4 day tour of La Rioja
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Day 1: Nájera - Santo Domingo - Ezcaray
On the first day, you could follow the St James' Way as it crosses La Rioja. You can start in Logroño, although I would suggest that you leave at least one evening to get to know the capital and, particularly, to enjoy the popular cuisine of the Calle Laurel (the most visited location in La Rioja)
The St James' Way enters Logroño along the Stone Bridge and crosses the Old Town to the Church of Santiago. Under the church, you can find the Pilgrims’ Fountain and a curious life size board game, known as Oca, which depicts key landmarks on the St James' Way. Following the Way (guided by the yellow shells and arrows set on the pavement) you arrive at Plaza del Parlamento, where the La Rioja Parliament is located. Nearby is the Revellín Gate, one of the town’s old gates which faced Finisterre used by Pilgrims to continue on their way top Navarrete.
Following the St James' Way, you arrive in Navarrete. If you are driving, there is a bypass but the town is well worth visiting. In this town there is the only winery in Rioja right on the St James' Way: Bodegas Corral. The wine cellar offers tours.
Navarrete is also famous for its pottery workshops. You should visit some of the most traditional ones, like Antonio Naharro, just across the old Pilgrim Hospice of San Juan de Acre of which only the portal remains, today the entrance to the Navarrete Cemetery.
From Navarrete, you go on to Nájera, Cradle of Kings and site of the court of the Kingdom of Pamplona-Nájera (918-1076) for many years. Sancho III el Mayor built the monastery of Santa María La Real, with its Royal Pantheon. It is located in a cave, around which the monastery was built following a legendary vision.
Monastery of Santa Mª La Real de Nájera.
From Nájera, before retaking the St James' Way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, it is well worth your while to make a small detour (popular among pilgrims, even if they are walking) and visit the Monasteries of Yuso and Yuso in San Millán de la Cogolla —a World Heritage Site and the place where the first words written in the old Castilian and Basque languages were found. It is a privileged place, not only for its historical significance, but also for its scenic beauty.
Monastery of Yuso.
After San Millán, I recommend visiting another of the monasteries in La Rioja, the Cistercian Monastery of Cañas. It is an unusual monastery because unlike most of the gothic monasteries and those of the Cistercian order, this monastery was and still is inhabited by women. They are among the few Cistercian nuns in the world. The monastery is truly lovely.
Monastery of Cañas.
Once in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the entire city is built by and for the St James' Way, from the old Pilgrims’ Hospice, today a Parador Nacional, to the magnificent Cathedral, which holds the living proof of a famous medieval legend in which a chicken sang after being roasted. You can still hear singing the cock and hen crowing in the Cathedral and there you will learn about the legend.
Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
Very near Santo Domingo, you can visit the town of Ezcaray. There you can visit one of the temples of the Riojan cuisine, the Echaurren and for lovers of skiing a few kilometers away you will find the Valdezcaray Ski Resort.
Day 2: The mysteries of wine
Rioja wine is world famous but few people realise how important wine is for this community and for world culture in general. An amazing place to learn about this is the Dinastía Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine, located in the pretty medieval town of Briones. In its more than 4,000 square metres of exhibition space you can enjoy all that wine has bequeathed to art and culture, from ancient Egyptian art to modern Picassos and also learn all about making, transporting, barrel ageing and bottling wine. I recommend that you phone to book your visit as soon as possible because it is truly a must. The museum also offers winetasting courses and has a shop and a restaurant.
Vivanco de la cultura del vino Museum
After learning all about wine, you can get some practice in the Haro’s Station District, which holds the bulk of La Rioja’s century-old wineries. Many of them offer tours and it is difficult to recommend one.
If you travel in the Sonsierra district, starting with San Vicente (you can see the church and castle from Briones) you can find rock wine presses where grapes used to be tread and stone shelters known as guardaviñas, which were used to store tools and as shelters in the vineyards. You can also visit the only Temple Church in La Rioja: Santa María de la Piscina. San Vicente is also the venue of one of the best known Holy Week events in La Rioja: the procession of Los Picaos. These are anonymous flagellants who lash their bare backs. It is truly impressive and there are always many people, so if you want to see it, you will have to arrive well in advance.
Sta. Mª de la Piscina.
