Finding the real Spain in La Rioja

After our time in San Sebastian, we found a campsite in Haro.  A perfect location for wine tasting and exploring the real Spain, in La Rioja. We could even walk to the wine bars and cellars in 5 minutes!

Wine making in La Rioja

The region of La Rioja has a very long history of winemaking, like many regions in Europe it dates back to Roman times.  This fact alone is enough to keep L interested since he loves everything Roman.

La Rioja has 57,000 hectares cultivated in wine grapes, producing 250 million litres of wine annually, of which 85% is red wine.  For my NZ readers a point of interest, NZ produces 285 million litres of wine annually, about 75% of which is Sauvignon Blanc.

Red wine is known as Vino Tinto in Spain, and the most widely used grape variety is Tempranillo.  La Rioja also produces white wines and rose, but red is by far what it is most known for.

There is also lots more to La Rioja: history, beautiful scenery, interesting towns, yummy tapas… If you are visiting with kids (or a dinosaur fan of any age) you can go hunting for dinosaur footprints.

Haro

Haro is a great base for visiting wineries, cellars and Bodegas (wine bars).  It also has some lovely tapas bars that feel very Spanish and traditional, not touristy.  You might need your Spanish phrase book around here!

Finding the Real Spain
Finding the real Spain in Haro, La Rioja

We arrived in Haro on a Sunday afternoon, and we were hungry.  You learn quite quickly in Spain, particularly rural areas, that shops close, a lot. Definitely on Sunday, but also each afternoon during siesta time, this can be between anything from 1pm until 5.30pm.  So if you are hungry in the afternoon, you need to find a tapas bar or restaurant.  Luckily Haro has plenty of these.  There are bars on quaint narrow streets, or you can find a spot in one of the restaurants on the Plaza de la Paz to watch the action.

Sundays in Spain

Finding the real Spain
Tapas in Haro

Sunday afternoons in Spain are great for people watching.  Whole families come out, children play while adults and eat and drink the afternoon away.  We saw a huge extended family come together to celebrate a special occasion. It looked like grandma or great grandma’s birthday.  There were close to 50 family members. Everyone was dressed up, from the tiniest babies to the eldest family members that looked to be in their nineties.  They were trying to take a group photograph and it was hilarious watching the photographer try to get them all into one place.  In many ways it was just like watching my own family!  If you want to feel part of the real Spain, go out on a Sunday afternoon, to people watch in the local square.

The Real Spain in La Guardia

From Haro there are a number of small towns you can visit in the region. If you want to go wine tasting in La Rioja (who doesn’t), then on the way to these towns you find various cellars and tasting rooms.  Logrono the capital of the region is the most well known, but we first visited the smaller, lesser known town, of La Guardia.  What a find this lovely spot was.

Finding the real Spain
Views from La Guardia Spain

La Guardia has gorgeous quiet streets in the old walled part of the town, stunning vistas over vineyards, and the 14th Century gothic watchtower, San Juan.  The feeling that we’d found ourselves in ‘the real Spain’ was the best part.

Meeting the locals

We entered a small grocery store to purchase some supplies.  Chattering away in Spanish, the owner helped us select the best apricots and cherries, and recommended the best local cheeses.  She asked where we were from, I told her ‘New Zealand’.  With a huge grin she rushed to get something and came back excitedly waving Zespri kiwifruit from New Zealand at me!  She told us ( in a combo of Spanish, English and sign language), all about how they have kiwifruit from Italy, then when the season ends they get kiwifruit from New Zealand.  As many people from the Northern Hemisphere are, she was fascinated that while it was almost summer in Spain, winter was beginning in New Zealand.

These types of genuine interactions, where you are seen as a person, not just another tourist, are very rare, but very precious when you find them.

Our next stop was lunch and I was charmed by the tapas bar we visited.  Old Spanish men came in for their small glass of vino tinto with a tapa.  A group of construction workers wearing their muddy boots drank espresso at the bar.  Only tourists like us sit at the tables!

After lunch, S had some fun posing for pictures next to all the different doors in La Guardia.  So much history, if these doors could talk, imagine what stories they would tell!

Logrono

Finding the real Spain
Calle del Laurel Logrono

We visited Logrono the following day after our mission to find dinosaur footprints, we were hungry again, it was after 2pm.  Tapas time! Logrono is known for delicious tapas and it didn’t disappoint.  Here they get quite creative and modern with their tapas. Turning them into delicious works of art.  The Calle de Laurel is the street to head to for tapas in Logrono.  My picture of this busy little lane is very sad because it was pouring with rain on the day we visited. So I’ll just post pictures of the food!

 

The town itself is nice, quite big, but with the rain we didn’t get to see many of the sights. The tapas were delicious in Logrono but I preferred the small town, truly Spanish feel, of La Guardia.

Wine tasting in La Rioja

Of course we were in La Rioja for wine tasting. Spanish wines are fantastic and I was keen to learn some more about them and try some new names.  But it isn’t easy to coordinate wine tasting with kids, especially in a way that doesn’t get boring for them, or irritating for other visitors.

In La Rioja, wine tasting is different to some area we have visited. Similar to Bordeaux, you often need to make reservations to visit, and tastings can be part of a full tour. This means allocating an hour or more at each place.  If this feels like too much with children, or if you’ve done a few winery tours and you really just want to taste some wine, there are some options in Haro.  Some of the wineries have Bodega’s or wine bars, here you can purchase tastings, half glasses or glasses, as well as bottles to take away and sometimes small snacks such as jamon and bread.

We brought along notebooks and pencils for the kids so they could be occupied while we tasted.  Our two favourite Bodega’s in Haro were: Muga and Roda.

Tasting at Bodega Muga La Rioja
Winetasting at Bodega Muga

Muga is a well known La Rioja winery, we did their tasting flight of 5 different wines.  At Roda there is a wine bar where you can purchase glasses or half glasses and take them down to the barrel room to enjoy.  They also offer free tastings of their delicious olive oil.

Barrel-Room-at-Bodegas-Roda.jpg
Barrel Room at Bodegas Roda

We did winery tours later in the trip in the Duoro Valley, Portugal and enjoyed them.  The bodegas were a great option for tasting in La Rioja.  One bodega at the end of each day of sightseeing was a good way to spread it out without pushing the kids too far.

You can book wine tasting tours from Logrono with Get Your Guide.

From La Rioja in the North of Spain we head West to Portugal…  Just when we’ve started to get the hang of some Spanish we’ve a new language  to learn!

 

 

 

 

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