Red, White and Green: A tour of Rioja and the Spanish Pyrenees

What colours come to mind when you think of Spain? The red-pink of sunburnt skin, the azure blue of the sea, white villages nestling in orange hillsides. Does green come onto the radar?

It certainly did for me on a recent trip to the more northerly parts of Spain where the rain in Spain did not fall on the plains but instead fell heavily onto Bilbao. The amount of rain that this part of Spain receives does give it a rather beautiful abundance of green and sunshine made regular visits to show the area off in its true glory.

The trip had a smorgasbord of attractions; wine, architecture, mountains, pinxtos and art. First stop was the Rioja wine region. Accommodation was in the beautifully modern Hotel Viura located about 10 minutes drive from Laguardia in a sleepy village where the main activities include observing local life in the square, drinking wine and wandering around the local hillside vineyards. The hotel has a couple of slightly rickety bikes you can borrow, I think it is fair to say we really put them through their paces with a 20km tour from the hotel to Elciego, Laguardia and finally back to the hotel.

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Marques de Riscal, Elciego
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Bodegas Ysios, Laguardia
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Bodegas Ysios
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Bodegas Baigorri, Sanmaniego
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Hotel Viura, Villabeuna de Alava

Our cycle tour took us to beautiful villages, stunning ancient and modern architecture and many glasses of Rioja’s finest wines. Seeing modern design juxtaposed against ancient towns and the beautiful natural features of the vines and Cantabrian mountains was truly memorable.

Another great day was spent visiting Logrono, the main city in La Rioja province. Wine is everywhere in the town accompanied by plentiful pintxos. The heart  of the city is a beautiful old town full of buildings dating back to roman times. On our wanderings many signs of the famous pilgrim route the Camino de Santiago were visible, along with some modern day pilgrims all bearing shells, walking sticks and deep farmers tans. It certainly got us thinking about taking on the route in the future.

Next stop on the 10 day trip were the Spanish Pyrenees. We planned a route that enabled us to visit two of the national parks on the Spanish side – Posets-Maladeta and Ordessa-Monte Perdido. Both have beautiful towns to base yourself in; we chose Benasque near Posets and Torla near Ordessa. In both parks there are a number of mountain huts that can be used to get deeper into the mountains. In particular a set of huts in Posets-Maladeta enables completion of a circular tour around Posets in 3-4 days.

Inspiration for the tour came from the Cicerone guide by Kev Reynolds ‘Walks and Climbs in the Spanish Pyrenees’. We elected to start by leaving the car at the entry to the Estos valley. An 8 hour day took us deep into the valley past the Refugio de Estos, over a pass at 2500m and then down, down, down towards the Refugio de Viados. A warm welcome and a stunning view of the whole of the Posets massif made for a memorable first experience of mountain huts. Day two of the hike saw us make our way even higher, eventually climbing a pass at 2800m before descending via a sparkling mountain lake towards the Refugio Angel Orus. This was more youth hostel in the mountains rather than hut but did have some fantastic facilities. The third day saw us descend out of the mountains again and along the valley floor to our car. I would love to return to Benasque which is a beautiful mountain town and explore the region further. There would be many fantastic opportunities for day and overnight hikes as well as some real back country exploring to be done.

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En route in the Estos valley
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2500m Day 1
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View of the Poests Massif from Refugio de Biados
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Descending on Day 2
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Pretty ecstatic to be back at the car on day 3

We also visited Torla, a gateway town to the geologically outstanding Ordessa Valley. Although by this point the weather was very much not on our side the area sparked the imagination in terms of further climbing and hiking opportunities. It was also the first time I have experienced snow in September in the northern hemisphere!

Recommended hotels and top tips

Hotel Viura, Villabuena de Alava – luxurious suites with the most palatial beds I have experienced in a long while. Accompanied by a lot of polished concrete and outstanding local wines.

Hotel Bujaruelo, Torla – rustic, charming and spotlessly clean mountain hotel. Rooms have balconies looking out onto the Ordessa national park.

Vineyards are happy to have visitors but often don’t have a ‘cellar door’ as such. We found it best to pick a couple to visit and have the hotel staff phone ahead to arrange a convenient time. There are a few that specifically have tours in English at a certain time during the day. We really enjoyed the tour at Bodega Vina Real

The route that we followed in the mountain is all well way-marked as it is part of GR11 and Gr11.2 variant. If you’ve read my previous post about walking in Europe you’ll appreciate I was skeptical that way-markers could be so well spaced but I have eaten my words; certainly of the GR routes they did not disappear at inconvenient times!

Click here to read about the more city based side to the trip

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