La Rioja is still one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Unlike Tuscany and Provence (which are admittedly splendid), Rioja does not attract hoards of tourists, which is only to the region’s advantage. Yet it has so much to offer – visiting Rioja, you will find wines rarely seen in other areas of Spain, let alone outside the country. When Rioja’s wealth of superb wines are added to the region’s superlative gastronomy, numerous luxury hotels, beautiful unspoiled scenery, and colorful history, you have the recipe for an enduring love affair.
Travel Guide to La Rioja
The topography and scenic beauty of La Rioja, though, is perhaps its most precious asset. The region’s ochre earth and vast blue skies, which seem far more Mediterranean than the Basque greens further north, are captivating. In fact, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re in a different country altogether. La Rioja is Spain’s second-smallest region, and yet its diversity of landscape is astonishing. Rioja’s northern border is particularly spectacular – marked by the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range, it forms a natural protection for the vines against the cooler winds and rain from the Atlantic. To the south lie the Sierra de la Demanda and Las Cameros mountain ranges. The River Ebro, running through the region, has a host of vineyards on both banks, and helps provide irrigation for the vines.
La Rioja also boasts some of Spain’s most beautiful and unique villages, including San Millan de Cogolla, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Briones and Laguardia. The regional capital Logrono is a stately wine-country town with a heart of tree-studded squares, narrows streets and hidden corners. There are few monuments here, but more important to some is the great selection of pintxos (Basque tapas) bars. In fact, Logrono is quickly gaining a culinary reputation to rival anywhere in Spain. Haro, the centre of numerous historic wineries, also has a heady bouquet. Its cheerful pace and compact old quarter, leading to the gorgeous Plaza de la Paz, has some intriguing alleyways with tapas and copas aplenty. Believe us, the hours soon slip away.
Gastronomy & Wine
Get out the copas (glasses) and make sure to arrive hungry, as La Rioja is a destination bursting with fine wine and superlative gastronomy. It is Spain’s second-smallest Autonomous Community (after the Canary Islands), and yet both Riojan wines and the region’s culinary heritage are famous throughout Spain. Utilizing local produce as much as possible, Riojan gastronomy is all heart and soul – divine, but intensely nourishing and homely. Family-run inns and unpretentious casas de comidas are the staple of Riojan restaurants, offering home cooking that has much in common with that of neighboring Navarra, Aragon, and Leon.
However, while Riojan gastronomy has always been of high quality, in recent years a culinary shift has seen a stronger emphasis on experimentation and molecular cuisine. Of course, traditional restaurants still abound, but they have been joined by a firmament that values innovation as much as tradition. The result has been the awarding of Michelin stars, which can only enhance Rioja’s reputation as a premier food and wine region.
Indeed, budding chefs are really spoilt for choice when it comes to fresh produce. Market gardens are full of artichokes, asparagus, cardoons, borage, Swiss chard, aubergines, and courgettes. Small and fiery red chili peppers, alegrias Riojans, are a key component of local cuisine, as is wine. Many meat dishes involve wine and brandy – look out for solomillo al vino de Rioja ( beefsteak macerated in red Rioja and brandy, and cooked with shallots and mushrooms) – as do desserts. Traditional desserts are usually fruits poached in wine, while local pastries are made with walnuts and almonds.
Yet the food culture in Rioja’s mountain areas is quite distinctive. Pork is vital; all kinds of cured pork products – chorizo, salchichon and a delicious sweet blood sausage made with rice – go into stews rich with the mottled caparrones (kidney beans) and red beans. Wild boar, venison, partridge, hare, and quail are all regular guests on menus. But perhaps Rioja’s greatest culinary treasure is its tradition of grilling lamb over smoldering vine prunings. Chuletas, which are lamb chops from very young lamb, taste unbelievably moreish when cooked over vine shoot embers. Lechazo asado or cordero lechal asado, which is young milk-fed lamb rubbed with garlic and roasted in a hot wood-fired oven until tender, defies words. Freshwater crayfish, trout and salt cod are also popular in La Rioja. The fresh, salty, slightly acidic goat’s cheese Camerano rounds off this gastronomic feast nicely. It makes a divine tapa, served over caramelized onions.
