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With an estimated 30 million visitors in 2018 alone, Barcelona is one of Spain’s most popular destination cities — and overtourism is a concern. Fortunately, travelers looking to explore Spain’s world-class wine, inventive cuisine, ancient sites and stunning architecture have an excellent alternative in La Rioja, a wine region south of Basque Country in northern Spain.
Easily accessible by car from Bilbao (approximately a one-hour drive) and San Sebastian (about two hours), La Rioja is an easy day trip destination. But with more than 600 wineries to choose from and countless points of interest, clients might need a little help curating their perfect day.
Following are five handpicked spots for an ideal visit to La Rioja, Spain.
HaroEvery visit should include a stop in the old town of Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja. Haro is home to a high concentration of La Rioja’s wineries (or “bodegas” as locals call them), allowing visitors to conveniently indulge in some of the country’s greatest wines without having to travel very far.
Refer clients to Gomez Cruzado, a boutique bodega that was founded in the late 1800s, making it one of Haro’s oldest. Though a relatively unknown brand internationally, this winery is a local favorite and is often singled out as one of La Rioja’s best. In May 2019, Gomez Cruzado was admitted into TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame after earning the Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years. It’s open every day of the week and offers a variety of experiences, including a guided tour followed by a tasting.
Vivanco Museum of Wine CultureAfter spending a couple hours at some of Haro’s finest bodegas, visitors of La Rioja should take a 10-minute drive to Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture. Founded by the Vivanco family, this museum is a love letter to all things wine — from growing to bottling and everything in between.
Walk through the museum, tour the beautiful grounds (including the fascinating underground winery) and enjoy some light tapas in the museum’s cafe overlooking expansive vineyards. No visit is complete without snapping a photo at the museum’s entrance, which features a large grape sculpture and brick frame showcasing the beautiful estate and the Cantabria Mountain Range.
Marques De RiscalAt this point of the day, travelers will need a culinary experience that matches the quality of wine they have been imbibing. Luckily for them, they are only minutes away from a Michelin-starred meal housed in an architectural wonder.
Marques De Riscal, designed by esteemed architect Frank Gehry, is the next stop on the list and functions as a gastronomic hot spot, renowned bodega and luxury hotel. Travelers can enjoy more top-notch wine and unbeatable views of the La Rioja region while they feast on cuisine from famed chef Francis Paniego.
Marques De Riscal Restaurant offers 14- and 21-course options, so guests should come hungry. If clients are architecture and design enthusiasts, they can experience another Frank Gehry masterpiece — the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao — only an hour’s drive away.
Bodegas YsiosNext up is Bodegas Ysios, which is, arguably, one of the most spectacular and avant-garde wineries in the entire country — if not the world. Bodegas Ysios features a metallic-waved roof atop wooden walls of cedar, resembling snowcapped mountains; it was designed by Santiago Calatrava to complement the Cantabria Mountains behind it.
The wine is just as satisfying as the building that houses it. What’s more, viewing the indoor cellar is also a must as the waves of the roof are stunning from the inside, too. Ysios offers a Tutored Tasting, Vineyard Tour and Tasting, and a Private Vineyard Tour and Tasting. Guests should make reservations prior to their arrival.
LaguardiaBefore heading back to city life, clients should walk off their inevitable wine-buzz in the medieval fortress town of Laguardia. Atop a hill and surrounded by a stone wall, Laguardia is something out of fairytale.
As travelers wander the narrow cobblestoned streets, they can step into any number of small shops, cafes and bars, or simply admire the building facades and decorated balconies. And since no Spanish day trip is complete without visiting a historical church, be sure to walk past the gothic Church of Santa Maria de los Reyes. Beyond the town’s wall, visitors can enjoy sprawling views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains.