Small family Wineries in Rioja—A Different Approach to Wine Culture

3 07 2014

Marqués de Riscal winerySo you love wine and therefore you´re coming to the best wine region in the world, Rioja. It belongs to three political regions (La Rioja, Basque Country and Navarre) and has three distinctive wine areas (Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja), each one produces wine with different characteristics and personality. Rioja Alavesa is the region where top quality wines are produced, and here you can visit many worldwide famous wineries, such as Marqués de Riscal (with its famous Frank Gehry´s building) in Elciego, Muga, CVNE and Rioja Alta in Haro, , Viña Real, Remelluri in Labastida, Ysios in Laguardia, Baigorri, etc….

 

Francisco extracting his wine from the barrelBut there are hundreds of small family wineries that are not visited by massive tourism. Places that welcome visitors and offer also a guided visit to show their family business and their traditional wine making processes.

 

In a town like Villabuena de Alava, for example, there are more wineries than inhabitants (300 people live there), and it´s a similar thing in most towns in the area. Most families own a small private winery where they produce wine for friends or a reduced number of visitors. It´s also true that many are semi-abandoned or falling apart due to not being used anymore. It´s a real pity, but I guess sometimes it´s hard work to keep this business going. So if you have the chance when visiting Rioja, don´t miss the opportunity to visit at least a small family winery to see how wine has been produced throughout several family generations. (Pictures here belong to a 17th century winery, no name outside, that produces an excellent wine and it´s still running by the retired owner)Old wine bottles in the cellarEntrance to the cellar

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St Ignatius of Loyola, the Basque founder of the Jesuits

17 06 2014

You have surely heard of the Catholic order of the Jesuits, as they are present all over the world. But I´m sure you didn´t know that the founder was born in 1491 in Azpeitia, in the heart of the Basque CountryIñigo de Loyola (born Iñigo, a Basque name, that he changed later to Ignacio), of a noble family, received a good education and soon became a soldier serving the King of Castile. In 1521 he was injured while battling in Pamplona, and retired to heal his wounds to his fortress in the valley of Loiola, near Azpeitia and Azkoitia. During his long recovery he started reading religious books, that made him rethink his whole life. Once recovered, he started a life of sanctity that led him to the foundation of the Jesuit order, probably the most influential in the history of the Catholic church.

The 18th century basilica is located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by a park full of trees and the Urola river that flows through the mountainous scenery. As you can see by the pictures, it´s a magnificent but at the same time a modest building, with a great dome covered in baroque paintings and designs. On its left hand side you can visit the birthplace of San Ignacio de Loyola (a medieval tower) that has been beautifully restored to its original state. You can visit both buildings, the Loiola tower shows most rooms as they originally were on the 16th century.

Right by the Basilica (or Sanctuary) there´s a nice, cozy hotel and some rural lodgings, as well as fine restaurants, in an atmosphere surprisingly tourist free. The valley offers very interesting visits, like the Ferrería de Mirandaola (Ironmongery) in the Iron Valley or the town of Idiazabal, where the world famous Idiazabal sheep cheese is made (also, the Cheese Museum deserves a visit). The Railway Museum in Azpeitia offers the possibility to ride in a steam locomotive train…a great experience for kids!!

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Medieval Towns in Basque Rioja…it´s more than just wine

9 06 2014

Rioja wine region is divided into Rioja Alavesa (Basque Country), Rioja Alta (La Rioja) and Rioja Baja (La Rioja and Navarre). It´s mostly small family wineries, but of course there are also some big ones among them too. A visit to a winery in Rioja is always a delightful experiences, as you spend at least a couple of hours learning how they´ve been making wine during centuries. No wine bars like in Napa valley…it´s a much more enriching experience.

Medieval tower in Labraza, where time passes slowly

Medieval tower in Labraza, where time passes slowly

But there´s more to Basque Rioja than wine. When you drive along the roads surrounded by vineyards, you will for sure find a beautiful medieval town on your way. Or several prehistoric monuments, like dolmens and funerary burial sites. Or incredible churches that keep inside amazing altarpieces. Or a walled town, just where lied the borders of the ancient kingdoms of Castile and Navarre. Or maybe  just a town with nothing special on it but full of flavor and a particular relaxing atmosphere, where one of its neighbors may invite you to his place for a homemade meal.

Dolmen of the Sorceress, in Elvillar

Dolmen of the Sorceress, in Elvillar

Next time you´re there, don´t forget to visit walled Laguardia and the façade of Santa María de los Reyes (a must), Labastida and its fortressed church, medieval Labraza surrounded by nothing but vineyards, Samaniego, Lapuebla de Labarca, Baños de Ebro, Kripán, Elvillar, Elciego and the Marqués de Riscal winery (designed by Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim arquitect)…you´ll find a lovely atmosphere in places where the path of time seems to be slower than in the rest of the world…

Fortress church in Labastida, Basque Rioja

Fortress church in Labastida, Basque Rioja

Elciego, Marqués de Riscal winery

Elciego, Marqués de Riscal winery





San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Eneperi, San Pelayo,…

1 12 2009

On the road to Bakio to Bermeo there are three places that you can´t miss on your visit to Euskadi: the church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the restaurant Eneperi and the chapel of San Pelayo.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small church built in the X century, dedicated to St John. The peculiarity of this church is the place where it was built: on top of a small isthmus (or peninsula) linked to land by a narrow pass. And to get there you must first go down from the small parking lot by the main road and then climb the 237 stairs that lead you to one of the most special places in the Basque Country. You can get a very good idea of the place on this amazing 3 minute video, a bird´s eye of the church. More info, videos and pictures on www.sanjuandegaztelugatxe.com, available only in Spanish (international promotion is not one of our strong points…). I´ve been there several times, the climb is not that hard, the views are spectacular (cliffs, forests and a rough sea) and the legend goes that if you sound the bell three times your wishes will be fulfilled.

On the way there from Bakio, to your left, you will see the sign for Eneperi, an ancient “baserri” or Basque farmhouse turned into a restaurant, www.eneperi.com. The restaurant offers excellent local food in a very cozy atmosphere, and the bar area has just been renovated, adding a glass balcony that overlooks the island of Aketxe. There´s also a “cervecera”, that is, a popular place that offers grilled chicken, chorizo, green peppers, black sausage and the likes, plus wine, beer or cider, on the “help yourself” concept, at good prices. A meadow to lay down overlooking the ocean and a kid´s play area complete the scenario.

And on th right hand side of the road, the chapel of San Pelayo, a very popular XII romanic church. Many Basque couples celebrate there their wedding ceremony, not only because of the special significance of the site, but also because of the great views and closeness to Eneperi restaurant.

For those looking for a more lively atmosphere, there´s the 01, with a huge open air terrace and ocean views. DJ music, live shows,…