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Basque Country Travel Guide & The Wine Route

La Rioja Alavesa and the Middle Ages

If you love food, wine and history you can’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Rioja Alavesa at least once. Dotted with walled fortresses and churches dating from the Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic periods to Neolithic tombs, ancient Roman roads, centuries old olive groves, caves and vineyards, this area is steeped with history.

The landscapes and flavours that make up the La Rioja Alavesa will fill your senses with the rustic old world ambiance of a region where wine has been cultivated since Roman times, from the smell of burning timbers under roasted lamb chops, freshly picked grapes, to the scent of a perfectly aged glass of wine – La Rioja Alavesa invites visitors not only to see but also to experience and taste its treasures.

Bordered on the north by the imposing Sierra de Cantabria and the south by the mighty river Ebro- the route begins at Haro, the wine capital of the region. In this working town a large number of wineries are concentrated in the city. Along with tasting rooms, you will encounter workers making barrels, pressing and fermenting grapes and a city filled with locals who make a daily living from the wine industry. Considered a part of the province of Logrono, Haro is the gateway to the Rioja region. Its Casco Viejo (old quarter) was declared a place of artistic and historical significance filled with palaces and medieval churches. Six kilometres away is Riscos de Bilibio, where every June 29, the famous Batalla de Vino (wine battle festival) takes place and participants line the streets showering opponents with red wine.

Heading East from Haro, a ten minute drive will take you to Labastida, a small town surrounded by impressive vineyards that grow in the folds of Mount Tolono (1.271 m). From here you can explore some the cities small bodegas, the tourist office provides maps and can help to book appointments with the local wineries. We recommend you book visits in advance as many small wineries are working businesses that dedicate most time to cultivating wine, they have limited hours dedicated to providing tours to the public. You can also choose to book an experience with one of our local guides who can prepare a customized itinerary and make arrangements in advance. There is a wide selection of interesting bodegas to visit from ancient caves carved into the mountains to modern installations.

When you enter the old quarter of LaBastida you will pass through either the Tolono or Larrazuria arches which mark the ancient entrances to the old town. Climb up to the chapel of Santo Cristo, a roman gothic church for a wonderful view of the valley. Make your way back down through the winding roads. November is a great time to visit the area when locals celebrate the end of the harvest or vendimia, there is lots of ambiance, music and festivities.

From here continue East to Elciego, a beautiful town from the sixteenth century that sits on the banks of the river. The imposing and modern winery Marqués de Riscal, designed by architect Frank O. Gehry overlooks the town. The shocking titanium coated in pink, gold and silver hotel will greet you as you round the corner. The winery includes a luxury hotel, restaurant and spa.

The next stop along this route is Laguardia, sitting high a-top a hillside this town is filled with a maze of underground cellars that were carved into the hillside. From a defensive standpoint, the cities location, protective walls and stately palaces make it one of the most well-preserved examples of the life and culture of this area during medieval times. Walking through the streets you will pass by the churches and walls that were built in the twelfth century. Wineries such as El Fabulista will offer you a tour of the underground cellars that connect below street level, offering a fascinating look into one of the most influential families of this city.  Here underneath the Palace of the Samaniegos, Félix María de Samaniego was inspired to write his literary works.

If you still have time, close by is the village of La Hoya, a town that has been inhabited for over 3400 years. Archaeological remains here were discovered in 1935 and date back to the Bronze Age from 1200-250 BC. Nearby in the town of Elvillar-Bilar is the mysterious dolmen or Neolithic tomb known as "La Chabola de la Hechicera" ( or sorceress' hut) it dates back to 2100 BC. Along the way you will pass the modern Ysios winery designed by Santiago Calatrava, located on the outskirts of Laguardia.

With all the history and culture to take in, make sure that one of your stops along this route is a taste of local cuisine, fresh garden vegetables from peppers, artichokes and peaches are typical of the area, to roasted meats like "lamb chops al sarmiento" or hearty stews like "patatas a la riojana" with chorizo are specialties of this region, and of course don't forget to enjoy a nice glass of wine with your meal. La Rioja is famous for red wine but they also produce excellent rose and white wines.

Places: Haro, Labastida, Elciego, Laguardia.
Travel time: 34.4 km (21.37 miles), 39 min.
Trip length: 2 Days.

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