Set in the north central Spain about 300 miles from Barcelona, the Rioja province is chock full of vine-covered hills and beautiful medieval towns. For honeymooners looking to get off the beaten path in Spain, Rioja offers plenty of opportunities to get lost in Spanish culture as well as sip and savor phenomenal food and wine, all without the crowds of Spain’s biggest tourist draws. Here’s what you need to know to plan a honeymoon in Rioja.
When to Go
Rioja’s climate is fairly mild. While summer temperatures may climb to the mid-80s, winter temps rarely drop below the mid-30s (snow is possible, but rare), so you can have an enjoyable trip any time of year. If you prefer warm, sunny days, aim for May to September. If you don’t mind trading lower temperatures for lower prices, consider an off-season visit between November and March, though be aware that some shops, restaurants, and transit lines may operate on limited hours.
How to Get There
There is rail and bus service to the towns of Logroño and Haro from Barcelona and San Sebastian; from Barcelona it’s about five hours and from San Sebastian or Bilbao in the north it’s just 90 minutes. There are flights to Logroño (RJL) airport from Madrid, but due to limited scheduling, it may be more efficient to fly to Bilbao or Barcelona and transfer from there.
A car will increase your mobility once you’re in Rioja, particularly if your visit falls during the off season, when connections between towns are limited. It’s possible to get around without a car, but traveling between towns would require a bit more coordination, and your timetable would be dictated by the bus schedule.
Where to Stay
If you prefer to stay in town (recommended if you don’t have a car), the best towns to choose from are Haro, Logroño, and Laguardia.
Logroño, the largest of Rioja’s towns, makes a great home base for exploring the region. There are several excellent hotels to choose from and a charming old town filled with cobblestone streets and lively tapas bars; in fact, there are nearly 50 on a single block, Calle Laurel. There’s no better place for a master class in Spanish tapas, as here each bar specializes in just one or two items, so you can easily spend an evening moving from bar to bar trying various dishes. The town has one winery, the award-winning Bodegas Ontañon, so you can also do some wine tasting without venturing far. The three-star Hotel Marqués de Vallejo is a boutique hotel set in the heart of the city with Wifi, satellite TV, and stylish, modern rooms.
If you prefer the atmosphere of a smaller town, choose Laguardia, halfway between Logroño and Haro. This picturesque medieval walled village sits on a hilltop over 300 underground wine cellars.
What to Do
Dining, drinking, and exploring the various towns are the main activities in Rioja; it’s definitely a place for slowing down, relaxing, enjoying great food and wine, and soaking up Spanish culture. Speaking of wine, there’s plenty to keep you busy. There are more than 500 wineries in Rioja, ranging from large, commercial properties to small, family-run wineries that produce only a few thousand cases per year. Rioja produces some of the greatest reds in the world, which are often a phenomenal value. Among the most respected producers are López de Heredia, Muga, and Bodegas Bilbainas in Haro; El Fabulista in Laguardia; and the spectacular Ysios winery, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava and located just a few minutes outside of Laguardia. Many wineries are closed on Monday and don’t open before 11 A.M.; typically the tasting fee is just a few euros and tours should be arranged in advance.
When it comes to eating, there are options for just about every taste and budget, with a focus on regional ingredients and traditional dishes like tapas, such as grilled shrimp, patatas bravas, croquetas, and foie gras. For a meal that’s a bit more romantic than tapas, try El Portal del Echaurren, a Michelin two-starred restaurant whose chef trained with Ferran Adria of the famed (and now closed) El Bulli. There’s also the multicourse tasting menus at VentaMoncalvillo and Marqués de Riscal, a restaurant at the winery complex of the same name. We recommend making a day of it and also spend some time exploring the City of Wine, designed by architect Frank Gehry, which includes a hotel, wine bar, wine cellar, and spa.