I had never even heard of this region before this trip, except for the notation on wine bottles. I guess I assumed Rioja meant red wine. I learned that Rioja on a wine bottle means the wine comes from the Rioja region. And it is a glorious place. It is essentially a valley between two mountain ranges, centered on the Ebro river; about two hundred miles north of Madrid and about eighty miles south of the north coastal city of Bilbao. The area is covered with vineyards and picturesque small towns. My friend Lyman and I rode around the area for almost a week, making up our route as we went along. We both had folding bicycles that we had brought with us on the flight to Bilbao airport. We left the bicycle suitcases at a Bilbao hotel for a week, and bicycles in hand, took the train sixty miles south to Mirando de Ebro, to begin our ride. The valley scenery is indeed beautiful.
Walking five hundred mile Camino de Santiago has been the thing to do for over a thousand years, and this route cuts across La Rioja. Those who walk are called peregrinos, or pilgrims. Stores, hotels, and museums frequently offer discounts.
We stayed and walked around in several distinctive towns, such as Santo Domingo de la Calzada, La Guardia, and San Millan.
Staying in the religious destination mountain town of San Millan de la Cogolla, there were fewer restaurants than usual, and Lyman and I had a glass of wine in the one bar open in the town, before going back to eat at our hotel.
Logroῆo was the largest city we visited, other than Bilbao. It has a population of 153,000. I had never heard of it before this trip. I would speculate that most Spaniards would describe this place as a third tier city in Spain, if that. But typically European, Logroῆo has superior urban fabric and street life to almost every city in America.
Logroῆo not only has a very dense medieval core, outside of the core it has wide streets with fountains and parks.
Logroῆo is famous for it tapas bars. Two downtown streets in particular are famous for the tapas scene. There are supposed to be over fifty tapas bars in a four block area. Many specialize in particular types of tapas. Wine is universally about a dollar a glass. Prices are in Euro, worth about $ 1.15. Lyman and I sometimes had difficulty in staying up late enough for “dinner” at the typical Spanish hour of eleven at night, but in Logroῆo we ate tapas to our hearts content.
This one place with a white decor had their white wine prices on a blackboard, and freshly fried chunks of codfish, with olives and bread and fried hot peppers thrown in as part of the deal.
Across the narrow street from our pension was this tapas place that specialized in ham.
Down the street at Calle Laurel, the tapas bars made the street seem as if it was a room. We were told it was not too crowded, since at this point it was eleven thirty on a chilly Tuesday night. That is Lyman on the far right.
Meals in other towns and cities we visited were also delicious. Most restaurants had a complete meal priced at ten to twenty Euro, including two courses, bottle of wine, dessert, tax, and tip. In this place is in the tiny town of Caῆas, we had a twelve Euro lunch, served by a young waitress who looked like the daughter of the older woman doing the cooking.
First course was either paella or lentil soup.
Second course was porch chops and fries.
Dessert was some kind of cake with fruit and whipped cream.
The first day in Bilbao we had had an inviting fourteen Euro lunch, sitting next to a rambunctious group of mostly women on a Sunday outing, in an old-school interior whose style certainly has a name. No, I do not otherwise know these people.
On our return to Bilbao, we had a delightful lunch with Lydia Egea, her husband, and another friend. She is my friend Esther’s cousin, and I had met her and Esther and friend Nieves thirty -four years ago when they were traveling in Italy. Eating in the old part of Bilbao, we had such great time that we neglected to take any pictures. After a long lunch, we rushed to the Bilbao airport for our evening flight to London, and then home.
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