Day 1: San Sebastian to Rioja

/ Lunch in Pamplona
/ Check-in and Cocktails at the Marques de Riscal
/ Spa
/ Dinner at Marques de Riscal

We left San Sebastian by about 10:30 am and drove 1 hour or so to Pamplona. It’s a lovely and easy drive through the hills via the A-15. We drove into Pamplona’s city center (this is well marked on the main road) where we parked and walked around a bit. We had lunch in the main square at one of the hotels facing the plaza. We had to walk down to see the Arena (though neither of us is a fan of bull fighting) and then got back to our car for our drive to Elciego in Rioja (Elciego/Eltziego is technically in Basque Country right on the border of Rioja). Pamplona is a nice historic city to visit but neither of us were inclined to spend our time there. The drive from Pamplona to Elciego is about 1 hour and 15 minutes, again very nice drive and highway. If you prefer, you can stop in Logrono rather than stopping in Pamplona. Logrono is a scenic city with numerous restaurants and bars. It’s also a good base for touring Rioja with many options for hotels.

Check in, Relax, Spa, Dinner

riscal.jpg

We checked in to the Starwood Luxury Collection Marques de Riscal which we chose for its notable architecture by Frank Gehry as well as the quality of the Luxury Collection brand. By using a combination of points and cash, our rate was quite excellent. If you’re flexible with dates and/or book in advance, you can get some exception rates for this 5-star property.

  • Check in: 3:00 pm (check out is noon)

  • Drinks on Patio: 4:00 pm

  • Spa Appointments: 5:30 - 7:30

  • Dinner: 9:00 pm in Hotel’s 1860 Tradicion Restaurant


Day 2: Wine Tasting in Haro

/ Haro, the “Wine Capital” of Rioja
/ The Wine Museum
/ Dinner at Las Duelas

Driving around Rioja is beautiful and relaxed. Depending on the time of year you are there, you’ll encounter either more or less people. We visited from May 30-June 3, and the weather was splendid and very few people were about.

The goal of Day 2 was to get to Haro and do some winetasting!

  • Leisurely morning with breakfast at the hotel followed by a walk to and around the village of Elciego which is small, on a hill, and easily taken in within a few hours.

  • Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture, Briones, Rioja: 4,000 square metres and six rooms, one exterior, devoted to valuing the relationship between man and wine over 8,000 years of history. Reservations can be made online in advance of your trip. We chose the self-guided tour for 15E and ate lunch in the Gastrobar. It was pleasant and interesting - not sure it’s a “must see”, but if you’re there, why not!

  • Haro: Haro is the “Wine Capital” of Rioja with wineries and tasting rooms for Roda, Lopez de Heredia, CVNE, Muga and several others. Haro is an easy and lovely drive of about 25 minutes from Elciego. Watch out driving using your GPS in Haro - more on that later.

  • Bodegas Roda: You have several options with Roda - but it requires planning and reservations. Most wineries have pretty limited wine tour times - 2 or 3 time options at most is typical (usually late morning and then early afternoon) AND all the wineries require reservations and prepayment via their websites. Roda has several experiences from booking a ride on a horse drawn carriage through the vineyard to visiting the wine bar in central Haro (we did the latter). On a return visit, we hope to time things better to enjoy more of their winery. The Roda wines are modern and delicious - a favorite of ours and wine we brought home with us and have since purchased in the US. It’s that good.

  • Lopez de Heredia: Reservations required here as well, and note it’s a 2-hour tour (snacks at the end with some wine). You can visit the Zaha Hadid-designed wine bar which sits in front of the winery on a more relaxed, less formal schedule. Like the other wine bars, it’s open during the day with a break in the afternoon and then again late afternoon for a few more hours. This is very traditional Riojan wine, classic profile and what we used to always think of when we thought about Rioja reds. The tour was fun and interesting and worth it.

  • CVNE: On our way out of Haro, we stopped by CVNE without a reservation as here too, you can visit the wine bar without reservations. It was a well-designed, modern wine bar and the wine tasting was delicious and generous.

Dinner in Haro: Las Duelas now El Claustro

After our wine touring and a bit of walking about after wine tasting to wear off any effects, we drove back to our hotel to check email, rest and change for dinner. Then, it was a drive back to Haro for dinner at the Hotel Los Agustinos, a good place to stay (value, location and ambiance). When we visited, the restaurant was Las Duelas. That has now changed to El Claustro. The change is probably good. The food was good, but we expected something different than we experienced. Perhaps the restaurant was preparing for its changeover and not quite working full throttle. We were also tired and perhaps not that hungry. The environment was lovely.

Driving the narrow streets.

On our way out of Haro, our GPS took us up and into a dead-end residential street so narrow that we had to fold in the mirrors of the car to get it through. It was harrowing (no pun intended). We were sure we would get stuck and have to find someone to drag us out. The car was a few fingers width from the walls of the buildings - NOT FUN. Moral of story - if it looks like your car might have a hard time getting turned around and out - don’t proceed down a narrow street :)

Day 3: Wine Tasting - Architecturally Brilliant Wineries

If you love architecture like we do, you will not want to miss these wineries. You MUST reserve ahead of time and please allow for 2 hours or so for the tour or longer if lunch is offered:

  • Bodegas Baigorri - Architect: Inaki Aspiazu. Recommendation: Tour and Lunch. Lunch is in amazing and in a beautiful dining room that overlooks the valley and vinyards. The meal was beyond delicious and the wine pairings were of course superb. Reservations are from Tuesday - Saturday at either 11 or 1. If you’re trying to do Baigorri and Ysios in the same day, you may have some time challenges.

    Designed by IÑAKI ASPIAZU IZA and shown below in the first group of photos, this winery appears to be like the Glass House of wine making. Not really, of course as the wine operation is cut into the hillside with expansive views not only available from the pavilion, but also from the dining room and levels inside the hill. It's a remarkable place (more photos below) and the food in the dining room was outstanding (and, with the incredibly reasonable price of lunch and tour, it's a sin not to do it). The wine is quite good, modern Rioja, which is my personal preference over the traditional Riojan wines. A favorite was their white, fresh and crisp, but I also enjoyed the Belus which is from the Mazuela grape and the Reserva (Tempranillo). I brought home 3 bottles because it isn’t easily found in the US. A consistent statement for me across all the wine I brought home was: I was sad to see the bottom of the bottle.

  • Bodegas Ysios - Architecturally, Ysios is probably the most famous of the wineries since its architect is Santiago Calatrava. It is beautifully designed and sits in its context just perfectly. The wines are delicious and modern. The tour was fun with a lively host guiding us through and reprimanding us from being too loud with our feet or voices: "the wine is ehsleeping." I brought back 3 bottles of this wine as well. One of them was exquisitely packaged and was a perfect gift for the holidays. Or, did we drink it? We may have gifted that to ourselves …

    Book well in advance, you only have the option of a tour and you’ll have wine tasting with snacks. Suggestion: You can and should buy their higher end wine and bring it home. You can’t find Ysios easily in the US and it’s delicious. It’s modern Spanish wine making - not the heavy and very “terroir” forward wines of traditional Rioja makers. Make reservations at this link & note: you may have to choose a different country rather than US to access the reservation portal. Time of the tour is limited - 1:30 pm and a very reasonable 25 euros with tasting.