Explore its little winemaking villages, which have many treasures not immediately obvious.
Things to do in Rioja: Discover the ancient relics of winemaking
One of the delightful activities you can do while in La Rioja region of Spain is explore its little winemaking villages, which have many treasures not immediately obvious…
As you explore the countryside on your rioja wine tour, church towers punctuating the landscape will show you their presence, leading you to quaint honey-coloured little villages. Their narrow medieval streets and imposing manors adorned with coats of arms tell you stories of nobles and serfs. But not all the treasures will be in front of your eyes, because most of these little villages have an underworld labyrinth of cellars where wine has been produced for centuries.
It has always been a tradition of Rioja wineries to excavate underground to make their cellars, and they can be seen to this day in a variety of different models, according to different circumstances. Some were excavated horizontally; some had to be dug deep so as to be at a sufficiently low level, while others have their cellars underneath their buildings.
It was also usual for the cellars to be concentrated in a particular area of the town: creating an entire cellar ‘neighbourhood’, and this remains a feature unique to Rioja. Some towns might have more than 300 cellars, and with countless independent producers, gives some idea of how the land is optimal for winemaking.
Another mark the wineries have made in Rioja and you can spot in the towns, are the chimneys (tuferas) used to ventilate the cellars, which boast various different designs, often with beautifully carved and hollowed-out stones.
Some of the best examples of Rioja’s winemaking towns and villages you can visit include:
- San Vicente de la Sonsierra
The walled hill-top town of Laguardia, for instance, not only provides you with amazing views over the vineyard-bedecked landscape, plus a spectacular baroque church, but also the opportunity to visit historical wine cellars. Simply pop into any restaurant and hotel in the winding little streets and you can view the wine cellars, plus it’s the chance to taste some Rioja wine in the very place where it was aged.
San Vicente de la Sonsierra sits at the foot of the Sierra de Cantabria – the spectacular mountain range that runs across La Rioja. In between the castle, churches and ancient monuments, be sure to also explore the town’s wine heritage. Protected by the mountain range, San Vicente enjoys a microclimate ideal for vines, so winemaking runs in the blood here, with quite literally dozens of wineries (bodegas) you can visit.
In the Briones Wine Culture Museum, you can get a fascinating run-down of the history of wine in what is considered the most comprehensive wine museum in the world.
In fact, this region has the dedicated La Rioja Alta Wine Route, which takes in these key towns, villages and vineyards, and one which Rioja in Style can help guide you on.