Like us, you probably appreciate delicious food and fine wines. There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a good meal and a glass of your favourite wine at the end of a long working week. It’s the perfect way to unwind. Drinking a good wine gives you a taste of the far off region where it was made. It delivers a real sense of place and character. Good wine brings a little slice of the vineyard into your own home.
Imagine how much more your appreciation would be enhanced if you could experience the sights, sounds and flavours of your favourite wine region first hand. You don’t have to be a diehard wine enthusiast, just have an interest in where the wine you drink come from. There are dozens of wine tasting holiday packages available, ranging from the Disney-like tours of the Nappa Valley where you are whisked through the terroir on a coach or tourist train to the more intimate, active holidays that give you the space and time to walk through a wine region, drinking in the atmosphere and sampling the local food as well as tasting the wines.
You need to get hands on really and that means looking at walking holidays in our opinion. Wine buffs could do no better than to visit the picturesque and historical vineyards of La Rioja in Northern Spain, exploring a region that has been producing some of the world’s best loved wines for hundreds of years. For a truly personal holiday, select a holiday company that offers tailor made packages and features not just the obvious “commercial wine areas”, but the smaller, beautiful and often under appreciated regions of Spain and Latin America for example. Travelling with a small group and an experienced local guide will also add considerably to the experience and give you the intimate insight that will improve your appreciation of the wine you drink.
The gateway to La Rioja is Bilbao, home to Frank Gehry’s famous titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum. The magnificent Mirador de Tolono is less than an hour away and gives magnificent views across the wine growing region that’s sandwiched between mountains to the north and south. It’s this geography that gives La Rioja its unique micro-climate. Drop down into the valley of the Rio Ebro and you’re in the heart of the wine production in La Rioja. It’s ideal to combine walks through the vineyards with exploring the stunning mountains and valleys, taking in the beautiful views and indulging in superb Basque meals at some of the region’s finest restaurants.
Riojan fare is a unique combination of seafood from the northern coast, meats from the plains to the south and vegetables from the fertile valley of La Rioja itself. Expert chefs and sommeliers serve up the best traditional local foods in a dinner known as a “maridage” where each course is accompanied by its own wine selected specifically to complement the flavours of the food. Visiting traditional wineries in the region can also give you an insight into how much love, care and attention goes into putting that bottle on your table. Muga is one the oldest established wineries in the region and it’s fascinating to see how this Bodega insists on traditional methods even today. Everything is made from oak and they even have their own master coopers on-site making the barrels and casks, sealing them in the time honoured way over flames.
La Rioja offers the perfect active holiday for wine lovers everywhere, allowing you to immerse yourself in the culture and history of the region and experience the lifestyle behind the wines. Packages of Riojan Walking Holidays of varying lengths can be booked, but if nine days walking in the countryside doesn’t sound like your cup of tea there are shorter weekend options that take in the main attractions and deliver a more intensive, but just as rewarding, experience.