“Authenticity is plentiful” in La Rioja, Spain, said Paola Singer in The New York Times. Though the region is one of Spain’s most prosperous—“or, these days, among the least financially troubled”—it boasts a “bygone, delightful simplicity” that wealth has left untouched. The area has gained new prominence over the past decade thanks to its high-quality red wines, though “what eventually pulled me there” was not my love of tempranillo but La Rioja’s “unsung attractions—historic towns, longstanding artisan traditions, and the people keeping them alive.”
We began our trip at Haro, about four hours by car from Madrid on the Ebro River. The 10th-century town features “labyrinthine stone streets, tile-roofed houses,” and “tidy plazas that double as social clubs.” There’s also plenty of great food to be found at low-key tapas bars and family-run restaurants. At Terete, a 135-year-old culinary institution, my boyfriend and I both ordered the locally sourced roast lamb and savored its “delightfully delicate” flavor and texture. We spent the next day lounging at a cool new countryside hotel, Finca de los Arandinos near Logroño. Over glasses of the house red, we watched the sun set over the Moncalvillo Mountains. Because we slept in the next day, we barely made it to lunch at the nearby Michelin-starred Venta Moncalvillo, where I enjoyed blood-sausage macarons, foie gras, and smoked grouper. After that, we stopped in at Sorzano, where we sampled local sausage and visited a mill where artisan Lola Barasoaín creates almazuelas—a style of quilt that originated in the 1600s but nearly died out in modern times.
Before leaving La Rioja, I had “one more food mission to complete.” In Anguiano, I tracked down cheesemaker Gerardo Sobrón to sample his Camerano, a semi-hard goat cheese that can be produced only in La Rioja, where it was created in the 11th century.The cheese has “a bit of bite” plus a “hint of sweetness,” and making it has become Sobrón’s passion. “He, and other artisans whom I’d met, seemed to understand that their wealth, both material and cultural, is tied to longstanding rural traditions.”
At Rioja’s Finca de los Arandinos (fincadlosarandinos.com), doubles start at $115.