Let’s Travel! Basque Country – A Day Trip to La Rioja (Spain’s Wine Country)

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Okay, I’m going to be totally honest…I had no idea what we were doing when we decided to take a day trip to La Rioja from Bilbao. But it was totally worth the drive though.

So this was our day in a nutshell – We didn’t do any research before going. We used Google Maps to get us to the few wineries I wanted to see. The wine came second (for me). Charlie’s priority was drinking wine. So yeah, we were all not on the same page on this day.  We got lost a few times. Had no schedule. Went to wineries that were only opened to the public at specific times, wineries that only took reservations, wineries that were closed, wineries that were closing. We were not familiar with the different types of Spanish wine or how visiting the wineries worked in Spain. It didn’t help that we were there during off peak season either.

Looking back, it was the perfect day….because it was full of ups and downs and had an unexpected ending that makes me smile just thinking about it.

This post isn’t a guide to La Rioja, which wineries to visit, or what wine to drink. It’s about our misadventures – what we learned from our misadventures and turning them into beautiful memories.  We also learned so much about the area and what we will do next time we are there. But for now, here are the few wineries we visited and what happened.

Marques De Riscal

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Marques De Riscal has been on my list since I first read about it on an article, especially for the architecture. The winery also has a hotel – Hotel Marques De Riscal (Starwood Luxury Collection hotel). It was the first winery on my list to go to because I wanted to see it for its architecture, designed by Frank Gehry.

When we got to Marques De Riscal, we walked into the tasting room and was told we can taste the wine in the tasting area and if we wanted to see the rest of the winery, we would have to take a tour. The next tour started in three hours. Charlie and I looked at each other, looked at Luke, and then at the hostess. I told her we had no idea what we were doing and that we just wanted to drink wine at the hotel.

The hostess then asked me if we wanted to sit at the wine bar at the hotel. She kept on nodding at me to say “yes.” So I said yes. She then called the hotel staff and escorted us out back and told us to walk to the hotel and enjoy the wine bar!

Seriously, that’s what happened! As we walked up to the hotel and screamed with joy! We drink wine and ate lunch on the patio of the hotel’s wine bar with spectacular views. I still can’t believe we got to hang out in that beautiful hotel!

Ysios Winery

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Ysios Winery has been another winery on my list because of the architecture, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. Ysios Winery is located near the town of La Guardia. The building has giant aluminum bars that form a wavy roof situated in front of the mountains. The rest of the building is made of copper stained cedar to resemble the wine barrels.

This winery requires reservations. I thought we had made reservations but realized I never got a confirmation.

I wish I could tell how the wine tasted or how cool it was on the inside but we never made it inside. We actually called and rung the door bell but no one was there. So we made the best of the situation and took some pictures.

Muga

After we left Ysios Winery in disappointment, I told Charlie I had no idea where to go. He then mentioned that we used to always drink Muga. So we looked up the location on Google Maps and drove as fast as we could to get to the town of Haro. We made it to Muga’s tasting room at 4:45 PM and was told last call was 5 minutes earlier. But the ladies at tasting room were nice enough to give us a few glasses and a few tastings after hearing my sob story about the previous winery.

R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia

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We thought we were done with wineries for the day since it seemed like all wineries closed at 5 pm. So we gave Luke his scooter to ride along the sidewalks of Haro. It started to rain so Charlie went back to get the car. Luke and I stood underneath a small bridge for some cover but then walked a bit up the road as the rain let up and saw this beautiful courtyard. I let Luke ride is scooter in the empty courtyard and then noticed a few people walking out of this building.  I peaked my head in and saw that there was a group of people drinking wine. It was another winery!! R. Lopez de Herendia Vina Tondonia to be exact! And it was still open!!

The two women working in the tasting room asked if I wanted to taste wine and told me they were opened for 30 more minutes! I got out and told Charlie to park the car and then ordered some wine to taste. We had the place to ourselves (since it was so late) and made friends with the employees. Luke got to play with cars, Charlie got to drink his wine, and I got to take a lot of pictures.

The interior of R. Lopez de Herdia Vina Tondonia’s tasting room and boutique blew me away! The bar (the Zaha Hadid Stand) in the tasting room is so beautiful and has so much history! It was made in Haro in 1910 for the Brussels World Expo and has been restored and is now a centerpiece of the tasting room, which is shaped like a decanter.

Before leaving the winery, the two women gave us passes to the Guggenheim Museum as a small gift from the winery!

We couldn’t ask for a better way to end the day and a better winery to end our adventures! We will definitely add R. Lopez Herdia Vina Tondonia to our list next time.

Things we will be considering for our next visit

  • Find out which wineries require tours and schedule them.
  • Take a hot air balloon ride at the Muga winery.
  • Stay at night or two at Hotel Marques de Riscal and check out the rest of the winery.
  • Stay the night at hotel in Haro so we can explore the town and visit more wineries in the city.
  • Have dinner at a restaurant in Haro.
  • End each night at the R. Lopez Herdia Vina Tondonia winery.

 

 

 

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