Things to do in Rioja- Part 2
Following our post ´Things to do in Rioja Part 1´, here is our second installation of all the wonderful and fantastic things to see and do in Rioja.
Much like our first post, this list has been elaborated with the advice of one of our experts on the region, who has a wealth of knowledge on the area and has visited the wine region many times.
As the cold is rolls in to the north of Spain and across Rioja this November, these 6 things to do in Rioja have been thought out not just for the summer months, but also for the winter. It is undeniable that summer in Rioja is a wonderful sight, but equally in winter, as the landscapes change and the vines have been harvested, the scenery is stunning. Take our advice this winter and visit Rioja.
1. Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a municipality situated by the River Oja and has around 6,700 habitants. Its name comes from its founder, Domingo García, a local religious and spiritual eremite, who first built a church and a hospital here, from which the town grew. A pretty place to visit, there are many little gems in this area, such as the Cathedral, which was started in the year 1158 and designed through many different eras, including various additions made in the 1500´s and a baroque tower added in the 1700´s.
The Cathedral is where the miracles of Santo Domingo are celebrated, the better known of which is the miracle of the rooster and the hen. It is said that having stopped off at a local inn during the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, a young German man was framed for the robbery of a silver goblet. Condemned to death, he miraculously survives his punishment and is able to talk to his parents when they rush to his side. Angry that their child was wrongly accused, his parents proclaim his innocence to the chief magistrate. Sceptical of their story, the magistrate laughs that the son is about alive as the roasted rooster and hen on his table that he is about to eat. Suddenly, the birds re-grow their feathers and come back to life, proving the parents´ story. Today there are various hen and rooster symbols in the Cathedral, as well as signs of other miracles attributed to Santo Domingo which you can see on the Cathedral´s day and night-time tours.
There is also the ancient ´muralla´ town wall, the plaza mayor with its stone arches (see above), little churches, and at Christmas, there is a seasonal programme of local theatre events and cultural festivities to follow.
2. Visit the Monasteries of Yuso and Suso, where the Spanish language was born
The religious story behind the Monasteries of Yuso and Suso is an enchanting background to what is historically a hugely important place for the Spanish language. This is probably one of the most interesting things to do in Rioja if you are fond of cultural activities.
Emiliano, an eremite disciple of San Felices in Haro, was born in 473 in Barceo. Having spent his life segregated from society in search of spirituality, Emiliano died at the age of 101. He was buried in Suso from where a small chapel grew, which soon became a church, and finally a Monastery. King García of the time ordered that the Saint Millán´s remains were moved to a second location, and so a number of local people began the journey with the Saint. Legend has it that when they reached the edge of valley, their feet became stuck to the ground and they were not able to move any further. Taken as the disciple´s wish to not leave his valley, the King García ordered the construction of a second Monastery in this place, named Yuso.
The Monastery Yuso, or Monastery of Saint Millán as it is also known, is recognised as an incredibly important place for the Spanish language. We know that languages are not born or fabricated in one moment or place, but instead develop over time through the life and experiences of its speakers. The Monastery of Yuso is symbolic for the Spanish language as it is attributed to the first written scripts of the Spanish language, an incredible feat that has earnt this place a UNESCO title.
3. Kayak in the Ebro River
For the sporty people, water babies or nature nuts out there, there simply cannot be anything better than kayaking on the Ebro River. The clear, flat water of the Ebro River, with its changing river banks and proximity to nature, is the perfect place to Kayak. There are plenty of companies along the river that will hire out kayak equipment, organise kayaking routes, or even kayak fishing trips!
The Ebro River itself has so much history and was even the place of a battle scene during the Spanish Civil War in very recent history, meaning that a trip to the Ebro will afford not only a beautiful day out on the water, but also a chance to learn more about Riojan history and culture.
4. Discover Dinosaurs in Enciso
The ´Barrano Perdido´ in Enciso is a palaeontology site, museum, adventure sports park, swimming pool, solarium and activity centre, all centred around the dinosaurs that used to roam this area years ago.
The sheer range of activities available at this park make it suitable not just for children as it immediately seems, but also adults. For people interested in ancient history, nature and the dinosaur world, there is a museum, and for the sporty ones out there, you can gather a group of friends and try outdoor activities such as high lining, climbing, archery and obstacle courses.
5. Explore Calahorra, and its incredible history
Calahorra is not only the second biggest town in Rioja, next to the capital of Logroño, but is also one of the oldest towns in Spain. Its populations can be traced back to the Paleolithic (stone age) era, and the Iron Age. During Roman times, the municipality was known as Calagurris Fibularia and Juluis Cesear himself bestowed the city with various important elements, such as ´modern´ city planning, baths, a circus and amphitheater. Today, you can explore the Roman remains of the city, as well as the medieval architecture and culture, such as the Cathedral and local churches. Easter in particular is a good time to visit Calahorra, as there are parades and festival activities throughout the municipality. At this time of year there is a procession on Easter Friday, and a Roman market on the Saturday.
6. The local vegetable dishes (huerta riojana)
The ´huerta riojana´ means literally the Riojan vegetable garden, or vegetable patch. Rioja is well-known for its gastronomy, as well as its wine, and this is something that you can no doubt try whilst you are in the area. Often, local wines have been elaborated to marry the local foods that are produced in this area, so local food production is also important to understanding local wine.
A local dish that you may see is called ´patatas a la riojana´, which means Riojan style potatoes. Many of these local dishes are not fine dining, but are good, local, delicious dishes made from the local produce, that are full of nutrients and made with years of tradition behind them. Patatas a la riojana is one of these such dishes, and it includes simple ingredients, like many traditional Riojan dishes, of potato, chorizo, onion, peppers, pork, salt and oil. Each of these tasty dishes of course has its variations, and many differ slightly depending on who is making them. You may also see ´pisto´, which is a dish made from local vegetables, what we may most closely relate to as a sort of vegetable ratatouille, and ´alubias pochas´(see below).
Photographs from Spain.Info, Spain´s national tourism body.