Cellar Tours recommended restaurants
L La Vieja BodegaModeradamente caro
One of the most atmospheric restaurants in Rioja, this creative eatery featured stone walls, high ceilings, timber beams and crisp linen tablecloths. Cozy, friendly and with a great wine cellar as the name suggests.
E Echaurren “El Portal”Moderadamente caro
Gourmets flock to this 2 Michelin starred gem, located in the medieval village of Ezcaray. Head chef Francis Paniego (who is also the consulting chef at Hotel Marques de Riscal) will send your taste buds on a surprising roller coaster, in this bright and airy space.
A Asador José MariModeradamente caro
This winemaker’s favorite is THE place to come for roast baby lamb chops cooked over vines, served with Padron peppers. The food is traditional Riojano and good value and the wine list is great. After a simple, delicious meal, relax with a G&T at their chillout Ibiza style bar, DJ and all!
C Casa ZaldiernaModeradamente caro
This very special gastronomic inn offers memorable meals in a dreamy little stone hamlet in the mountains of Rioja. The dining room is utterly charming, the staff could not be friendlier and the super high quality ingredients are carefully and thoughtfully sourced.
I IkaroModeradamente caro
Michelin starred stylish and contemporary hot spot in Logroño. The setting is gorgeous with a gold, olive green, and grey color palette and organic table decor like cactus and tree bark platters. The cuisine is sophisticated and fun.
H Hector OribeModeradamente caro
This one is an old winemaker’s favorite that keeps going from good to great. Their small, unpretentious and unassuming dining room in the historic hamlet of Páganos is home to some of the best Riojan Basque cuisine in the region. You can’t go wrong on the menu as the fish and meat dishes are all delish. Bib Gourmand.
B Bodegas Baigorri RestaurantModeradamente caro
Baigorri is one of the most ultra-modern design wineries in Rioja, and yet the cuisine served in their restaurant overlooking the barrels is wonderfully traditional. Riojan beans, spicy guindilla peppers, sautéed wild mushrooms and local cheeses are paired with estate wines.
Cellar Tours selection of Top Rioja Wineries
Amaren meaning “from the mother” in Euskadi. Produce magnificent fine wines in the utterly beautiful village of Samaniego, Rioja Alavesa.
The Artadi vineyards are one of the most luxurious in the Rioja, and the wines are known worldwide.
B Bodega Contador (Benjamin Romeo)
Benjamin Romeo is a rock star in the wine world! From his base in the beautiful village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, he produces an extensive range.
C Castillo Cuzcurrita
Castillo Cuzcurrita is one of our fave spots in Rioja, & this beautiful wine estate with a castle onsite, hosts unforgettable tastings for our guests
C Conde de los Andes
Built by Portuguese workers in the 16th century, the legendary cellars of Conde de los Andes in the historic village of Ollauri, in Rioja
Contino is a top class fine wine estate in Rioja, owned by CVNE ("Cune"), and boasts picturesque vineyards and a very attractive tasting room area
H Heredad San Andrés (Cupani)
Cupani is located in San Vicente de la Sonsierra one of La Rioja's most picturesque villages, dominated by an ancient church on the top of a hill
H Hermanos Peciña
Hermanos Pecina is one of the most interesting high end producers in Rioja Alta, creating modern masterpieces of the noble Tempranillo based wines
L La Rioja Alta
There probably isn't a Rioja lover alive today who hasn't heard of La Rioja Alta, the region's most 'fiercely traditional and proud of it' winery
M Marqués de Murrieta
Visit Marques de Murrieta Winery, La Rioja, on one of CellarTours Luxury Wine Vacations in Spain, enjoy fine food and wine
M Marqués de Riscal
Marques de Riscal was founded in 1858 in Rioja Alavesa, the northern Rioja sub-zone known today for producing wines of great structure and ageing potential
M Martinez Bujanda
Martinez Bujanda are another exceptional winery in La Rioja. They are again a very old family, having established the business back in 1889.
