La Rioja is one of Spain’s best-kept secrets. Sure, the wine from this area is world famous but the region itself, one of Spain’s smallest, remains far from the beaten track for most visitors. Yet it’s easily accessible, its capital Logroño only 90 minutes or so drive from Bilbao.

So make La Rioja your next Spanish destination – for a start, there are more than 500 different vineyards, with many acclaimed as among the finest made in Spain, while the region is also famous for its pinchos, the region’s version of tapas, those delicious little dishes handed out in bars.

Then there’s beautiful scenery, the history and the culture – La Rioja is considered the birthplace of the first written words in the Spanish language. and there are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore in Santo Domingo de la Calzada and San Millan de la Cogolla.

La Rioja

by ikermerodio on Flickr

Wine in the Country

While La Rioja is a small region, it’s hilly and those 500 wineries are all spread far and wide, so you’ll need a car to get around and explore the area to its fullest. Base yourself in Logroño or in the lovely mediaeval walled town of Laguardia. While La Rioja isn’t as packed with tourists as other parts of Spain, you’ll find accommodation plentiful.

Autumn is perhaps the best season to visit when the rolling hills and forests are changing colour, providing an extraordinary vista. The last two weeks of September are also when the Wine Harvest Festival takes place so it’s an unbeatable time to visit and enjoy one-of-a-kind Spain holidays made special with Thomson.

La Rioja’s best-known wine is vino tinto (red wine) but its claretes (light reds) and blancos (white) are equally renowned, and there are wineries seemingly around every corner. Perhaps the most extraordinary looking is that of the Marqués de Riscal in Elciego, its old winery re-imagined by the award-winning architect Frank Gehry into a mind-blowing titanium homage to wine.

You can take wine tours at most of the region’s vineyards and enjoy tastings that reveal La Rioja’s centuries of winemaking. Some wineries also have their own restaurants and cafés with a menu specifically designed to match its wine.

Prepare for a Taste Sensation

In the winding streets of La Rioja’s towns, particularly Logroño and Laguardia, you’ll find tiny bars where you will sample some of the delicious pinchos typical of the region – the dishes here are often proclaimed as the best anywhere in Spain. Do what the locals do and have a glass of wine and a pincho, such as croquetas con queso (cheese croquettes), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) or tortilla (Spanish omelette), then move on to the next bar for more of the same. It’s the perfect way to sample the region’s wines and foods at the same time.