 minutes drive from Haro. This place is an absolute delight to walk round. There are a number of interiors open to view set up as they would have been in medieval times. Indeed you can almost imagine yourself on a history set, the place is so authentic.
There are also tours available to the various wineyards and the underground cave system where wine was traditonally stored.
Monasterios de San Milán
A little further from Haro, about 45mins by car , the two monasteries of Suso and Yuso are set in sone of the most beautiful countryside. Known as the cradle of the Castellano language they are steeped in Spanish history. The older and smaller of the two, 10th century I think, is up the hill. It’s a lovely walk or there is a bus that must be reserved before hand. The newer monastery was built in about the 15th century when they ran out of room up the hill. It is still occupied by monks to this day and the church is incredibly ornate.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada
An important stopping point on the Camino De Santiago (French Route), this town is full of hikers. It has a number of historic albergues (hostels for those doing the Camino) and there are signs everywhere explaining the history and importance of the Camino.
A small town only 15min drive from Haro dominated by a large monastery that is still occupied today and sells pastries made by the Nuns. Unfortunately it was closed when we passed through, but a pretty place to while away a few moments.