Rioja Travel Guide
Not surprisingly the area is very popular with outdoor pursuits and sports enthusiasts and there are abundant opportunities for mountaineering, potholing, hangliding and canoeing. As you would imagine, the hunting and game fishing are superb. Thereís also a three hundred hectare ski resort at Valdezcaray, with a choice of nineteen different slopes. With such a fascinating variety of terrain in the region, it has become a favourite destination for trekkers. La Rioja has a wealth of well-trodden historical tracks but none is quite as fascinating as the dinosaur trail. The region is filled with fossils, the best of which can be found between the villages of Enciso and Muro de Aguas. At Valdecevillo you can literally walk with dinosaurs, as here youíll find the footprints left by an enormous carnivorous biped
La Rioja is steeped in history. It is through these very lands that the Pilgrims made their legendary journey to the tomb of St. James and you can follow their trail today. The whole area is comparable to a vast outdoor museum. The historical buildings, fascinating ruins and natural phenomena are scattered liberally throughout the region. At San Millan there stand two monasteries, Yuso and Suso, the latter being where the very first words of the Castilian language were written. The 11th century Convent of Santa Maria La Real in Najera is a wonder to behold, with its superb cloisters and tombs of various regional kings.
In truth, it would be unusual for anyone to visit La Rioja without being on a wine tour of some kind. However the region is on route to various major destinations Ė San Sebastian, Bilbao or Andorra, to name a few Ė and it is well worth taking at least a day out to sample the wine and local cuisine. Many of the larger bodegas still do not open their doors to visitors but things are changing. Most of the small independent and collective bodegas welcome visitors. The bulk of the wine produced by these smaller concerns is done so using an open vat method, as opposed to the sealed vats used by the larger bodegas. Visitors are invited on a short tour of the vineyards, vats and bottling plants, followed by a tasting and maybe a traditional peasant meal for a few pesetas. Of course there will also be a chance to buy a few bottles to take on your journey. As an invaluable insight to Spainís peasant origins this really cannot be beaten and the traditionally produced wine is particularly delicious.
Haro, situated in central La Rioja, is the wine producing capital of the region and is usually top of the list for anyone on a wine tour. Here there are numerous small bodegas producing some of the finest wine La Rioja has to offer. Here too you can eat some of the very best cuisine. A must for all visitors is to have at least one meal at the scrubbed communal picnic tables. Here you can try such fabulous dishes as roast lamb and menudillos de cordero con huevo al horno, a casserole of lamb giblets and egg. Of course a visit to Haro would not be complete without a trip to the enological research Station. Founded in 1892, its aim to study winemaking systems, it is now dedicated to improving the quality of the regionís wines. Here youíll find the Wine Museum, three storeys of exhibitions that give you a fascinating insight to the complete process of the wine making and beyond.
Along with wine the regionís inhabitants of are most proud of their reputation for being amongst the friendliest people in Spain. This is reflected in the number of festivities to be enjoyed here. Foremost amongst the celebrations are Harvest Festival in Logrono, the Wine Battle in Haro, Processions of One Hundred Maids of Sorzana and Santo Domingo and the colourful Stilt Dance of Anguano. Festivities in the region are more traditional than in other areas of Spain, yet equally, if not more, enthusiastic. Visitors to these events leave with a feeling of the strength within the various rural communities and a little more understanding of the countries general affability towards the millions of strangers that pass through.
If you enjoy good wine, intriguing culture and beautiful countryside this is the place to come. Even if you are teetotal a visit to La Rioja is a terrifically heady brew.
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