Experiencing Logroño, La Rioja

While I have done day trips outside of Madrid for the past few weekends, I had not yet taken a longer trip, and the four-day weekend I had due to the strikes in the Madrid public school system gave me a perfect opportunity to take one. I had traveled a bit in the south last year, so as a great unknown, the north of Spain was the first place I wanted to go.  There is much about the north that fascinates me, from el país vasco (Basque Country), where the language spoken is completely unlike any other, to Galicia, which retains its Celtic routes and is the terminus for El Camino de Santiago (more on that later).

For my first weekend, I chose to go to Logroño, La Rioja, wine country, where my Spanish co-teachers said the autumn is gorgeous. Oh and did I mention it was the gastronomic capital of Spain in 2012 and that there are two ancient monasteries nearby? So…wine, food, autumn, and medieval UNESCO monasteries…SOLD.

Little did I know how much Logroño would capture my heart (and stomach).

Vineyard close up edited

Logroño is a city of experiences, not of sites. While I learned this throughout the weekend, I should have realized it in the first hour that I was in Logroño, when the woman at the tourist information center proudly pointed out Logroño’s sites on a map: four churches and a cathedral. Nothing against churches and cathedrals, but Spain has A LOT of them, and I’ve already seen more than my fair share. But the beauty of Logroño is in wandering the streets and experiencing the food, wine, landscape, and rich history.

The Food

Logroño is famous for its tapas (or pinchos here in the north) district, on and around Calle Laurel, which is jam-packed with pinchos bars. People roam from bar to bar, sampling the specialty of the house at each one, which, at one to two euros each (drinks are around the same), is completely affordable. Another unique part of going out in Logroño is milling in the street with hundreds of other people enjoying the night. Foodies from around the world flock there, which led to a hilarious interaction with a man from Washington, D.C., who came up to my friend and I and started speaking to us in broken Spanish. I answered him in English, and, clearly thinking I was Spanish, he exclaimed, “Wow!! You have such a great accent!” We all had a laugh after I dead-panned, “Yeah, that’s because I’m an American.”

The tapas to shame all tapas

The tapas to shame all tapas, made by a wizard of a man

The Wine

Logroño is capital of La Rioja, or, wine country. If you’ve ever had Spanish wine, chances are it’s from this little region in the north of Spain, where there are more than 600 wineries. At under 2,000 square miles with only 322,000 inhabitants, that’s a lot of vineyards. Naturally, when in wine country, one must tour a winery, take full advantage of the three glasses of wine given at said tour, and finish off the extra glasses that parents distracted with their children were too busy to drink (seriously who brings their child on a wine tour???). I even managed to learn a thing or two from the tour even though it was in Spanish (go me!), and can’t wait to go on another tour when I return to Logroño (because that is undoubtedly happening).

wine close up

The Landscape

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves on this one.

logrono landscape edited

2013-10-25 10.14.03

The History

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in La Rioja’s history, but what I did learn in the few days I was there only succeeded in intriguing me more. The region is home to the Suso and Yuso Monasteries, which is where Spanish as well as Basque were first written down. Leave it to the monks to get shit done.

Yuso edited

It amazed me that there were no other international tourists on the tour, though I guess it shouldn’t have, as the location was pretty remote. Only three buses a day went from Logroño to San Millán, the town that the monasteries were in, named after the saint buried in the ninth century monastery. The fact that the monasteries and town were largely deserted when we first got there (apparently siesta even applies to UNESCO sites) only added to the experience, as we got to roam freely through both. As in Recópolis, the absence of people and the open landscape made it easy to imagine medieval life.

A seemingly abandoned San Millán

A seemingly abandoned San Millán

But I think the most intriguing part of Logroño for me is its location on El Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James. The camino is a medieval pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia in the northwest of Spain, where the apostle St. James’s remains are supposedly buried. Today the journey has become popular both with Spaniards and international walkers who complete the life-changing journey for many reasons: religious, spiritual, fitness, contemplation, and many more. Historically, people would leave their homes and start walking from there, so there is in fact not one path but many; however, the most popular route is El Camino Francés or the one that originates in France and passes through the north of Spain. Logroño is on this popular route, and therefore, pilgrims can be seen in Logroño at all times of the year. They are easily recognizable, with their huge backpacks and walking sticks.  I met my first pilgrim, in the pilgrim information center: a French man in his late sixties who showed me his notebook filled with exquisite ink drawings, his way of capturing moving moments of his time walking the camino. I had already been considering doing the camino, but my trip to Logroño solidified this thought; I don’t want to leave Spain until I’ve completed this journey of a lifetime.

An arrow showing the direction of the camino, with a shell, the symbol of the camino

An arrow showing the direction of the camino, with a shell, the symbol of the camino

Have you ever unexpectedly fallen in love with a place? What made it so remarkable? What does a place need to have for you to ‘click’ with it? 

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6 thoughts on “Experiencing Logroño, La Rioja

  1. Sam this is an amazing experience you are having! On top of that I feel so much expression within your blog. I knew how well my daughter wrote, but not her friends. I am really enjoying all you have written and I am not a history buff at all! It all reads like a fabulous old world tale with modern wording 🙂

    • Thank you so much Marybeth, your compliment means a lot!! That’s exactly what I’ve been going for – I want to write about what I love (history, archaeology, traveling) but make it accessible to everyone, not just to people in those fields. Glad I can transport you a bit to Spain!

  2. You should think about taking a trip to Burgos when you have time. The ancient capital of Castilla y León, steeped in history, with a grand Cathedral and many more churches (!), plus the Monasterio de las Huelgas, where various kings and queens are buried. But, just like Logroño, the delights of Burgos are in its streets and bars (it’s this year’s gastronomic capital). If you do go, you should try El Morito — fantastic food, great staff and very busy. You often have to wait to get a seat (much better atmosphere downstairs) and they don’t serve coffee (perhaps to discourages post-meal lingering?). Or if you want a pincho, there’s Pancho on Calle San Lorenzo. My partner and I spent 7+ months living there last autumn/winter, also teaching conversational English, but privately from our flat. There are a number of posts on my blog about Burgos — just go to the archives page and look under Spain. 🙂

    • I’ve heard a lot of great things about Burgos and your comments further solidify my need to go there asap – I didn’t know it was once the capital of Castilla y León! I have a long weekend in the beginning of December that I think might do the trick. Thanks for your recommendations as well, I’ll be sure to check out El Morito and Pancho! Heading to your blog now to read about them…=)

  3. Pingback: Getting to Know You: Madrid | The Road Goes Forever On

  4. Pingback: Aaand…I’m gonna walk 500 miles (on the Camino de Santiago) | The Road Goes Forever On

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