M Miguel Merino
Tucked away just beneath the gorgeous hilltop village of Briones in Rioja Alta, the Miguel Merino estate is making some of the most elegant wines in Rioja.
Visit Muga Winery, on one of CellarTours Luxury Wine Vacations in Spain, enjoy fine food and wine
Remelluri is one of the most important wineries in La Rioja, not for its aristoctratic roots (it was only founded in 1967)
R Remirez de Ganuza
Remirez de Ganuza make high end hand-crafted wines right in the stunning medieval hamlet of Samaniego with the Cantabrian mountains as a dramatic backdrop
The Roda wine estate is perhaps the most chic winery in Rioja, making top of the market fine red wines right in downtown historic Haro
Valenciso is one of our favorite wineries in La Rioja, located outside the historic small hamlet of Ollauri, known for its award winning Reservas
Finca Valpiedra is an outstanding single cru Pago vineyard in La Rioja, Spain, making excellent hand crafted Reserva level wines
La Rioja Wine Region
The beautiful wine country of La Rioja is a fascinating and historic region regularly featured on our luxury wine tours. Rioja was demarcated by the area’s governing body, the CONSEJO REGULADOR, in 1926. The region extends for approx. 120 km along both sides of the Ebro River and is, at its widest, 50 kilometers, bounded by mountains on either side. The word “Rioja” is a derivation of the two words “Rio” (River) and “Oja” (name of a tributary of the Ebro, located near the region’s southwestern boundary).
“La Rioja” has always been a vital part of Spain’s history. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and finally, medieval Crusaders have all played a role in the area’s history. The Romans, however, made wine a part of their culture wherever they traveled, and La Rioja was no exception. Ancient sites of Roman wineries still exist in and around the area today.
After the Romans came the Moors, and winemaking all but ceased. It wasn’t until after the famous “El Cid” liberated Spain and medieval Christianity brought trade via the Crusaders through the region that it flourished again. The Benedictine monks of Cluny in Burgundy, known for their viticulture, helped to establish three monasteries in the area. The vines they planted were mostly white grapes. In the fourteenth century, English traders acquired a taste for a local Rioja wine, a blend of white and red wines called Blancos Pardillos. Over time, the development of lighter reds came about satisfying eighteenth-century English and French courts.
Sub Wine Regions of La Rioja
La Rioja Alavesa, the smallest of the three Rioja sub-regions, is today responsible for producing some of the area's most expensive and venerable wine.
This is undoubtedly the beating heart of the great Rioja region. La Rioja Alta, one of the three Rioja sub-regions, lies entirely within the municipality of La Rioja
From one perspective, Rioja Oriental is Spain's newest wine appellation. For decades, the largest sub-region in Rioja was known as Rioja Baja, in reference to the generally lower altitudes of the vineyards compared to Rioja Alta and Alavesa
Cellar Tours Exclusive Wine Tours in La Rioja Region
La Rioja Wine Tours
La Rioja Wine Tours: Your own chauffeur, accommodation at luxurious wine hotel & fine dining in top restaurants in wine country
Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour
This Northern Spain Tour is for food & wine lovers; includes the regions of Ribera del Duero, Rioja; traditional & Michelin starred dining & luxury hotels.
San Sebastian Wine Tour
This unforgettable tour includes Michelin Starred dining at Akelarre & Mugaritz, VIP private wine tours in Txakoli & La Rioja, plus luxury hotel
Recommended Towns & places in La Rioja
Laguardia is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval villages in Spain. It is also located right in Rioja wine country and is the perfect base for your wine tour of Spain’s most well-known red wine region. Laguardia is a medieval hill hamlet (called “villa” in Spanish), reminiscent of Tuscan hilltop villages. The town is surrounded by an ancient wall and has a delightful jumble of cobble-stoned streets lined with “Tabernas,” wine shops, palaces, and cafes. Laguardia was founded in the year 1164 by King Sancho Abarca, and the spectacularly preserved wall dates back to the 15th century. The entire village became protected as Patrimony of Spain in 1964. The name “Laguardia” originates from “La Guardia de Navarra,” the “Guard” of Navarra, referring to its strategic importance in the kingdom of Navarre.
