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