The 10 most charming villages in La Rioja
Preparing an article that includes a list can raise suspicions because sometimes, as the wise Spanish proverb says, not all of them are there. And to make matters worse, if the selection has to be made from among the Rioja villages that I like the most, things get more complicated.
La Rioja has towns that are well worth not only a visit but also a holiday. Here are my top ten villages in La Rioja.
Ezcaray, considered the first tourist town in La Rioja Alta, is located in the Rioja Alta region. This beautiful village on the Oja river is the perfect starting point to explore the upper valley of the river or to take a route through the vineyards. Known for the nearby ski resort of Valdezcaray, the only one of its kind in the entire Autonomous Community, this village has a beautiful urban area with arcades, arcaded squares and palaces and some very important buildings such as the parish church of Santa María la Mayor with a beautiful 16th-century Hispano-Flemish main altarpiece. Add to all this the gastronomic offer of this town, headed by the Echaurren, the best restaurant in La Rioja and one of the most renowned in Spain.
2. SANTO DOMINGO DE LA CALZADA
Santo Domingo de la Calzada, at the foot of the Sierra de la Demanda, is a beautiful town that is closely linked to the Pilgrim's Route to Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that, back in the 11th century, a hermit named Domingo built a bridge over the river Oja and a safer road for pilgrims. He also built a hospital and a temple for the material and spiritual assistance of the pilgrims. The architectural heritage of Santo Domingo de la Calzada is unparalleled. It is headed by its imposing late Romanesque cathedral and the Plaza España, nowadays the setting for many activities such as the Medieval Market, in December, and Los Milagros del Santo, in August. Finally, if you talk to a local, let him or her tell you about the famous miracle of the cockerel and the hen.
The first time I went to Nájera I was 17 years old and the greatest memory of that visit, apart from the great student nights, is the majesty of the Monastery of Santa María la Real, which stands out for its magnificent 16th century cloister of the Knights where Gothic, Plateresque and Renaissance styles alternate. Also not to be missed are the Monastery of Santa Cruz, the ruins of the castle-fortress of La Mota, destroyed during the 16th-century communist conflicts, and the convent of Santa Elena. A tip: take a stroll at sunset along the banks of the Najerilla, especially along the banks of the monumental area where there are more green areas and terraces.
Monastery of Santa María la Real. Author: Dietmar Giljohann
Capital of the Rioja Baja region, Calahorra is a city of great historical importance. In its old quarter there are many vestiges of its past, such as the Cathedral, in late Gothic style, in which Plateresque elements stand out, such as its beautiful cloister. The Muslims, who stayed in the city for more than four centuries, left their mark on its urban planning. The Jewish community was also of great importance. It is believed that the Jewish quarter must have been located in Rasillo de San Francisco, on the acropolis of the ancient Roman city. Also worth a visit are the Museum of Romanisation, which contains some 11,000 archaeological pieces, including the famous Dama Calagurritana, the image of the capital of La Rioja, and the Vegetable Museum which, with the passage of time, has become an interactive centre with educational information on the different types of vegetables.
If there is one place I recommend in Arnedo, it is the Mirador del Castillo viewpoint, from where you can get a close-up view of the ruins of the town's rock castle, built by the Arabs in the 10th century. From here you also have an incredible panoramic view of the city and the middle Cidacos valley. A city of footwear, Arnedo is the gateway to the upper Cidacos valley, declared a Biosphere Nature Reserve in 2003, with monumental and archaeological attractions such as the vast collection of ichnites or fossilised dinosaur footprints. It is also worth taking a trip to the Monastery of Vico, a beautiful enclave located on the river Cidacos.
A town with Roman foundations and a frontier town for centuries, Alfaro has recently become famous for its famous colony of white storks that have made their nest in the town's most emblematic building: the Collegiate Church of San Miguel. This monumental work from the 16th and 17th centuries, built in solid brick, was declared a National Historic-Artistic Monument in 1976. Alfaro also preserves palaces, such as the Episcopal Palace, and mansions with a good layout, some of them designed by Ventura Rodríguez. Outside the town centre, it is advisable to visit the Pilar hermitage, which offers good panoramic views of the area.
Welcome to one of the most beautiful medieval villages in La Rioja. With a forceful name, Sajarraza can boast of its noble past, which is reflected in the palatial houses such as that of the Osorio family or that of the Ruiz de Loizaga family, a Baroque mansion dating from the mid-18th century. During the 13th century it was an important bastion of the nobility of the area who settled in this enclave. The trapezoidal wall, of which hardly any remains are preserved, and the Puerta del Arco, between the Town Hall and the Church of Santa María de la Asunción, which contains valuable Gothic carvings, date from this period. But what would Sajazarra be without its 15th century castle-palace, built in ashlar stone and very well preserved by its owner, Alfonso Libanos.
8. VINIEGRA DE ABAJO
This small village, located right in the centre of the Rioja region of the 7 villas of the upper Najerilla, has a fascinating history, as its origins date back to the Visigothic period. It is believed that Viniegra was the town of Lutia, where Retógenes el Caraunio recruited 400 young men to fight against Scipio during the siege of Numancia. With a population of just 87 inhabitants, Viniegra de Abajo is a festival town with a busy calendar of events and festivals throughout the year. As far as its heritage is concerned, the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción and several hermitages stand out.
Viniegra de Abajo. Author: total 13
9. LEZA DE RÍO LEZA
Very close to Logroño is the small and very ancient village of Leza de Río, with its noble houses and the church of Santa María la Blanca, built in the 15th century in ashlar masonry with a single nave with three bays and an octagonal chancel with five sides. Its heritage is completed by some chapels located in the surrounding area, the perfectly restored icehouse, and the bridge of Leza, at the entrance to the municipality, which leads to the mouth of the imposing Leza River Canyon.
Briones has a great heritage that endows the town with great architectural interest. Some of the most important are the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, in the Elizabethan style, the Palace of the Marquis of San Nicolás, seat of the Town Hall, or the remains of the castle of Briones, destroyed in the 13th century by Ferdinand III, of which the remains of the keep can still be seen. Briones is also home to the oldest house in La Rioja, dating from the 16th century. Finally, one of the main attractions of Briones is the Museum Vivanco of Wine Culture, a cultural reference point in Spain and considered by the WTO to be the best wine museum in the world.
These are my 10 favourite villages in La Rioja... what are yours?