Small Province with “Grape” Promise
Located in the north of Spain, south of the Pyrenees Mountains separating Spain from France, you'll come across little La Rioja. This is the smallest province in Spain, but don't tell that to the shelves of liquor stores that carry its eponymous red wine. "Rioja" is an internationally acclaimed family of wines with an 800-year tradition. Between the oenephiles and "perigrinos" – pilgrims who pass through on the long Camino de Santiago, the people of the region welcome the hoards who come to drink and walk (although not necessarily at the same time.)
The capital of La Rioja is Logroño, an official stop on the Camino de Santiago and a good place to start your wine route. The city's first priority has always been the fruit of the vine. In 1635, the mayor banned carts from streets next to wineries "for fear that the vibration caused by these vehicles might affect the wine." This may come as a surprise for anyone in an American urban area – but these wineries are commonly referred to as bodegas. No newspapers or chewing gum here.
Take part in the Bacchanalia during the annual Rioja Grape Harvest Festival. Every September, Logroño, the capital of Rioja, offers regional cuisine that pairs well with the local wine. Think spicy seafood dishes like paella and pork and lamb stews. And while we're all for enjoying a glass or two (or three) you'll also hear local music, dance and see fireworks. At the Pisado de la Uva, men in folk costumes crush the fruit with their feet, offering the first mosto – unfermented grape juice – to the Virgen de Valvanera. The event also brings out the bulls. Start running…
…To the Camino de Santiago. Simply watch the pilgrims on their walk or take a stroll on what's known in English as "The Way of St. James." A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Camino has existed for over 1,000 years and is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages. Legend holds that St. James's remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.
Logroño is more than just wine. The city also enjoys a long tradition of arts, theater and food. The mayor himself wrote the city's best tapas guide. There are over 50 tapaterias located within a four-block area near the town center. Have a little nibble and you'll be ordering more.
With a Eurail Spain Pass and the high-speed RENFE trains, you can easily drink in La Rioja. Madrid and Barcelona are both under four hours. Feeling bullish after a few glasses? Pamplona is two hours away.
But don't run just yet. Between the red wine and wonderful tapas, this small region goes down easy.
Contributed by: Melanie, Marketing Project Manager, French American with Swedish and Italian origins, who comes from the Entertainment business and truly believes that traveling by train is the best entertainment experience ever!