Churches, wine tasting and bar hopping in La Rioja, Spain

Known more as a choice tipple to accompany a steak than an historic region in northern Spain, La Rioja is nonetheless a province well worth a visit. Its name comes from the Rio Oja (the ‘Leafy River‘) which, as a tributary of the river Ebro, waters the vines that produce some of Spain’s finest wines.

Just an hour’s drive from Bilbao, most of the ‘Bodegas’ (wineries) found around the small town of Haro offer tours, wine tasting and the chance to buy. Try the Paternina Bodega ‘Conde de los Andes’, with its superb adjoining restaurant (www.restaurantelconde.com ) in Ollauri, a nearby village off the tourist track.

Both Haro and the region’s capital Logroño have lively, must-visit, bar hopping areas: the former on the Calle de la Herradura and the latter centred around ‘El Laurel’ street, where the whole drag is given over to small tapas bars, each one specializing in different, mouth-watering, hot tapas. A special small measure of beer, ‘un corto’ (a short) is available for those who like to stay on their feet.

Amongst the region’s cultural highlights are the Monasterio de Yuso, reputedly the cradle of the Spanish language (manuscripts there contain the first notes in Hispanic-Romance) and Santo Domingo de la Calzada’s early Gothic Cathedral.

On the Camino de Santiago, many of the small hilltop villages are dominated by surprisingly impressive churches. The villages, some walled, are a pleasure in themselves.

Fly to Bilbao or take the Ferry to Santander.

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