Briones is a quaint medieval village in the La Rioja wine country in Northern Spain and its wineries and restaurants are a "must" on a visit to the region.
The chief calling cards of Cuzcurrita del Rio Tiron, 51km west of Logrono, are its spectacular 14th century castle and quaint medieval bridge over the river Tiron.
Ezcaray is a small inviting town that combines history, culture, gastronomy, and style into a lively base for exploring the gorgeous Rioja wine region.
Haro represents the very soul of the Rioja region. The administrative capital of La Rioja is actually Logrono, yet there is an almost indescribable magic to this small, attractive town situated in the north of the zone.
Logrońo is the capital & main economic center of Rioja's wine region in Spain and is a lively town with world famous tapas bars and wine themed restaurants
It's easy to spin back the wheels of time in the medieval town of Najera. It is one of the most lively in La Rioja, with restaurants, shops, and cafes galore.
Tiny Ollauri, 40km northwest of wine capital Logroño, is a gorgeous, quiet rural village set in lovely green countryside
Pamplona, capital of the delightfully picturesque Navarra region, is best known for its daredevil bull-running fiesta, which is held in July.
Sajazarra is a dream come true for the aimless ambler. Yet this small, obscenely quaint fortified village is arguably one of Rioja’s best-kept secrets
Situated at the foot of the Cantabrian mountain range, in the Rioja Alavesa sub-region, Samaniego is a perfect example of a picturesque Riojan winemaking village.
San Millan de Cogolla
About 16km southwest of the village of Najera, you'll find the delightful and little-known hamlet of San Millan de Cogolla.
San Vicente de la Sonsierra
San Vicente is a fairytale village and an important gateway into the region's past.
Santo Domingo de La Calzada
Visiting Santo Domingo is a very irresistible proposition. It represents small-town Spain at its very best, with a large number of its inhabitants continuing to live in the partially walled old quarter
Vitoria-Gasteiz, is probably the most underrated city in Spain. It is the capital of the southern Basque province of Alava, which produces some of the best wine in Rioja.
Local Events & Festivals
Rioja Wine harvest Festival
18th-22nd of September. An annual festival in Logroño is organized to celebrate the new harvest and offer thanks to Our Lady of Valvanera the patron Saint of Rioja.
Medieval Festival in Briones
Jun 15th – June 16th, 2019. A medieval festival set in the historic quarter of Briones recreates life in the region in the 14th century
Today, there are some 63,500 hectares under vine in Rioja, spread across three distinct sub-regions. Rioja Alta is situated west of the city of Logrono, Rioja Alavesa is partly located in Alava, a province in the Basque Country to the north and Rioja Oriental is found south-east of Logrono, parts of which lie in the neighboring region of Navarra. Rioja’s northern border is particularly spectacular – marked by the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range, it forms a natural protection for the vines against the cooler winds and rain from the Atlantic. To the south lie the Sierra de la Demanda and Las Cameros mountain ranges. The River Ebro, running through the region, has a host of vineyards on both banks and helps provide irrigation for the vines
Climatically, Rioja is something of a chameleon. Rioja Oriental enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with often baking hot summers, while La Rioja Alta has a more Atlantic climate. The lower altitudes in Rioja Oriental, combined with the typically hot, dry summers ensure that Grenache achieves full ripeness, with generous alcohol levels often above 14.5%. In contrast, the elevated terrain of Alavesa combines with its cooler, wetter climate to provide wines with a signature freshness and lower alcohol. The region, however, often experiences brisk, cold winters, which coupled with short hot summers, forces the roots of the vines to fight for an abundance of nourishment, resulting in grapes with an abundance of flavor
Average High/Low temperatures for Bordeaux in Celisus/Fahrenheit
When to go
Without doubt, the best times to visit Rioja are May and June. The weather is usually warm and sunny, but it lacks the intensity of July/August. The region is humming, the restaurant terraces are open and a packed cultural calendar awaits you! September is also a magical time to visit, right in the middle of the annual harvest.
