La Rioja, Spain’s biggest wine region, offers a unique combination of gastronomy, bodegas, natural thermal pools and UNESCO World Heritage sites. In this article, we share a sample itinerary for planning a weekend visit to La Rioja, Northern Spain. There’s something for solo, couples, group or family travellers in this part of Spain.

Disclosure: Our visit to La Rioja in partnership with La Rioja Turismo. However, we maintain editorial control of the content published here.

 

Itinerary suggestion for a visit to La Rioja

Day 1: Bilbao and The Guggenheim; Pincho bars and an overnight stay in Logroño
Day 2: Wine tasting, history and culture; experience food and nightlife in Haro
Day 3: Spa/wellness in Arnedillo and Instagram-perfect views in Entrena
Day 4: History and heritage in San Millán de la Cogolla. Evening departure from Bilbao

 

Why visit La Rioja?

“Why should I visit Northern Spain when I can go to Barcelona or Madrid or Valencia or Seville or explore the Costa Brava?” we hear you ask.

“Northern Spain just has a different vibe” is the simple answer.

While all the cities listed above are great options, if you’re looking for something a little idiosyncratic and down-to-earth, why not consider the province of La Rioja in Northern Spain?

With daily flights from London Gatwick to the city of Bilbao in the Basque region, you could be exploring Northern Spain’s exciting wine and gastronomy triangle (Bilbao, San Sebastián and Haro) within two hours.

If tastebuds and curiosity are the only passports a traveller needs, then La Rioja does not disappoint. With its selection of flavourful food and wine (of course!), ancient pilgrim paths, medieval cathedrals, lush vineyards and spa and wellness experiences, there is enough to satisfy the hungriest of travel appetites.

Can’t wait to get there? Buy a return ticket to Bilbao and let’s get started!

HDYTI Tip: April 2020 flight prices range from £65 to £120 – London Gatwick – British Airways. See Skyscanner.



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Thursday: Art in Bilbao and Pinchos in Logroño

Start this weekend getaway early. Aim for a mid-morning Thursday arrival in Bilbao.

Although you’ll be heading south to Logroño in La Rioja later in the day, since you’re in Bilbao, you might as well sample another of Northern Spain’s most exciting cities.

If modern and contemporary art is your thing, then the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a must-see. If not, then find your way to one of Bilbao’s neighbourhoods, check out the local architecture and wander around cafes and shops while working up a healthy appetite.

HDYTI Tip: Parking is available at nearby Plaza Pio Baroja or Plaza Euskadi car parks.

 

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Grab a light snack if you must but don’t spoil your appetite for your evening treat in Logroño!

When you’ve seen enough in Bilbao, hop back in your rental car and drive (approx 90 minutes) to Logroño and check into your hotel.

This evening, you have the chance to join local wine and food expert and TV celebrity José Ramón Jiménez Berger for a mouth-watering, pincho bar-hopping tour of Calle del Laurel (‘La Laurel’) in Logroño’s historic quarter.

Pinchos (different from tapas) are small, open-faced sandwiches prepared with a selection of meat, vegetables, fish/seafood, or cheese (examples only) and skewered to a small slice of bread.

With over 80 of these bars/restaurants dotted around Calle del Laurel, it is impossible to try them all in one night. Each pincho bar claims to have a particular speciality so take time to enjoy the flavours and ambience at each location.

HDYTI Tip: Estimate 30 to 40 Euros per person for 6 different tapas/pinchos and wine pairings

 

Friday: Soak in Rioja’s wine heritage in Haro

Check out of your hotel and drive (40 minutes) north from Logroño to Haro.

This picturesque and walkable town is probably the best place to learn about wine history and appreciate the architecture and culture surrounding La Rioja’s best-known produce.

La Rioja, considered by many to be Spain’s ‘wine capital’, is home to over 500 wineries (or bodegas as they are known). Many of the biggest and oldest ones like CVNE are located in Haro. An annual summer Haro Wine Festival features processions, music and wine fights.

Barrels of Bodegas at Ayuntamiento de Haro, Plaza de la Paz, Haro, Spain

To enjoy the experience, choose two or three wineries – a mix of small and large ones – for variety. If the top-of-the-shelf stuff is what you’re after, note that bigger wineries offer a wider variety and have the capacity to produce Gran Reserva (three to five-year barrel-aged) wines.

For a more intimate experience, check out ‘boutique’ wineries, including family-run bodegas and those run by female winemakers/growers. These smaller wineries often have shorter production runs and a limited range (Joven and Crianza).

