La Rioja in Spain is the wine lover's (or, if you're feeling fancy, a oenophile’s) oasis you've never heard of.
This region just four hours north of Madrid is packed with over 500 wineries, making it the perfect side-trip from a visit to the country's bustling capital. And unlike Napa and Tuscany, which have been overrun with visitors in the last few decades, La Rioja remains virtually untouched by tourism.
It's gorgeous at any time of year, but especially magical in October when the fall foliage is at its peak. Ready to unwind and sip your way through the Spanish countryside? Keep reading.
Getting to La Rioja
Your best bet is to fly into Madrid (MAD) and rent a car from either the airport or Atocha (the city’s main train station).
Read our guide on one of the best ways to use points to get to Spain – even business class for just 68,000 points round-trip!
The drive north should take just under four hours. After three hours behind the wheel, you’ll notice a change in the landscape that will surely take your breath away. Mountains, rolling hills, and farms line the highway.
At some moments, it looks as though you’re in Monument Valley. Others, somewhere in Vermont. Having a car gives you a sort of freedom a bus does not allow. You can get lost and discover lesser-known villages., or just pull off onto the side of the road to appreciate the scenery – no interruptions.
Where to Stay
Spain is known for being very affordable, and La Rioja is no different – especially when it comes to accommodations. While there are plenty of hostel and hotel options, I cannot recommend Airbnb enough.
Read our guide for finding the best Airbnb no matter where you are staying.
You can find every kind of home scattered across this wine region, from houses tucked away in the countryside to apartments in quaint Spanish villages. During a visit this past fall, I chose an Airbnb that slept seven people and only cost 110 euros ($120 USD) a night – $17 per person!
The view from our balcony was the perfect spot for a cup of coffee in the morning and a bottle of red at night.
Which Wineries to Visit
There are over 500 wineries in the La Rioja region. And each seems to be as good as the next.
First stop: Bodegas Ysios, a boutique winery disguised as a work of art. The minute you drive up to the property, you’ll ask yourself if what you’re seeing is real or a mirage. That is how utterly gorgeous this place is.
Once you’ve taken in the view outside, make your way to the main entrance. For 25 euros, you get insider access to the inner workings of the winery – and a wine tasting, of course. You’ll want to schedule your visit a few weeks in advance as spots book up quickly.
Next up, a trip to Campo Viejo. When driving up to this bodega, you’ll feel as though you’ve made a wrong turn as you wind your way through narrow gravel roads. But that is the beauty of Campo Viejo. It’s nestled up in the hills, surrounded on all sides by endless grapevines. To give you an idea of pricing at Campo Viejo, you can enjoy a tour, plus three wine tastings and snacks for 15 euros.
Something I loved learning on my tour? All of Campo Viejo’s award-winning wines are made by local Rioja winemakers, all women.
Now that you’ve experienced two major wineries, it’s time to scale things down a bit. Make your way to Lopez de Heredia, a century-old winery located in the town of Haro. To this day, you can order your glass of vino from their wine stand built way back in 1910.
For a second, you can almost imagine Rioja when it was just beginning to flourish. Haro is the epicenter of wine, so in addition to Lopez de Heredia, there are dozens of other wineries in town.
If you've got more time, check out Bodegas Gómez Cruzado, Muga, and CVNE. Each boasts a stunning interior and tasting menu, so why not check out each? You can easily park your car and leisurely stroll from one to the next. Expect to pay somewhere between just 2 euros to 5 euros for a tasting around these parts.
Where to Eat in La Rioja
Where Haro is the epicenter of wine, Logroño is the epicenter of food. And you'll quickly realize that Logroño loves its pinchos – coming from the Spanish verb pinchar, which means to poke or skewer a piece of bread with a toothpick.
Every bar in town will have its own iconic pincho. And you can’t miss the garlic mushrooms at Bar Soriano.
Don’t expect to find a table or waiter here. Part of the appeal of eating around Logroño is the nitty, gritty atmosphere. Just place your order at the bar, take your plate, and stand at one of the many wine barrel-shaped tables outside.
After Bar Soriano, just wander in and out of bars in Logroño, trying every pincho you possibly can. And if you don’t know which pincho to order at what bar, just look around at what the locals are eating. Odds are, every table in the place will be filled with the same exact dish. That’s how you’ll know what’s best.
If a glass of red wine, scene countryside drives, and saving money are a few of your favorite things … then you simply need to visit La Rioja in Spain. There's no doubt about it.