If you like sports, there are some interesting options in vineyards. There are all kinds of activities for all kinds of people, even if you are not a born athlete. You can canoe along the Ebro between vineyards, fly in a balloon over the vineyards, or take walks, ride a bike or even ride on horseback among the vineyards. They are great fun and very interesting.
Throughout the day you have the opportunity of getting wine to take back as a souvenir from La Rioja, as all the wineries sell their wines to visitors at competitive prices. You can also visit the a wineskin workshop or a cooperage.
Segway in vineyards.
Day 3: Nature and landscapes
You can dedicate the third day to discover La Rioja’s mountains. Particularly the Sierra de Cameros, with great livestock raising and transhumance traditions, which today has become the Sierra Cebollera Nature Reserve.
You can start your visit by taking the steep road up the Leza Canyon. It is an impressive canyon where vultures look down from their vantage points high above the tight bends that take you from Logroño to the highest part of the Camero Viejo to the Piqueras Mountain Pass. As you drive up you can see lovely villages, cows grazing and, if you are lucky, a stag approaching a creek to drink. The village of Trevijano is located at the top of the canyon, providing excellent views. In Laguna de Cameros you can find a hotel with excellent cuisine.
Waterfalls at Parque Natural de Sierra Cebollera.
After reaching Piqueras, in the town of Lumbreras, you can visit the Transhumance Interpretation Centre. You can then go down the Camero Nuevo to Ortigosa en Cameros, where you can visit Natural Caves discovered after a blast when a quarry was being set up to build El Rasillo Reservoir.
Caves of Ortigosa.
In Villanueva de Cameros you can discover how the almazuelas are made. These are the traditional patchwork quilts made by sewing small pieces of fabric to form colourful quilts and also pillows, key chains, espadrilles and more.
Villoslada de Cameros holds the Sierra Cebollera Interpretation Centre to help you appreciate the beauty of this Nature Reserve.
Returning to Logroño, you can stop by the town of Torrecilla en Cameros, where Sagasta was born and main town of Cameros.
Villoslada de Cameros.
You can spend the last day exploring the ancient cultures that left their mark in La Rioja Baja. From Calahorra, the ancient Roman Calagurris. A Roman city of great importance as evidenced by the Roman remains left in this town. Calahorra is the capital of La Rioja Baja, after visiting the Cathedral, the Diocesan Museum and other interesting landmarks, be sure to try in one of its excellent restaurants the local vegetables in any form, from the most traditional to nouvelle cuisine. See the map of Calahorra. Holy Week is also quite important in Calahorra and you can see processions and floats of long-standing tradition.
From Calahorra, it is worthwhile to go to nearby Alfaro where you will see a large number of storks. In the Alfaro collegiate church you can find the largest colony of white storks in Europe.
In the Sotos del Ebro Nature Reserve Interpretation Centre you can find an explanation of why these storks have chosen La Rioja to spend most of the year and learn all about the natural beauty of this part of La Rioja.
Storks in Colegiata de San Miguel de Alfaro.
Following the course of Alhama from Alfaro, you arrive in Cervera, the main town of the eastern Rioja mountains, from there you can access the ancient celtiberian settlement of Contrebia Leucade, an archaeological site of great interest. There you can learn about the lifestyles of these ancient inhabitants of La Rioja.
In the afternoon, to regain your strength, you can take a dip in the hot water pools of Arnedillo, near the town’s spa. They come from the same source as the water flow from the same source as the waters “taken” by hundreds of tourists every year at this establishment. The pools are more modest, but just as relaxing.
Near Arnedillo, you can visit the Enciso Palaeontology Centre, the ideal place to learn all about dinosaur footprints. The rocky landscape of Enciso, particularly at subset, when the sky turns red, takes you back thousands of years to the time when this area was a clay pond and dinosaurs walked along its shores in search of water and food.
El Barranco Perdido.
Also, very close, you will find the Paleontological Interpretation Center of Igea that has a really impressive fossil collection, with unique remains in the world. In addition, it is the only town in the whole of La Rioja that has a fossil trunk and its footprints area called 'La Era del Peladillo' is in the first place in the eurepean ranking in terms of number of footprints. In addition, it organizes a lot of activities for children.
Paleontological Interpretation Center of Igea
You will pass by many places that are worth stopping. Take your time. Stop and enjoy the landscape, the people and the Rioja-style hospitality. If you don't have not enough time to do it all, don't worry. La Rioja is very close and we will be delighted to welcome you back.
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