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In vino veritas: La Rioja, Spain.
The Rioja region of Spain gets its name 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. Although it has long been famous for its rich red wine, its new draw is a number of choice avant-garde ‘bodegas’ (wineries) that have been designed by ‘starchitects’ such as Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. These fabulous ultra modern buildings live alongside historic towns and villages, so you get the best of both worlds.
Head for the walled village of La Guardia. Dating back to the 12th century, it stands proudly on a hilltop which overlooks not only historic vineyards but also on the Calatrava designed Ysios ‘bodega’ with its wave-shaped roof topped with aluminium slats. Arguably everyone’s favorite is Gehry's spectacular Marqués de Riscal's Ciudad del Vino (city of wine). Completed in 2006, the complex includes a hotel, wine therapy spa, a restaurant, and a conference centre. Its design feature is the sun-reflecting, coloured titanium strips which whirl around the roof.
Of course at the end of an informative tour of one of these wineries, you can join a tasting session or try visiting the Paternina Bodega ‘Conde de los Andes’, with its superb adjoining restaurant (www.restaurantelconde.com ) in Ollauri, a nearby village well off the tourist track.
The region is just 75km south of Bilbao, where Easy Jet (www.easyJet.com) flies from London Stansted.