Spain is a country you can find at the top of any travel list. Most of us have either visited, or know someone who has visited Barcelona, Sevilla, or Madrid. But this country is vast and has so much to offer outside of the bigger cities. One hidden gem I think deserves a little time in the spotlight is Logroño, La Rioja. Logroño is the capital of the tiny Spanish wine region of La Rioja, located around 4 hours north of Madrid by bus, and known for being a popular stopping point on Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. I was lucky enough to spend a year living in Logroño, a time when I was able to hike through fields of grape vines dappled with deep red and yellow autumn leaves. I experienced the pincho culture, the northern take on tapas featuring cheap bites of delicious food paired with a tasty drink. And I left with a love for the rolling landscapes, generous people, and rich culture that make this little corner of Spain so special. Whether you’re passing through as a pilgrim, wine connoisseur, or just a tourist hoping for a destination off the beaten path, here are some suggestions that are sure to leave your boots dirty, your belly happy, and your heart full of love for this undiscovered travel destination.
Wake up with a Café con Leche
This is a traditional Spanish custom. If you’re traveling to Logroño outside of winter, the best way to wake up is by ordering a coffee with milk and drinking it at a table outside in the sunshine. What better way to enjoy Spain than by soaking up the sun, people watching, and admiring the lovely architecture surrounding you? My suggestion is to take a stroll down Calle Portales, grab a cup of the good stuff in the Plaza del Mercado, and enjoy the spectacular view of the Cathedral of Santa María de la Redonda. Make sure to eat something and pack extra water, because we’re heading out into the vineyard fields for a hike!
Take a Hike to Fuenmayor
The amazing thing about Logroño is that you are right on the world famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which starts in France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, in the northwestern corner of Spain. There are countless accessible hikes in Logroño. In fact, you can hop on a trail by simply walking out your front door. These hikes vary in difficulty, landscape, and destination. I chose Fuenmayor because this hike guides you straight into the heart of wine country, and gives you the chance to see a new village in La Rioja. If you visit during the autumn, my personal favorite season in La Rioja, then you can catch the leaves of the grape vines turning the most radiant hues of red, yellow and orange, and spilling out as far as the eye can see. This hike is mostly flat and the journey ends in Fuenmayor, where you can stop for a drink and a pincho. From there, you can either catch the bus back to Logroño or walk back if you’re feeling ambitious. Either way, make sure you take time for a siesta once you’re finished because tonight we’re hitting Calle Laurel for a completely new kind of dinner experience.
Take a Wine Tour
If you’re not much of a hiker, fear not! You can still get a taste for authentic La Rioja by going on a wine tour. There are hundreds of wineries all around La Rioja, and several located within Logroño, such as Bodegas Franco Españolas. This walk is doable right from our breakfast stop in front of the Cathedral. Wine tours give you the opportunity to learn about the process of making wine from vine to bottle, smell the heavenly fragrance of a room full of resting wine barrels and taste some samples of the bodega’s most prized wine selections. Usually, tastings come with generous pours of the best red and white wines, and a sampling of Spanish meats and cheeses. Life at it’s finest, in my opinion.
End the Day on Calle Laurel, Your Stomach’s Personal Heaven
Calle Laurel is a foodie’s paradise. Known as a pincho haven in northern Spain, this street is filled with hole-in-the-wall pincho bars that have been frequented by locals for generations. Crowds spill out into the street, happily talking with friends and filling their bellies with bites of delicious food. It’s a walking dinner of sorts. Grab pinchos and a corto, or small glass of wine or beer, chow down, and then wander to the next bar. Repeat to your heart’s content. Some of my favorite spots are Juan y Pinchame for skewers of perfectly marinated shrimp with grilled pineapple, and Bar Soriano for mushrooms covered in a savory garlic butter sauce. The beauty of Calle Laurel is, you can’t go wrong, and you get a new experience each time you come. Plus, once you find your favorite bars, you can come back as much as you like. Tailor your own experience and leave with a happy belly every time.
Fun fact: it’s customary to throw your napkins on the ground after eating pinchos. To tourists, this may seem rude, but it’s truly written into the art of pincho culture. One of my first times on Calle Laurel, I neatly piled my napkins on a table to make for easy cleaning, only to see the waiter come along and push all of them into the floor to make space for the next customers. Go figure!
Does Logroño sound as dreamy to you as it is to me? Both the town of Logroño and the region of La Rioja swept me off of my feet during my year living there, and I take any chance I get to share one of Spain’s best-kept secrets with my fellow travel lovers. I hope you visit this authentic Spanish town and discover a sense of what undiscovered travel secrets Spain still has to reveal. If you’ve ever been to La Rioja, what was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments. Happy traveling!