Driving from Santander to the Costa Brava gave me the opportunity to stop along the way for a couple of nights. My idea of a few days in the heart of the Rioja region brought us to Logrono, the capital of La Rioja.
What a wonderful find, as Logrono is a delightful compact city that heaves with tapas bars and wine bodegas; all coming alive as soon as darkness falls. We arrived in the early evening after a long drive. It was already dark with heavy black clouds and a thunderstorm that was rumbling in the surrounding mountains, the air was hot and humid but thankfully it wasn’t raining. We checked into our very centrally located hotel and walked a few yards towards the sounds of music and laughter. This is what we love about Spain, all ages out on the streets until late at night, eating, drinking, chatting and generally enjoying life. Calle Laurel is the centre of the tapas action where your senses are overloaded with the smell of fruity wines, the artistry of innovative tapas on show and music playing in every bar. The dilemma for the first time visitor is where to start and the tourist information centre is a good place as they have detailed maps. We followed a ‘tapas route’, calling in to welcoming bars for a bite of this and a taste of that, all accompanied by the most delightful wines. A kobo beef mini hamburger was a highlight, followed by a crispy and delicious homemade shrimp croquetta. Warm slivers of Tortilla and fiery prawns in garlic and chilli and plenty of Rioja along the way.
The next morning, feeling slightly delicate, we decided to visit a vineyard (the hair of the dog?) and there are many to choose from. Again, the Tourist Information has all the details.
We decided on Campo Viejo as we both enjoy their wines. As we were en route to a villa holiday with our family, we needed to stock up, so figured we may as well buy what we know we like.
The vineyard is just outside the town and once you have driven through acres of vines you reach a modern, but surprisingly small building. The reason for the small footprint on the landscape soon became clear as the tour began, the place is enormous and all underground. The architectural design was innovative and forward looking as the vineyard grew from a small family business to one of the biggest producers in Europe. The numbers are staggering.
We were guided through areas the size of aircraft hangars, where the enormous fermenting tanks hold up to 60,000 kilos of grapes. Rows of French and American Oak barrels stretched as far as the eye could see. Then into the pitch darkness of the cellar, where up to 6 million bottles are held to mature. Campo Viejo is a leading brand in the UK, but the vineyard also produces 2 other brands, Alcorta and Azpilicueta. Both are only sold in Spain and are unavailable in the UK. At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to taste the unfamiliar brands and I can report they are as delicious as Campo Viejo.
Back to our hotel for a snooze after all that wine and the place we chose was the Sercotel Portales Hotel, a modern centrally located hotel, clean and simple with the bonus of a secure garage (for all that wine we had bought!).
When you have had enough wine and tapas, it is refreshing to take a stroll over the Punte de Hierro, an iron bridge dating from 1882 and linking the city with Northern Spain. There are several parks which together offer 8kms of walking or cycling opportunities, as well as areas of shade for those very hot days.
I loved Logrono, it had a friendly and welcoming atmosphere and is an ideal stop off during the long drive from Santander to the Costa Brava. For more information, visit lariojaturismo.com
If a self-drive holiday is not for you, our favoured partners, SmoothRed, offer inclusive tours to the Rioja region and have two very interesting itineraries that feature Logrono. SmoothRed have contacts at many of the vineyards in the Rioja region, some large like Campo Viejo and some smaller family-owned establishments. Their staff are experts on the area and they are happy to tailor make trips to suit individual requirements.