Escape to Ezcaray, Tourist Village of La Rioja
Ezcaray is a municipality that belongs to the Autonomous Community of La Rioja, located in the upper part of the Oja Valley, in the southwest of the Community, at the western end of the Sierra de la Demanda mountain range. Other municipalities in the Alto Oja region include Ojacastro, Santurdejo, Valgañón, Pazuengos, Zorraquín and Santurde.
It is one of the most charming villages in La Rioja and in this post we will take a look at its history, its most beautiful corners and the best times to visit it. Let's start the journey 🙂
A bit of history about Ezcaray
The first evidence of life in the valley dates back to prehistoric times and more specifically to the Neolithic period. Pre-Roman and Roman tribes, Visigoths and Muslims were also present in these lands, and it was precisely after the expulsion of the latter that the valley was depopulated. It was the Navarrese King Sancho Garcés I who took charge of the repopulation between 934 and 924.
Roman coin from the time of the Emperor Trajan (reigned 98 - 117 AD) found in Ezcaray.
Ezcaray comes from the Basque words "haitz" and "garay" which means "crag or high rock" and is thought to refer to "la picota de San Torcuato", a crag at the entrance to the valley.
In 1074, it became part of the Kingdom of Castile. Alfonso VI was in charge of annexing the whole of La Rioja.
An important date for the town and its people was 24 April 1312, the date on which King Ferdinand IV, the Placed One, granted the Valle de Ezcaray, Ojacastro, Zorraquín and Valgañón a series of privileges, such as exemption from the payment of the portage for their livestock and merchandise, freedom from taxes and the right to exercise their own justice. It remained in force until 1876.
The unique architectural ensemble of the houses and streets of Ezcaray invites you to stroll around and admire the nooks and crannies of this small village, which is one of the most outstanding in La Rioja.
The architecture of its urban centre presents different typologies to differentiate the different neighbourhoods, it is a very careful and beautiful architecture, of which we have to highlight its arcades, capable of keeping the town alive despite the cold winters.
Special mention should also be made of the central axis formed by the Plaza de la Verdura and the Plaza del Quiosco.
The central Plaza del Conde de Torremúzquiz or, as it is popularly known, Plaza del Quiosco.
Ezcaray is also rich in monuments:
- Church of Santa María la Mayor
The church we see today is the result of a long historical evolution. It has a single nave, based on 15th century masonry, superimposed on the previous Romanesque building. Inside, the main altarpiece from the 16th century stands out, as does the museum in the sacristy, which houses carvings from the surrounding churches. Inside, there are other Gothic and Renaissance altarpieces. The towers that flank it give it the appearance of a medieval fortress. On 11th October 1967 it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in the Monument category.
Santa María la Mayor Church in Ezcaray
- Angel Palace
Its construction dates back to the 18th century. We can highlight the decorative elements of its façade, such as the rococo coat of arms on the façade and the niche that houses the image of San Miguel.
- Barroeta Palace (17th century)
- Crucero de San Lázaro (16th c.)
- Hermitage of the Virgin of Allende
The current hermitage was completed in 1670 and is built in ashlar masonry and popular masonry of the area. Inside, we should highlight the mural paintings, the collection of paintings of the "Arcabuceros Angels" and the image of the patron saint of Ezcaray, the Virgin of Allende (early 14th century).
- Hermitage of Santa Barbara
The original church had a circular floor plan, and the one we can see today has a single nave like the previous one and has been rebuilt using ashlar stone and masonry. It is located at the top of a hill of the same name, which is climbed on pilgrimage on Whit Monday to honour the saint. Inside the church there is a polychrome bust-reliquary of Santa Bárbara dating from the 16th century.
- Royal Cloth Factory "El Fuerte".
The "Real Fábrica de Tejidos de Santa Bárbara" was founded in 1752. After the fire of 1785, the Dye House known as "El Fuerte" was built. At the beginning of the 19th century it began to decline due to its poor technological development until it finally disappeared. On 29th October 1992 it was declared a Monument of Cultural Interest.
Without a doubt, keeping traditions alive is a source of incalculable wealth for any town, as it allows us to travel back in time and become participants and protagonists of something we would not otherwise be able to understand.
- Las Habas de San Benito (21 March): this tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and recalls the custom of the monks of Santa María de Ubaga, who gave broad beans to the poor of Ezcaray and nearby villages. Nowadays, these confreres cook broad beans and then distribute them among the villagers and all those who come along.
- The "Aleluyas": this takes place on Easter Sunday itself. The authorities throw money and sweets to all those present in the square from the church balcony.
- Fiestas of San Lorenzo (10 August): in honour of the patron saint of Ezcaray, different activities are organised throughout the week.
- Nuestra Señora de Allende (24 September): to honour the patron saint of the town.
- Saint John (24 June)
- Pilgrimage of Santa Bárbara: this is one of the most popular festivities. It takes place in May (Whit Monday). It consists of a pilgrimage to the temple located on the top of a hill. Once there, there is a mass and a procession in which the women are in charge of carrying the saint.
After lunch, they walk down to the Plaza del Quiosco to the rhythm of the music, and in the square they walk around while the song '¡Ay mamá, cuánto me quiere mi novio!' is played.
Tourism, the main livelihood
Livestock, the artisan textile industry (dedicated above all to the manufacture of blankets), the manufacture of furniture, armchairs... make up part of Ezcaray's economic activity, partly because in recent years the main source of income has been tourism.
- Its perfect location makes it an ideal place to enjoy hiking (Vía Verde del Oja, Camino de Herradura) and practising outdoor sports with Nature as the main protagonist.
- Skiing and Mountain: its proximity to the Valdezcaray Ski Resort (15 km away) is a plus. This ski resort in La Rioja, in the heart of the Sierra de la Demanda, is prepared to accommodate up to 300,000 visitors a year. It has 22,160 skiable km, 4 green slopes, 6 blue, 2 black, 2 yellow and 10 red.
- Gastronomy and the best wine in the world: La Rioja and Ezcaray in this case, offer us endless gastronomic possibilities that will adapt to our needs and our economy. Within the typical cuisine of the town we can mention: caparrones (red beans), a typical winter dish; pocha beans; the mythical Rioja-style potatoes; vegetable stew; meat from the mountains... always accompanied by an excellent Rioja wine.
Places to visit
The time we have available will determine our visits, because in La Rioja everything is worth visiting. Below we tell you which places you can visit to make the most of your trip to Ezcaray and extend your journey:
A stone's throw away are the villages of Ezcaray(Zaldierna, San Antón, Urdanta, Cibarrena...and many others) with a great natural wealth and outstanding popular architecture.
Nearby larger towns are Ojacastro, Zorraquín, Santurde, Valgañón, Haro, Logroño, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, San Millán de la Cogolla, Nájera, Briones and many more.
Ezcaray is one of those places you can't miss, so don't wait any longer, come to Ezcaray and tell us about your experience!
Images: La Rioja Turismo