Vitoria has La Rioja’s main airport and is under an hour drive from Laguardia, Haro and Logrono. Bilbao airport is an approx 90 min from Laguardia and surrounding wine
Haro is located about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Bilbao airport and is the first big wine hub coming from the north. Logroño is just under a 4-hour drive from Madrid.
Logroño is the main train hub in La Rioja with regular services from Madrid and Bilbao
Cellar Tours Selection of Top Hotels in La RIoja
This darling little inn in the heart of medieval Laguardia is a great base for Rioja if you plan to stay for a few nights as you can walk around at night and enjoy the village’s buzzy wine bar scene, scenic walks, and neat restaurants. Nice jacuzzi/sauna area and wine tunnel bar. The restaurant here is really great too.
Run by THE most charming young family, this is one of our fave hotels in Rioja. Located in a lovingly restored, stone palace in the medieval village of Cuzcurrita, their 12 theatrically themed rooms with exposed beams and hardwood floors are all unique. Breakfast is great, there is an honor bar, a cellar for wine tasting and the exuberant owners run many fun activities throughout the year. Personal fave!
Hotel Marqués de Riscal
The Frank Gehry designed hotel at the historic wine estate of Marques de Riscal was a game changer when it opened in 2006 in a wine region that previously had no luxury hotel options. The ultra modern design, contrasting with the ancient church and the hamlet of El Ciego is one of the most photographed and iconic locations in Rioja. Rooms are very “Marie Kondo” and the hotel offers a spa, casual bistro, wine bar and gastronomic restaurant.
For design and wine lovers, this striking, contemporary hotel set in one of the most traditional winemaking villages in Rioja is just right for you. A lovely terrace with views of the Sierra de la Cantabria Mountains, free bike rental, gastronomic restaurant, and the vicinity to so many great cellars (Izadi, Luis Cañas, etc) are major value adds.
This luxury boutique hotel in a converted 16th century stone palace is located in the pretty hamlet of Briñas, and is our latest addition to our luxury wine tours portfolio in Rioja. The decor is elegant with a relaxing natural color palette. The spacious rooms offer river views and luxury amenities. Atmospheric bar, and gastronomic restaurant on site.
Things to do
With all the amazing food and wine in this region, what better than to work it off while enjoying a relaxing walk through the vineyards with an expert local guide? The treks are tailored to your fitness level and interest and can include flat walks or more challenging hikes up to castles and look out points.
Rioja is rich in neolithic heritage with many sites dating back more than 6,000 years. One of the most beautiful is the Dolmen “La Chabola de la Hechicera” in Elvillar with a backdrop of vineyards, mountains, and an ancient church. But there are many more, and you can do a short and fascinating driving route in Rioja Alavesa to see some of the best ones.
Spain is home to one of the largest and most diverse bird migration paths in Europe and the bird watching is extraordinarily good. In Rioja one of the best places for bird watching is in the Lagunas de Laguardia outside of the medieval village, where four wetland lakes are home to a number of interesting species.
While Rioja is rightfully known for its wines, it is also home to beautiful mountains and in winter too early spring you can combine wine tasting with skiing at the Valdezcaray ski station. This ski resort is perfect for beginners and families and is very close to the beautiful town of Ezcaray and the quaint village of Zaldierna.
Hot Air Balloons
Hot air ballooning is exhilarating and life-affirming and here in Rioja, the views from above are dramatic. Mountains, vineyards, ancient church steeples…glide over them, glass in cava in hand. This is a memorable activity and fun for special occasions.
During the Middle Ages and the “reconquest” of Spain from Arab invaders, a multitude of castles and fortresses were erected, many of which we can still see today. For amazing views and scenery, we love the Castle of Clavijo and Davalillo. The fortress of San Vicente de la Sonsierra is also a great visit, especially after sipping world-class wines at Contador (Benjamin Romeo) or visiting the vineyards by 4X4 at Cupani, in the same hamlet. Castles, wine and hiking- what a great mix!