According to Celia Cardero González, a tour guide and local historian with Sensum Rioja Tours, “Smaller wineries are ideal because visitors are usually hosted by one member of the family or the winemaker himself/herself, offering guests an insider’s view.”

From Haro, drive (10 minutes) to the little village of Briones for a complete immersion into wine history.

In Briones you can visit the award-winning Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture and explore over 5,000 pieces of wine history including ancient Roman artefacts, art by Picasso, a mausoleum-style wine cellar and one of the world’s largest and most unusual collection of corkscrews.

HDYTI Tip: Estimate 15 to 20 Euros per person for a winery tour and two wine tastings

Alternatively – if drinking wine isn’t your thing…

We still recommend that you get a feel for the wine culture and heritage of the region. One alternative is to try a hot air balloon tour over La Rioja’s vineyards.

The best time to pay a visit to La Rioja for hot air balloon rides is between May and November when the weather is warmer and the region’s beautiful landscapes are in full bloom.

If you’re scared of heights and would rather keep your feet on the ground, then landscape tours are a suitable alternative. Options include segway, horse riding, quad biking, 4×4 or bicycle tours through vineyards.

View across farmland outside the Monasterio de San Millán de Yuso | Visit La Rioja

Stay overnight in Haro (the 14-century property Hotel Los Agustinos is one option).

You’re also in the right place to taste the quality food La Rioja is celebrated for. Just thirty minutes from Haro, Chef Francis Paniego runs the Michelin-star El Portal de Echaurren. Karaoke bars like Mala Vida (run by a Colombian couple) in Haro’s town square (10 minutes walk) open till late.

 

Saturday – Wellness, food and ‘Instagram-perfect’ moments

After all that walking and wine drinking, today is chill out day!

Leave Haro and enjoy the scenic drive through tiny villages as you head to Balneario Spa in Arnedillo.

With a wide range of treatments available, the pièce de résistance of this hotel/spa is their vinotherapy – a skin treatment using essential oils infused with antioxidants found in grapes. Combine this with a proper massage to get the full experience.

Done with your treatment, relax in their 32ºC Roman bath which doubles as an indoor/outdoor thermally-heated swimming pool and take in the view of the surrounding countryside.

Finish at your own pace and head to Hotel Finca de Los Arandinos in Entrena.

I….really….loved….this….place!

This architecturally exquisite boutique hotel/bodega is situated on an elevation and offers panoramic views of the La Rioja countryside.

HDYTI Tip: Plan to get Entrena in time to catch the sunset over the mountains.

With ample natural lighting, exposed concrete walls and minimalist interior design, the rooms, lobby area and views of the surrounding vineyards at Hotel Finca de Los Arandinos are any photographer’s delight. This is the place where you want to capture your Instagram-perfect shots.

Stay overnight here and let your taste buds do the travelling. A quality menu features fresh and seasonal ingredients and excellent wine pairings.

 

Sunday – UNESCO World Heritage sites

It feels apt to spend the final morning/afternoon of your trip reflecting on history.

To make the most of your day, get up early and drive from Entrena (approx 30 minutes) to explore the villages of San Millán de la Cogolla and Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

San Millán de la Cogolla is recorded as the place where the language we know today as Spanish was first written. The medieval monasteries of San Millán de Suso and San Millán de Yuso were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997.

Local historian Celia Cardero offers tours providing insights into Spain’s Roman/Latin past, views of religious art and architecture, stories about local legends and a walk along ancient pilgrim’s paths.

Head up north to Bilbao airport (drive is just under 3 hours so leave in good time!) to catch your return flight.

HDYTI tip: As these are active places of worship, check opening times before visiting.

 

Find balance in La Rioja, Northern Spain

La Rioja is a part of Spain that still feels untouched by mass tourism. This is evident in the fact that non-Spanish speakers may need to rely a lot more on their language translation apps and phrasebooks during a visit to La Rioja.

Interior design at Hotel Finca de Los Arandinos, Entrena | Visit La Rioja, Spain

However, if you’re looking for something rustic and different, a weekend visit to La Rioja in Northern Spain offers a balance between gastronomy, soft-adventure, wellness, relaxation and culture that will make you wonder why you’ve never visited this region before now.

 

Travel information

How to get to La Rioja: Although Logroño has an airport, you’ll find more flight routes into Bilbao.

Getting around: Hire a rental car to enjoy some flexibility and save on taxis. Driving conditions are generally good in this region.



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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).