The western parts of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa
By Tom Perry
This Guide was last updated on 12 February 2010
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Haro is the wine capital of the Rioja region, and until the early 20th century was bigger than Logroño, the administrative capital 45km to the east. The wineries built near the Haro railway station in the 19th and early 20th centuries after the Phylloxera crisis, are the ‘Who’s Who’ of Rioja (López de Heredia, CVNE, Bilbaínas, La Rioja Alta, Muga) along with Marqués de Riscal in Elciego, Marqués de Murrieta and Franco-Españolas in Logroño and Riojanas in Cenicero). Because of the wealth created by wineries, Haro was one of the first towns in Spain (along with Jerez) to install electric lights. The town itself is charming, with covered walkways under buildings, small glassed-in balconies called miradores that used to be an important feature of Riojan architecture and a number of palaces with coats-of-arms which also attest to the city’s affluence.
Santo Domingo is on the edge of the Rioja wine district but is well known because of its location on the Pilgrims’ Route to Santiago de Compostela. The most famous historical monument is the cathedral, located on the main square, where a rooster and a hen live in a cage built into the wall. This commemorates a legend about a young man sentenced to hang for seducing the daughter of a local lord. The man was hanged but miraculously survived. The lord, hearing that the young man was alive, incredulously pointed to a roast chicken, saying that the man was as alive as the chicken in the pot, whereupon the chicken began to crow!
On a hilltop near Haro on the N232 to Logroño, Briones is home to a 16th-century church, Our Lady of the Assumption, with its impressive baroque altarpiece, as well as numerous palaces with coats of arms. It also has a spectacular view of the Cantabrian mountain range, vineyards and a bend in the River Ebro from a lookout point at the north end of the village. Just outside Briones is the Dinastía Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture (see ‘Wine Attractions’).
Ezcaray is 15km south of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, outside the Rioja wine district but well worth a visit. Known as the leading tourist destination in La Rioja, it is a picturesque village filled with people from northern Spain who own apartments here, especially at weekends and in the summer months. Particularly interesting are a number of half-timbered houses around the central square and adjacent streets.
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