Cheese Tasting (Quesos Cameros)
This family run dairy makes a sublime mix of artisan and aged cheeses including pure goat’s cheese based on a 1,000-year-old recipe, pure sheep’s cheese and a blend of three kinds of milk (sheep, goat, cow). Making cheese for generations, and based in Haro since 1961, the family have modernized the facilities while keeping the production methods 100% traditional (olive oil baths, natural rennet, etc). You can come and taste their cheeses in situ as they offer various tours (including Riojan wine and artisan chocolate!).
This gourmet shop offers a selection of artisan local vermouths, wine, gourmet goodies like spicy chorizo and also handmade jewelry and local crafts. The owner runs walking tours of medieval Laguardia that conclude with a glass of wine, naturally.
Mercado de San Blas
This beautiful, historic market opened in the current structure in 1930 and was updated in 1987. Apart from the multiple food stalls, you would find in any classic Spanish market, this Logroño gem is also home to art and photography exhibitions & culinary festivals and tasting events. Find the heartbeat of this fun town here, alongside the best, high-quality fruit, veg, seafood, meats, and wine! Closed Sundays.
The utterly quaint mountain village of Ezcaray (one of the gourmet capitals of Rioja) is world famous for its exquisite wool blankets and this shop has been making them since 1930. Their luxury Mohair blankets, Cashmere, Alpaca blankets (also gorgeous scarves) are the perfect gift for a special occasion.
Oleoteca la Chinata
Olive oil lovers will have found their Mecca here at this Logroño boutique, part of the Chinata empire. This brand became famous for their flavored olive oils and then branched out into olive oil based cosmetics and you will find so many wonderful gifts here! Their long-lived, high-quality olive oil-based soaps make the perfect Spanish souvenir.
Felix Barbero Botas Rioja
The quintessential souvenir from Rioja has to be the leather wineskin- the Bota de Vino. This artisan producer is the 5th generation making them. His great great grandfather started selling them in 1865! You can also purchase them online through this company.
Buying wine in Spain
Both carrying wine on flights and shipping wine abroad have become difficult to impossible in recent years due to new airline restrictions and import bureaucracy. Most of the wineries we work with sell their wine abroad in major markets (US/ UK/ etc) and we can tell you where to purchase the wines in your area. If you do want to ship, the main methods are UPS and DHL; both very expensive options. Some wineries “ship” wines, often having their distributors in your region ship it to you rather than sending it to you from Spain. This is due to import regulations. If you would like to carry wine back, we suggest you bring a small suitcase and be sure to pack and pad it properly before checking it in.
Timetable for meals
Lunch hours in restaurants are 1:30/2PM –4/5PM (weekends you can enjoy your big lunch until 5 PM easily). Tapas bars tend to be open all day from early morning to late evening. Dinner- few restaurants open before 9 PM and most diners head for their dinner around 9:30/10PM. On weekends, many restaurant kitchens serve until 1 AM. Some restaurants more accustomed to foreigners open earlier, but it is not the norm. After dinner, most Spaniards take a “Paseo”, a digestive walk, try it!
Opening times for shops – traditional shops tend to open around 10, close from 1:30/2PM to 4:30/5PM and then stay open until 8-10PM, depending on the part of town. In tourist areas, shops have longer hours. Shopping – bargaining is frowned upon. The listed price is the price and it is insulting to ask for lower pricing (both in shops and markets). Shops do not accept other forms of currency besides euros.
Facts and figures
President Regional Government
José Ignacio Ceniceros
Area under vine
Principal Red Grapes
Graciano, Garnacha, Mazuela, Maturana Tinta, Tempranillo
Chardonnay,Garnacha Blanca, Malvasía Riojana, Sauvignon Blanc, Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Torrontés, Verdejo,Viura
360 million bottles (2018)
If you would like us to customize an exclusive, luxury tour for you, get in touch with us and let us know your travel plans. We offer luxury food and wine tours for private groups of minimum 2 guests. All of our private, chauffeured tours are available year round upon request.Contact us for your personalized quote!
Cellar Tours is a Luxury Travel Specialist, operating since 2003 and offering exclusive Mercedes chauffeured Gourmet Vacations in Chile, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, and Spain. We specialize in luxurious custom designed vacations, events and incentives related to food and wine. We are proud members of Slow Food, UNAV (Travel Agency Association in Spain), and the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals).