Rioja, Beyond The Wine

Exploring The Other Rioja

If you are planning on being in the Rioja for more than a few days, you have a great opportunity to visit some of the areas outside of the popular wine producing regions, or combine these areas with your daily wine touring. We usually visit Casalarreina, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Ezcaray in the Oja Valley when in the Haro area. 

The villages of Viniegra de Abajo and Arriba in the Najerilla Valley can be a full-day outing. A visit to the villages in Cameros; Torrecilla, El Rasillo, Ortigosa, Pradillo, Villanueva, and Almarza in the Iregua Valley, and Soto en Cameros, San Román, Muro and the Mirador del Cañón, in the Leza Valley, also involve a full day excursion but are easy to reach from Haro, Laguardia or Logroño.

Day Trips In The Rioja

La Vieja Bodega
La Vieja Bodega, Casalarreina


A short 10-minute drive south of Haro will put you in the village of Casalarreina where you can visit the 16th-century Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Piedad, a National Historic-Artistic Monument. The bishop of Calahorra founded this convent for cloistered Dominican nuns in 1509.  Construction began in 1514, concluding in 1524 in the richly ornamented Gothic Isabelline style, popular during the reign of Queen Isabella. Of the site’s three components, only the church with its beautiful Plateresque façade and the lovely two-story cloister are open to visitors. Closed Mondays. 

Festivals include the 5-day long harvest festival to celebrate the Virgen del Campo in September on the Saturday following San Mateo. The festival begins in the Plaza de La Florida with the firing of the chupinazo (rocket) from the balcony of the Ayuntamiento (town hall) at 1:00 pm. The fiesta of San Juan is celebrated on June 24 with a wine battle and wine tasting. The 3-day celebration of parton saint San Vítores is during the last week in August and includes a craft market with local gastronomy one of the highlights.

If you are interested in staying in Casalarreina, then the lovely rural hotel, a reconverted Dominican Monastery founded in 1509, Hospedería Señorío de Casalarreina, might be of interest. It sits next to the Monastery’s church and was created inside the building that housed the monastery’s former school, and is filled with character, with just 15 beautiful rooms. The 10-room Solar de Febrer is also a good option. Another option is the 5-room La ilera, a 19th-century guest house in the center of Casalarreina, fully restored in 2006.

For lunch in Casalarreina we recommend La Vieja Bodega with one Repsol sun, Lumbre Restaurante, and Entrerailes, which offers Riojan and Basque cuisines and a 12€ menú del día during the week.

El Mesón, Ezcaray


It’s a gorgeous drive past forests of oak and beech trees to the beguiling mountain town in the high valley of the Oja river, one of the Seven Valleys of the Rioja, and the heart of the Sierra de la Demanda, the roof of the Rioja. The village is a traditional summer retreat for Riojan and Basque families and a winter sports center, the Vladezcaray ski area, and snowshoeing at the base of the majestic San Lorgezo mountain, the highest peak in the region. The Picos de Urbión nearby marks the border between Burgos and Soria. 

In early July Ezcaray holds the International Jazz Festival and this year, from July 30 – August 1, the village celebrates the Ezcaray Fest, a major music festival in the Rioja. The 2-day celebration of the patron saint, La Virgen de Allende, is on September 24 and 25. The pilgrimage to the hermitage of Santa Bárbara takes place on Pentecost Easter Monday in May. The traditional Las habas de San Benito, the beans of San Benito, takes place on the Saturday closest to March 21.

If you do land here by 3:00 in the afternoon and want one of the top gourmet experiences in the Rioja, be sure to stop by Echaurren, where you have the choice of dining at Echaurren Tradición, the original restaurant of Marisa Sánchez, who started it all, chef Francis Paniego’s El Portal de Echaurren, with two Michelin stars (reservations required), El Cuartito, the casual restaurant, or have tapas in the Chimney Living Room. The hotel is located on the square in the center of the village across from the Parroquia de Santa María la Mayor.

Mohair scarves at Mantas Ezcaray

This is also the perfect place to shop for beautiful mohair scarves, shawls and blankets. You can stop by the workshop of Mantas Ezcaray on Calle González Gallarza before or after lunch. They have been in business here since 1930.

Santo Domingo
Cathedral of Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo de la Calzada

If you are driving to Ezcaray from Haro, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Briones, Ábalos, or even Logroño, you will pass through this walled city sitting on the banks of the Oja River that has been a major staging area for pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela, a mere 528 kms to the west. There’s no parking within the stone walls, but you can park outside and walk along its medieval streets. While here, take the time to visit the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, which dates from the 12th-century. The cathedral opens daily at 10:00 am while the tower is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. 

The Fiestas del Santo normally begins on May 10 and continues until the 15th. On May 11 there is a procession of sheep through the city to celebrate King Alfonso I of Aragón’s order from 1112 stating that the town’s livestock could graze freely on the kingdom’s mountains (moved to September this year). In mid-August there is a play about the miracles of Los Milagros del Santo, performed by La Asociación Teatral Calceatense, in the Plaza de España, the miracle of the rooster and the hen. The harvest festival, Fiestas de Gracias and San Jerónimo Hermosilla, begins on September 17 this year. There is a Medieval Market, Ferias de la Concepción y Mercado Medieval, when the city dresses up with flags and colored ribbons, the balconies adorned with family shields. It will be held on December 6-8 this year.

The town’s founding father, Saint Dominic, is buried here in an elaborate mausoleum with small crypt underneath.  He dedicated his life to the building of a road, bridge and pilgrims’ hospital-this hospice becoming a focal point for the pilgrims to Santiago and constituted the beginnings of the new town, which was named Santo Domingo after his death. Since he is the patron saint of road workers and engineers, surrounding the burial site are votive plaques and offerings from engineering firms. 

But what tourists really flock to the cathedral to see are its live cock and hen kept in a carved wooden gallery.  They have to do with a miracle whose tale goes something like this… In the Middle Ages, a married couple and their 18 year-old son, Hugonnell, arrived to Santo Domingo from Germany as pilgrims on the road to Compostela. The girl at the inn where they were staying fell in love with the son, but he rebuffed her. Seeking revenge, she planted a silver goblet in his luggage, and when the family took up their journey onward to Santiago, she denounced the lad as a thief. Under the laws of the time, the punishment for robbery was death; thus once captured and judged, the innocent boy was hanged. His grief stricken parents continued on their journey to Compostela, but several months later they returned. They went to the spot to see where their son had been hanged. Upon arriving at the gallows, they heard his voice telling them that Santo Domingo had saved his life. Their son was alive! They went straight to the Judge’s house to inform him of the miracle and demand that the boy be cut down from the gallows. The Judge replied with scorn that their son was “about as alive as the roast cock and hen I’m about to eat.” And at that moment, the cock and hen leaped from the Mayor’s plate and began to crow. The boy was then set free. 

In memory of this event, a white cock and hen are kept in an ornate henhouse inside the cathedral, to the left of the entrance. Local farmers donate these birds, and they’re changed every month.

If you want to spend a few days in the city, you can check out the Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a former 12th-century hospital. The Hotel Santo Domingo Bernardo de Fresneda is the 3-star sister of the Parador and is located outside of the walled medieval quarter and is currently closed for renovation. The Abadía Cisterciense, dating from 1610 when the Cistercian nuns moved from Abia de Torres, was fully restored in 1979 and offers 78 rooms. It is also a Pilgrim’s Hostel for those on the Road to Santiago.

For lunch, you can consider La Cancela at Calle Mayor, 51, next to the tower. Los Caballeros is just across the street at No. 56., at the entrance to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Danzantes-Zancos (El Pais)


This small village located just down the LR-113 from Nájera attracts spectators from around the region for the celebration of the village’s parton saint on July 21-23. Its famous dancers, Danza de los Zancos, perched atop half-meter tall wooden stilts, perform precariously (and astonishingly), descending 45 meters from the church, first down six stone steps, then a very steep, narrow cobblestone street called Cuesta de los Danzantes, dressed in the traditional costume of a colorful vest and large yellow and white billowing skirts. The dancers set off as they twirl around, seemingly in oblivion, accompanying the procession carrying the image of Santa María Magdalena. Spectators form a human shield to catch them should something happen as they launch themselves, spinning down the steep street

This four hundred-year old tradition, one of the most noteworthy events in the Rioja, is said to be La Rioja’s oldest folk tradition. The dancers also perform the last Saturday in September when the image of the Virgin is returned to her hermitage, where she will await the following spring.

Exclusive Travel Planning Services by Iberian Traveler & Maribel’s Guides.  Contact Maribel to arrange a custom itinerary for your next trip to Spain, Portugal, or France.


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