Luxury holidays in La Rioja

What's better than a loveable underdog? Well, a wine-producing underdog, of course. Encased by the Cantabria mountains and crumbling mediaeval walls, the historic region of La Rioja may be Spain’s smallest, but it packs quite the punch – dense and full-bodied, just like its namesake. And like all good underdogs, it revels in contradiction; bottle green hills roll into dry lunar landscapes and futuristic buildings, like transplanted spacecrafts, rise up from otherwise sleepy, sunbaked villages. In fact, the latter has become somewhat of a regional trademark, while the world has been cooling off in Champagne, and popping Prosecco in Veneto, La Rioja has been raising the stakes by combining wine and design with some of the world's most architecturally innovative bodegas. Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Philippe Mazierre have all left their mark in the region, enhancing the flavours of this rustic land with a catalogue of razor-sharp contemporary feats. Nevertheless, the classics persist; there’s the birthplace of modern Spanish in an 11th-century monastery, a cathedral so grandiose it inspired its own terminology (‘decadent gothic’, you get the picture), and plenty of glass swirling, naturally, all paired with plate-loads of pleasantly provincial pinchos.

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When to go

Somewhere between a champagne shower and a 90s Ribena advert, there’s the Batalla de Vino, a unique event that takes place in June each year, just outside of Haro. And for those who prefer to keep their white linens, well, white, autumn is a safe bet, when those lush vineyard greens transform into a rich tapestry of crisp orange and pink.

Getting there

  • Planes

    The closest airport is Logrono, but with only a handful of domestic flights, international travellers are better served by Bilbao Airport, just a 90-minute drive from La Rioja’s heartlands. Flights arrive here from the UK, Europe, and North Africa.
  • Automobiles

    Largely composed of countryside, small towns and villages, cars come in handy here, though vineyard hoppers should leave the wheels parked up. Take a tip from the passing Camino de Santiago crowd and ramble your way home, or better still, ask your hotel to arrange a taxi.