Rioja: The region and places of interest

Ahead of CellarVie Wines' focus on Rioja, we thought we would take a closer look at the region and its places of interest. Situated in the north, La Rioja is the smallest but arguably the most diverse region of mainland Spain and is located between Navarra and Pais Vasco to the north, Aragon to the east, Castilla La Mancha to the south and Castilla Leon to the west.
Logroño is the capital and while a visit to this fertile area of Spain affords you the many opportunities to sample and view the numerous famous local wines and wineries, the region offers a plethora of enjoyable possibilities aside from its much vaunted tipple.
There is a strong culture of rural tourism as the region boasts a rich and varied climate that encourages fishing, hunting (!) and hiking in Navarrete, or climbing, cycling and for the more adventurous, hot air ballooning in the Obarenses and the Cantabria mountain ranges. Other aerial sports can be practiced in Lardero and water sports are common in El Rasillo, but such is its diverse milieu, you can even ski in the mountains of Valdezcaray, so if you get bored in Rioja there is patently something wrong with you!
If you fancy a stroll around one of the many picturesque vineyards there are a host of accessible tours on offer that will guide you around the cellars, and if you are lucky enough, the winemaking process itself. Bear in mind that autumn is the time of the harvest and although it is inevitably the most intriguing occasion to visit, cellars tend to be very busy during this period, endeavouring to produce wine that is enjoyed the world over, so make sure they are aware of your possible visit. 
CellarVie Wines recently spoke with CVNE winemaker Maria Larrea and the Bodegas CVNE is perhaps the ideal place to start given its somewhat mythical place in the history of wine in Rioja. The winery itself still sits on its original site, in the wine district of Barrio de la Estación, in Haro, Rioja Alta, and a €6 fee includes entrance and more pertinently an opportunity to sample their remarkable wine.
In some instances cellars will offer a package that includes a typical Rioja lunch - the agricultural traditions of the area produce a varied cuisine saturated with local vegetables and natural products such as asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes and pulses, and while the region has no coastline, delicious fish dishes abound nonetheless, alongside their delectable selection of chorizos. 
While Rioja’s rich wine history and tradition is pleasantly palpable, it is by no means the sole attraction and the mesmeric views afforded from the church of Santa María la Mayor, in San Vincente de la Sonsierra is worthy proof of Rioja’s overwhelming beauty. La Sonsierra is the only part of the region on the north Ebro bank and the views from the church, which dates back to Gothic 16th century and is situated within the fortress, are breathtaking as you look out across the Rioja Alta
La Rioja Baja, one of the area’s three subdivisions, is situated between the Cidacos valley and is the warmest and driest region of Rioja with a strong Mediterranean climate. Alfaro is the capital of the area and is steeped in ancient history. The San Miguel Church is a national monument and well worth seeing for its Baroque altarpiece by Juan de Arregui which dates back to 1727. 
Rioja’s location on the Peninsula has resulted in a varied and culturally diverse collection of art, monuments and archaeological remains which display the influences of the region’s mottled visitors throughout its history. Ranging from the Iberians, Romans and Arabs on the Ebro side, to the likes of the Saxons, Goths and Franks on the Camino de Santiago side, Rioja possesses an embarrassment of riches to entertain those craving a cultural experience outside of the region’s well-documented wine history. 


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