The area’s untouristy capital Logroño
“DON’T look too intently and do not ask what it’s till after you’ve got tasted it,” says Federico, a tapas aficionado and my information for the night. I glimpse on the plate of what seems to be like a flat, meaty wafer, take a bolstering swig of wine and tentatively pop a bit in my mouth.
“It is pig face,” he says with a smile. “Or careta de cerdo, to make use of its [more palatable] Catalan identify.” It is like a really skinny, very crisp pork crackling, and so long as I do not make eye contact, I might fortunately polish off the lot.
I am in Logroño, the attractive, boozy and blissfully untouristy capital of La Rioja area, a metropolis so steeped in winemaking historical past that when it rains I might guess good cash it has a rougey tint. I am on a wine and tapas tour of the outdated city, the place nearly 50 tapas and wine bars crammed into 4 slim streets kind a wonderful foodie bar crawl.
It is 9pm and the cobbled medieval streets are buzzing. “Tapa means lid or cap, and was initially only a piece of bread or a slice of jamón popped on prime of your wine glass to maintain out the fruit flies,” explains Federico. However through the years, tapas has actually upped its sport and is now a culinary emblem of Spain. In Logroño, the scene is strengthened by moderately priced, excellent Riojan wines.
Fortunately, I’ve worn elasticated trousers as a result of subsequent up is El Rincón de Alberto, a protracted, slim bar with stone beams, the place I meet chef-proprietor Alberto as he carves gentle, candy jamón Ibérico from a tanned, porcine leg perched daintily on the bar.
Alberto’s speciality is seafood and with a flourish he serves up a fats, purple and white octopus tentacle introduced in contemporary from Galicia. Nearly a foot lengthy, it is boiled till tender then chargrilled and served with pink wine salt and olive oil. It’s magnificent. However earlier than I can work my method by way of the opposite seven tentacles, Federico whisks me off to our subsequent cease.
From the cheerful crowd gathering exterior Bar Ángel, a somewhat unassuming hole-inthe-wall, together with a gang of cheery stags in sailor fits, I can assume the meals right here may be very well-liked. My host picks his method by way of the throng to the wine-laden, zinc-topped bar, returning in moments with a bottle of Tempranillo and a plate of pincho champiñones con gamba – bread topped with three fats, garlicky button mushrooms and a prawn.
The Campo Viejo vineyard the place Tracey picked grapes
Campo Viejo produces 70,000 barrels of its distinctively labelled wine
With garlic butter dripping off my chin, I ask Federico if he has a favorite bar. “All of them!” he cheers. With costs ranging from one or two euros a bit, you’ll be able to feast like kings in locations like Juan y Pinchamé, a cosy little bar hidden down a cobbled lane, which serves up pinchos of contemporary pineapple and langoustines, and Las Cubanas, a extra up to date spot with uncovered stone partitions and polished darkish wooden hidden behind its dusky crimson facade, the place we gorge on small plates of cochinillo – gentle, suckling pig topped with crispy pores and skin – and but extra high-quality Tempranillo. After all there’s extra to Logroño than bar-hopping round cosy low-lit enotecas (wine bars).
You may mug up on Riojan historical past within the free-to-enter Museo de la Rioja, a captivating 18thcentury former palace full of artefacts from across the area, together with medieval work depicting the Camino de Santiago in all its Technicolor glory, uncommon Celtiberian stone carvings courting again to 500BC to enigmatic nudes by Logroño-born painter Gerardo Sacristan Torralba.
If it is a clear day, it is effectively value visiting the attractive Romanesque Church of San Bartolomé and climbing the intricately-decorated Mudejar tower. It has been a preferred spot for pilgrims for hundreds of years. From the highest you’ll be able to see throughout the craggy red-tiled rooftops of the outdated quarter and out over vineyards and in the direction of the rugged mountains.
But it surely’s not all medieval masterpieces and high-quality views, the Sala Amós Salvador is an esteemed arts and tradition centre housed in a placing yellow 14th-century former convent and tobacco manufacturing unit, which hosts a revolving calendar of latest artwork exhibitions from round Spain.
Tapas like this Jambon is a culinary emblem of Spain
Alternatively, many guests to town try and work off all of the high-quality tapas and wine by strolling a part of the Camino de Santiago, considered one of Europe’s most historic pilgrimage routes which passes immediately by way of Logroño.
To affix it, cross the Puente de Piedra bridge over the Ebro River and comply with the signposted path by way of vineyards, empty nation lanes and ploughed fields in the direction of Navarrette, a captivating wineproducing city eight miles away.
However whereas it is tempting to spend the subsequent week grazing by way of the bodegas of La Rioja area, I’ve work to do. On the outskirts of town is the Campo Viejo vineyard, whose yellow-label Tempranillo is likely one of the most recognisable Riojas on the planet.
Mendacity low and unassuming, the area constructed from pure stone is surrounded by swathes of corduroy-neat vines and has the strict, granite skyline of the mountain vary bearing down within the distance. The biggest vineyard in Rioja, it produces some 70,000 barrels annually.
Revellers are wined and dined throughout bar crawls by way of Longroño
It is harvest time at Campo, so it is all fingers to the deck to reap the grapes earlier than the climate turns. Togged up in a hi-vis vest and protecting goggles, and brandishing a pair of secateurs, I set about incomes my preserve.
Because the autumn solar beats down warming my hunched again, chirpy Spanish banter rising between the vines, I am tempted to ditch the desk job for a life working the land.
Idyllic days toiling beneath the solar adopted by wine-fuelled nights carousing Logroño’s historic streets with good-looking farmhands. Nice meals and unbelievable wine, I feel life in La Rioja beats our nine-to-five fingers down.
Lodge Marqués de Vallejo (dialling from the UK: 0034 941 248 333/ hotelmarquesdevallejo.com) presents doubles from £62, room solely. British Airways (0344 493 0787/ba.com) presents return flights from Heathrow to Bilbao from £111. Booked excursions of the Campo Viejo (campoviejo.com) with tasting and tapas from £9. Rioja tourism: lariojaturismo.com. Spanish tourism: spain.information