On the road to Spain: Rioja Alavesa, Laguardia and Elciego

In rainy November 2019, we spend a few days in Pamplona and explore the city and the surroundings. Our first excursion has taken us to Puente de la Reina. Now, our second excursion takes us to the vineyards of Rioja Alavesa, Laguardia and Elciego. Because it starts to pour with rain around midday, we return to Pamplona early and return to Laguardia on the next day.

Source: Google Maps


Beautiful Rioja Alavesa in the Basque hills north of the Ebro

North of Laguardia in the hills, we find the yellow and red vineyards of Rioja Alavesa that politically is part of the Basque country, but belongs to the wine region Rioja.

We are just below the Sierra de Cantabria. Dark clouds are looming, but the sun breaks through the clouds.

When we return the next day, the weather looks much more friendly…

… and the mountains now have a snow cap. The Rioja wine region is surrounded by mountains.

Near Laguardia, we say hello to our old friend, the river Ebro.


Elciego, where the success story of Rioja started in the 19th century

Elciego is located close to Laguardia. It is here, where in 1858 Marqués de Riscal founded the first bodega in Rioja. It is one of the most prestigious bodegas of Rioja today, with the brave architecture built by Frank Gehry.  Even on this rainy November day, the large Riscal parking is completely full with buses and cars.

There are more such prestigious bodegas around Laguardia, one of them (Ysios) built by Calatrava.  We prefer the more modest bodega Valdelana and I buy a Tinto Reserva from 2007 and a Malvasia (I am curious about the Malvasia from Rioja).

Wine production in Rioja started to thrive, when at the end of the 19th century, Phylloxera hit Bordeaux and destroyed their vineyards. The French winemakers turned to Rioja then. In the 70’s, when I was a student, “Rioja” meant “Spanish wine” for me. That has changed – I value the diversity of the Spanish wine regions, with Rioja being one of them.


Laguardia – medieval city hiding many bodegas and the most colourful porch I have ever seen

Laguardia is a medieval, small city from the 13th century, until today surrounded by the town wall. This is the defensive abbey tower from the 13th century that serves as the belfry of the “Iglesia de Santa Maria de los Reyes”.

When we return the next day, this tower shines in the sun.

On our first visit, the narrow streets are wet… we walk through them hidden under our umbrellas.

This is the Plaza Mayor in the rain, with the new town hall.

When we come back the next day, the small town welcomes us with sunshine. The houses are crouched on the hill.

Laguardia is a town full of bodegas that are visited by many tourists, now that the sun has come out.

We stop at the church San Juan from the 14th century with the belfry worked into the town gate.

The church is in principle closed for a wedding today. As the doors are open, we enter and listen to the singer practicing solemnly for her performance at the wedding.

We have tickets for 11:15 to visit the porch of the Santa Maria church. It is only possible to see the porch as a guided tour. The porch is from the 14th century and has been repainted in the 17th century. To protect the colours, the porch has always been protected by a wooden door. Therefore the colours have been preserved illustrating to us, what porches might have looked like really. I have never seen that before.

The iconography centers around Maria, as the church carries her name. She stands in the middle of the porch.

She wears a dress with a beautiful pattern, meticulously worked out. Her face expresses sadness – she may think of the fate of her son.

To her sides are the apostles, beginning with Paulus to the right…

… and with Petrus to the left.

Above are the Annunciation (Gabriel announces to Maria that she will have a son) and the Visitation (Maria, pregnant from Jesus, visits Elizabeth, pregnant from Juan).

The story continues with the flight of Maria and Joseph to Egypt and the Adoration of the Kings. Above are Maria’s death and her ascension.

We leave Laguardia and continue our way to Burgos.

Sources: Marion Golder: “Nordspanien und der Jakobsweg”, Dumont Reise-Handbuch, Ostfildern 2018 and Marion Trutter (Editor): “Culinario España, Spanische Spezialitäten”, Tandem Verlag 2015.

One thought on “On the road to Spain: Rioja Alavesa, Laguardia and Elciego

  1. […] November 2019 we drive from Pamplona to Burgos with the first stop over in Laguardia and Elciego and with the second stop over in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. We then settle in Burgos, where we […]

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