TWE Best Wine Travel Destination: The Basque Country in Spain, with Rioja (The Wine Enthusiast)

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The Wine Enthusiast recently did a special feature on what they think are the World’s Best Wine Tour Destinations for 2016. Here are some more details on one of the destinations on their list: the Basque Country in Spain, and also Rioja.

You can see the Wine Enthusiast’s full list of best wine travel destinations in my previous post here.

6.     Basque Country, Spain

If you go here for the wine, you should probably extend your voyage a bit more than to just the Basque Country along the coast. Along the coast you do have some interesting wines, for instance the very rare Txakoli, but go a little south and you come to Rioja.

This is what The Wine Enthusiast has to say about it in their intro:

“Expect unique wines and boundary-pushing cuisine in this ruggedly beautiful region. The Basque Country, or País Vasco, in northern Spain includes the must-visit cities of San Sebastián and Bilbao. […] Traditional yet trendsetting and abundant in local seafood, renowned Spanish Chef Ferran Adrià has called San Sebastián’s food, ‘The best in the world.’ In the towns along the coast, medieval cathedrals and winding cobblestone streets sit alongside modern architectural marvels, all within a stone’s throw of scenic Atlantic beaches.”

The tapas (pinxos) are good, the food is excellent and the wines are exciting. Make Bilbao the starting point for your discoveries. Then you can come with us with a wine tour to Rioja, an hour and a half’s comfortable drive inland. Here’s more on what to expect when wine touring in Rioja (although strictly speaking only part of Rioja is in the Basque Country).

A winding road through the autumn colours in a vineyard in Rioja
A winding road through the autumn colours in a vineyard in Rioja, copyright BKWine Photography

What to expect

The first time I came to Bilbao I expected a dark and dirty industrial city. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bilbao, which is the natural place to start a journey of discovery in this wonderful region, is one of the most elegant cities I know. It is well organised, clean, easy to get around, but more importantly, it is charming and interesting.

Along the coast, for instance in Bilbao and San Sebastian, you have wonderful beaches, but also a coastal climate with cool winds and a fair amount of rainfall throughout the year. Go inland and you will see a dramatic change as soon as you cross the mountain peaks of the Cantabrian Mountains (highest peak at 2,648 m, 8,688 ft). The landscape changes colour and character. Drier, hotter, more rural.

What you should not miss

There’s so much… Explore the charming city centre of Bilbao of course. But if we look at the wine country you will have to choose between the two main cities: Logroño, the modern capital, and Haro, the much smaller town that was once the most important trading post. Haro has its Barrio de la Estacion (“the train station burrough”), probably the world’s most dense concentration of wineries, around the old railway station. Logroño is a much livelier city. It is on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago. They have the famous “tapas street”, Calle Laurel, that is quite an incredible affair.

Do make a point of visiting some of the smaller bodegas (aka wineries). Rioja is dominated by big names, big companies (much like in Champagne). Some have 70,000 wine barrels in their cellars. I kid you not. But don’t miss some of the smaller producers where you will get to see a less industrial side of the wine business. And perhaps more individualistic wines.

And then you have all the old villages, the fancy new architectural wonders that some wineries have built, and much more.

Travel with us on a wine tour to Rioja and the Basque Country in Spain!

Old bottles in the wine cellar
Old bottles in the wine cellar, copyright BKWine Photography
Rows of wine barrels in an modern wine cellar in Rioja
Rows of wine barrels in an modern wine cellar in Rioja, copyright BKWine Photography
Harvesting tempranillo grapes in the vineyard in Rioja
Harvesting tempranillo grapes in the vineyard in Rioja, copyright BKWine Photography

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