La Rioja Music and Wine Festival 2

Travel Impressions: La Rioja Festival, Spain (Part 1)

Discovering Spain – Wine, Food, Music, and Nature in La Rioja (Part 1)

By Rocío de Lucía

Welcome to our new series of blogs, “Travel Impressions,” where our team members will share personal experiences and highlights from our travels around the world. Our first adventure takes us to the beautiful La Rioja, Spain region through the lens of our Cuban Musicologist/Tour Leader, Rocío de Lucía.

Rocio and Musical Getaways Tour Guests at La Rioja Festival 2024

Discovering La Rioja: Wine, Food, Music, and Nature

spain classical music guitar festival la rioja pablo sainz villegas

As many might guess from the title, this blog will discuss the natural and cultural richness of one of the most beautiful regions in the north of the Iberian Peninsula: La Rioja. After concluding the third edition of the La Rioja Classical Music Festival, directed by Maestro Pablo Sainz Villegas, I (Rocío) returned with the inspiring certainty of having discovered one of the great jewels of Spanish culture.

This article, turned into a kind of travel log, aims to share those experiences with the hope of bringing lovers of wine, fine dining, music, and nature closer to this very special place. We successfully accomplished our first tour of this amazing festival and region. All interested travelers can find more info about our tour here.

The Natural Wealth of La Rioja: A Hidden Paradise in Spain

spain la rioja landscape nature mountain grapes

World-renowned for its exquisite wines, which are established per se as a Qualified Designation of Origin, La Rioja is a true hidden treasure for nature lovers. One of the qualities that allows this area to be so prolific in gastronomic production is undoubtedly the diversity of landscapes, which range from the imposing mountains of the Iberian Range to the fertile valleys of the Ebro River.

Its clayey and limestone soils and continental Mediterranean climate support unique flora and fauna, from oak and beech forests to birds of prey that soar through its skies.

Soto in Cameros: Canyons and Prehistoric Sites

soto en cameros spain canyon nature monastery

On our first festival day, me and our Musical Getaways group tour visited Soto in Cameros, a small village in the heart of the Sierra de la Demanda, a fascinating discovery for geology and history enthusiasts. Its canyons, formed by the erosion of the Iregua River, are a sight to behold, with vertical walls reaching 200 meters in height.

The prehistoric sites in Soto, Cameros, where remains of mammals (dinosaur footprints) dating back over 50,000 years have been found, offer a unique opportunity to connect with the history of this place we all inhabit: the Earth.

However, these views were only the beginning of an unforgettable afternoon because right after delighting in the beauty of the place and being mesmerized by the dramatic landscape, we enjoyed a wonderful harp concert at the city’s monastery.

El Camino Real

spain camino real badaran san millan de la cogolla suso monastery folk music

On this music and wine tour in Spain, not all experiences were contemplative. We also had the opportunity to engage in some healthy physical activity, with a special walk along El Camino Real, an ancient trade route that connected Castile with the Basque Country. Between the towns of Badarán and San Millán de la Cogolla, this path offers a unique experience for those who enjoy hiking. Along the route, one can admire romantic landscapes, from vineyards stretching along the valley to mountains rising in the distance.

Halfway there, a pleasant stop with live music and delicious natural snacks awaited us, motivating us to reach the final destination: the monasteries of San Millán, Suso and Yuso. In addition to the charming ambiance of its nature, the Monastery of Suso in San Millán de la Cogolla, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and considered the birthplace of the Spanish language, is a must-visit on this path.

Thus, at the end of the El Camino Real route in this impressive place, we were able to dive into the atmosphere of its architecture and design with a concert for organ and trombone, performed by two great Spanish classical music stars.

Ezcaray: Hiking and Climbing Route

spain landscape escaray scarf

The third day of the tour arrived, and we moved to Ezcaray, a town in the heart of the Sierra de la Demanda, an ideal destination for hiking and climbing lovers. Its hiking trails, which wind through beech forests and alpine meadows, offer breathtaking views of the Sierra’s snow-capped peaks. Furthermore, the rock walls of Ezcaray, which attract climbers from all over the world, offer options for all levels, from classic routes to sport climbing routes.

During this visit, we learned about the town’s history and what makes it so special besides its geographical location. Ezcaray is the only city in La Rioja that maintains an active tradition of crafting scarves and blankets dating back to the early 20th century. The family-owned business, Mantas Ezcaray, founded by Cecilio Valgañón in 1930, has been dedicated for nearly a century to producing these textile products using the finest natural fibers and manual techniques.

With just 2,100 inhabitants, Ezcaray boasts one of the best restaurants in the country, distinguished with 2 Michelin stars, which is a good example of this city’s culinary excellence. After a day of adventures and a high-level piano concert, we could enjoy the local cuisine, with dishes such as bacalao a la riojana (Rioja-style cod).

Stay tuned for the next part of our La Rioja journey, where we’ll explore more incredible destinations and experiences.

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