Wine, food and scenery
17.05.2015 - 22.05.2015 21 °C
17 May. Drove from Salamanca to Logrono (capital of the Rioja Wine Region).
Had arranged to meet Ana at 5pm at flat so we had a bit of time to kill. We arrived at Logrono had a quick coffee and then met with Ana. She showed us our apartment, three good sized bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, very nice and quite a good size kitchen. The only thing that was missing was wi-fi. Ana said she had decided to do away with it as it was expensive, but she failed to tell Air BNB this so it was still included on the details.
This is becoming a pain in the arse. We chose this apartment based on the amenities available - the main one being Wifi. It's impossible to do anything about this when you arrive on a Sunday evening having booked your accommodation ahead. AirBnB rules mean that if I cancel at this point then I incur a penalty.
I am rapidly reaching a conclusion about AirBnB which I will be sharing with them in response to their latest "tell us what you think of us (smiley bloody faces) ? message. Well since they really want to know then I will give it them with both barrels - I have held back so far assuming things would get better but I think it's time to share my thoughts.
18 May. Healthy walk down into centre of Logrono (about 20 minutes) to get our bearings and visit the tourist info office. We are really keen to get on some wine tours and hopefully a tasting course. I did a tasting course with my mate Richard a few years ago and it was time well invested so Mo is keen to do the same.
Wine tasting course only run on a saturday - we are in the area Monday to Friday!
However we manage to book ourselves on a full day tour with tastings with a company called Riojatrek for Wednesday which looks to have everything else we want to do though I did wonder if the "trek" bit meant that we would be doing it on the back of some flea- bitten donkey.
Old town in Logrono looks very attractive. We found Tapas alley (Calle Laurel) and sampled some great dishes. Logrona is as famous as San Sebastián for tapas but there is a real difference. San Sebastián pinctxos are very often mini haute cuisine whereas the Logrono ones are more simple preparations - but no less delicious. Each bar has its own speciality eg mushrooms or cheese or rabbit - there is often a picture of the main ingredient on the door (bambi and thumper pictures a little distasteful in Mos opinion) - and they all do them very well. They also serve a very acceptable glass of Rioja cranza - no need to buy a bottle and it's not just any old pi*s.
Decided to take the car out and explore the local area. First stop Laguardia, a lovely hillside town about 15 mins away which is high enough up to get a good overall view of the region. Scenery is different again (and no less picturesque) - large expanse of very green valleys with vines as far as the eye can see, dotted with small villages but the whole thing set in a backdrop of the Cantabrian mountains and the main river (Ebro) which cuts through the whole region. We were also a little surprised ( me delighted, Mo aghast) at the temperature on this particular day - it reached 29 degrees. So while I relished walking around in the sun, Mo donned her Burkha and dashed between shadows shouting "Allah hu Akbar" which resulted in the locals dashing for cover as they thought ISIS had arrived in their peaceful little community. I can see that Burkha being heavily used in the weeks to come as it gets gradually hotter.
We then did a sort of whistle stop tour of a number of the main villages just to check it all out - they are scattered but it's only about 20 minutes between each. We knew we would be visiting some of these places properly on our wine tour later in the week so no need to dwell too long in each for now.
Spent the next day lazily roaming around Logrono. Great old town with lots of narrow streets and lovely squares and also the Banks of the Ebro. Also went to the covered market to buy some fresh ingredients to cook back at the apartment. Unfortunately Mo has developed a nasty cough and cold so she wasn't up to much. I blame the wet weather in Galicia and I'm sure that Burkha can't be healthy.
Also discovered that that little ar*shole Pedro in Porto had posted a negative comment about us on the AirBnB site so spent some time exchanging pleasantries with the little sh*te. The review system works as follows:
The guest reviews the apartment and the host reviews the guests.
You don't see the others review until both parties have completed and posted their reviews
Pedro clearly decided (without knowing what I had written) to get his revenge in first so once I posted my comments (which were factually correct about the apartment, location and him being a complete dickhead), I saw his review which said that we had left the apartment dirty and he strongly recommends that other hosts do not take us as guests.
Some of you know Mo and there is no way she would allow us to leave anywhere without ensuring that the place was not only cleaner than when we arrived but in fact major open heart surgery could be performed in the toilet without fear of infection.
Mo advised me to stop the exchange of emails with Pedro before it got out of hand - it may already have.
Anyway all other reviews of us as guests have been 100% positive so his stands out like a sore thumb. Would love to come across him again though just to shake him by the throat.
20/5/15. Our wine tour day.
Marina (who Set up the company 7 years ago) picked us up in a minibus (no donkeys) and we were delighted to discover that there were just us two. She takes a maximin of eight but we struck lucky. Wednesday is the English speaking tour day and her English was perfect and we had her all to ourselves.
She lives in the area with her husband and she comes from a family of winemakers going back 5 generations. It turned out that her knowledge of the area and the wine was impeccable
We visited a number of wine villages (Haro, Briones, Laguardia, Labastida) and she showed us around each whilst provided great local knowledge. She stopped the minibus at one point in the middle of nowhere and we walked over a couple of hills to a necropolis from the Middle Ages - body shapes of adults and children hewn out of solid rock - I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have had this special attention to detail on a more commercial tour.
There was a great mural in Haro which depicts the difference between overindulging in wine and in beer. Mos comment to Marina that I have plenty of experience of both was a little harsh!
Marina explained about the climate, the soil, history of wine in the Rioja region and each time we stopped at a village or town she took us to specific points of interest but also provided the local history associated with each - she was fantastic.
We visited two wineries - tour and tasting - Bodegas Bilbainas in Haro and Valdelana in Elciego. At the first tasting (for which we were joined by 6 other people on a different tour) they were very proud of their labels. We had one glass of a Crianza and then the bottle was passed around apparently for us to admire the label. I just thought it was an invitation to have more wine so filled my glass again (followed by a sharp nudge in the ribs from Mo).
At the second they did provide a bit of a lesson in how to taste wine so I thought Mo would appreciate that. However, her cold meant that when asked if she could taste red fruits in one of the wines she said all she could taste was Menthol from her throat sweets. Not sure the guide understood.
In between tours Marina took us for lunch. The restaurant (Hector Oribe in the tiny wine village of Paganos) was excellent. A three course lunch of local food accompanied by a very tasty bottle of Rioja Crianza.
I was also pleased that Marina had earmarked a visit to the hotel Marques de Riscal in Elciego. I was already aware that Frank Gehry (designer of the Guggenheim in Bilbao which I had already visited on a previous trip to Spain) had designed this hotel for the Riscal wine company and was looking forward to seeing it. In fact Marina had arranged for us to have coffee in this very exclusive establishment which was a bonus but it is the outside which grabs the attention.
Some of the wineries in the Rioja region have made a point of bringing in cutting edge architects to design their premises ( another notable one is Bodega Ysios which we also stopped to look at) and though there could be a risk associated with this, I didn't find it incongruous.
All in all this was a fantastic day out. I would strongly recommend Riojatrek and Marina.
21/5 - last full day in Rioja. Took it easy. We have a very early start the next day as it is a minimum of 6 hours drive to our next stop in Cadaques
We decided we could easily spend a couple of weeks touring this region. There are so many wineries, beautiful villages and great restaurants and the scenery is very special. Earmarked for a future holiday.