San Millán de la Cogolla, birthplace of Spanish language. ©La Rioja Tourism
La Rioja is an Autonomous Community consisting of a single province located in the north of Spain. It has a population of 314,829 inhabitants (2014) and an area of 5,045.25 sq. kilometers / 1,948 sq miles. Its capital city is Logroño.
Foremost among its agricultural products are fruit, particularly pears and peaches that are destined for preserves. Riojan vegetables are also deservedly famous: lettuces, peppers, onions, artichokes, borrages, asparagus, beans and peas.
Livestock rearing of sheep and goats, in addition to beef and dairy cattle, is concentrated in the rugged parts of the Cameros mountains. The region is well known for sausage making, in particular Chorizo Riojano PGI.
Rioja wine is one of the finest in Spain. Using the Tempranillo red wine grape as a base, and taking small and wisely-studied proportions of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano grapes, the wineries of this region produce Rioja crianzas (aged for at least twelve months in oak barrels and another twelve months in bottles), reservas (aged at least a year in barrels and another two years in bottles) and gran reservas (aged in oak barrels for at least two years, and another three years in bottles).
Read more: Wines from Spain.
La Rioja was visited in 2013 by 54,673 foreign tourists.
The most important historical landmarks, listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, are the monasteries of San Millán de Suso and Yuso, both of which are considered the cradle of the Spanish language. The Sierra de Cebollera Nature Park is the most important environmental resource of the region, although there are two other areas of great ecological value, the Sotos de Alfaro Nature Park and the Valles del Leza, Jubera, Cidacos, Alhama Biosphere Reserve, where the work of man and nature come together to offer visitors plenty to admire.
The valleys of the Iregua and Najerilla rivers are popular destinations for fishermen, and dinosaur fans will find plenty of interest in the parks that display the prehistoric tracks and ichnites found in the area.
Logroño, the capital of La Rioja, has a well-preserved old center, and its Calle Laurel is a popular haunt of tapas tasters.
One of the favorite activities for visitors to La Rioja is wine tourism, with visits to wineries, wine-tasting sessions and vineyards. Both the Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja districts have a number of wineries, although they are largely concentrated in Logroño, Fuenmayor and Haro, the capital of Rioja wine. They range from classic to supermodern, from family-run to large-scale members of business empires, but all aim to produce and promote quality Rioja wine.
The area also boasts a ski station in Valdezcaray.
More info: La Rioja Turismo.
La Rioja is the cradle of the Castilian language and the first words written in this language were found in the monastic library of San Millán de Yuso y Suso.
The character of these lands has also been moulded by the vineyards, which spread throughout the region, and the pilgrims' road to Santiago de Compostela. La Rioja has a unique museum, with no parallel anywhere else in the world. It is the Wine Culture Museum set up by Bodegas Vivanco, a spectacular exhibition of wine-related objects and works of art. The museum is in the attractive town of Briones, well worth a visit for a walk round its medieval town center.
Some world-famous Riojans include Gonzalo de Berceo (1198-1264), the first poet of Castilian literature; Fausto d'Elhuyar (1755-1833), a chemist who, with the assistance of his brother Juan José, discovered Wolfram; and Ramón Castroviejo (1904-1987), an ophthalmologist who is famous for his advances in cornea transplants.
Fiestas de la Vendimia Riojana: from the 20th to the 26th September, the city of Logroño is the site where the Fiestas de la Vendimia Riojana (Grape harvest festival takes place). Coincidentally, the day of the patron Saint of La Rioja, San Mateo, is the 21st September, so the festivities are enjoyed by all of La Rioja's inhabitants and are a huge event.
Fiesta de los Danzantes de Anguiano: the village of Anguiano, from the 21st to the 23rd July, is the site of a spectacular display in honor of the Virgin of Magdalen. Eight young men on stilts half a metre high bow to the Virgin atop a hill and then spin at stunning speed down the steep cobbled street. The "stilt dancers" are received by a "cushion" of people at the town square (which is at the bottom of the street) and then make their way up to repeat their display whilst the virgin is carried down to the square, to be met by traditional dancers.
Many gastronomic fiestas celebrating traditional products and dishes take place throughout the year all over the region.
The simplicity and quality of Riojan gastronomy has its origin in the outstanding produce of the land: lettuces, peppers, onions, artichokes, borrages, asparagus, beans and peas.peppers. A typical dish is pochas or caparrones, beans not fully dried, with the marvelous flavour of the pork sausage (chorizo) or quails with which they are cooked. Another of the typical dishes of this region are patatas a la riojana, a simple potato stew with chorizo and dried red peppers.
Its most notable pork products are sweet morcilla (black sausage) and chorizo. Lamb cutlets cooked over dried vine shoots are the region's most typical meat dish.
Although it is not a coastal region, the Riojans have created dishes like Rioja-style cod in tomatoes and peppers, and freshwater fish such as trout and crayfish form part of its traditional repertoire of recipes.
Confectionery is known here as golmajería and some of the region's best known pastries include hormigos (pastries made of flour and water and covered in honey, milk and cinnamon), the mazapanes from Soto (syrup-coated marzipan), molletes from Santo Domingo de la Calzada (raisin and cinnamon-filled muffins) and fardelejo (almond-filled pies).
But it is undoubtedly Rioja wine that has brought worldwide fame to these lands.