Guide to La Rioja
La Rioja is a dreamland for wine tasters. It’s the smallest of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions but its famous wines have made Rioja a household name throughout the world.
The local wines are without a doubt some of the country’s finest but Rioja is home to many other lesser known attractions including spectacular mountain scenery, historic World Heritage sites and therapeutic thermal waters. When visitors to Rioja are not busy wine-tasting they can go skiing, white water rafting, hiking along the famous Santiago Way or following in the footsteps of dinosaurs which left their mark here 150 million years ago.
This tiny region in the north of Spain takes its name from the Rio Oja – a tributary of the mighty Ebro River which is the longest river in Spain. The fertile plains of the Ebro valley have given rise to a wine producing industry which goes back to Roman times. The region’s rich soil and plentiful supply of water enable it to produce high-quality fruit and vegetables (including artichokes, asparagus, aubergines and peaches) which together with Rioja’s excellent cured meats form the basis of some fine regional cuisine. Baby goat (cabrito), potatoes cooked with red chorizo sausage and the popular sweet red peppers (pimientos del piquillo) are among the most typical dishes of the region.
La Rioja – a fun place for outdoors activities
Rioja’s diverse countryside makes it the ideal place to enjoy all manner of sports – from mountain climbing and potholing to hunting, canoeing and fishing. The region’s rivers, lakes, nature reserves and mountains beckon sports enthusiasts and lovers of the great outdoors from other less blessed areas of Spain as well as from abroad.
Various specialist tour operators offer ‘wine and walking’ holidays in Rioja, tailor-made for small groups of visitors who want a taste of the “real Spain” far from the madding crowds of the popular costas.
The Camino de Santiago (Santiago Way)
One of the world’s most famous walks and an important section of it lies within the borders of Rioja. For more than a thousand years millions of pilgrims have made their way along this hallowed trail to the shrine of Jesus’ apostle Saint James in the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela. The 60-kilometre route through Rioja leads from the regional capital of Logroño eastwards to Grañon. One of the most interesting towns along the way is Santo Domingo de la Calzada (which literally means St Dominic of the Roadway) named after a monk who dedicated his life to constructing roads and bridges to make the pilgrims’ journey easier. The town has a magnificent cathedral, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, an enchanting maze of medieval streets and a government-owned Parador Hotel housed within the old Pilgrims’ Hospital (built by St Dominic on the site of the former palace of the kings of Navarre).
La Rioja’s importance as part of the pilgrims’ route means the centuries have left the region a rich legacy of monumental buildings including the great monasteries of Suso and Yuso at San Millan de Cogolla, which earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997.
Long before the first pilgrims trod the path through Rioja, this was a land dominated by dinosaurs which left tracks still followed by 21 st century visitors with a passion for palaeontology. Some of the best dinosaur traces in Europe can be seen at the Paleontology Centre in Enciso which is the starting point of a fascinating trail of prehistoric fossils and footprints.
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