If you love wine, sun, great food, and architecture, Rioja, Spain might be your dream destination. It also happens to be a great value. Visitors to La Rioja can enjoy their fill of hearty local cuisine and great wine at ridiculously low prices, and tour a well-preserved Medieval city, all just a few hours drive from Madrid. Visit in the fall, during the grape harvest, and you’ll experience first-hand what makes Rioja one of the great wine-producing regions of the world.
In Madrid, there are several car rental agencies offering affordable weekly rates, many with unlimited mileage, including Europcar, Avis and Budget. A useful tool for calculating driving distances and planning rest stops is the Via Michelin guide, which also highlights local places of interest along the way. The most valuable resource by far though, for making the most of your time in Rioja is Maribel’s Guide, which provides insider tips, information about wineries, and helpful links to reserve tours. This is crucial, since most wineries are not open to drop-in visitors.
Eating well in Rioja is easy and very affordable. A breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, café cortado, and a warm croissant at Café Suiz in Haro will set you back about 3 Euros. Plan to eat your main meal at lunch, so you can take advantage of the menu del dia, which is offered at restaurants throughout Spain, and is taken up a notch or two in Rioja. This three-course lunch is my preferred way of dining when in Spain, and it is typically accompanied by a glass of wine. In Rioja, however, the entire bottle is brought to your table! As night falls, a stroll through the tapas bars of the Medieval walled city of La Guardia or a walk in the Casco Viejo in Logrono are relaxing ways to wind down and enjoy such specialties as rabo del toro, or tortilla Espanola. When it’s time to leave, be sure to make room in your luggage for some of the local wines, so you can reminisce about your time in Rioja for months to come, once you get back home.