Finding the perfect hotel in the right location never ceases to be a challenge. Many of the villages along the Rutas de Vino in Spain have become home to some of the country’s (and world’s) most unique hotels. And what is the best thing about these hotels? They are part of a growing trend of wineries with hotels on site (many locally owned and operated by the winery itself). It is the perfect marriage for traveling wine lovers. However, to ensure the best experience one must consider a number of things.
Wine country in Spain is vast and diverse. The scenery along the Rutas de Vino, especially during summer and fall, can be absolutely breathtaking and makes an incredible backdrop for an unforgettable vacation. The Rutas de Vino is home to many unusual locations and provides an exclusive way to experience wine tourism throughout the country. Set amidst the vines one will find hotels representing architectural masterpieces, newly-restored wineries, monasteries, or beautifully outfitted country inns. Charming and exquisite wine hotels exist all around Spain, from Galicia to Cataluña to Andalucía and everywhere in between.
In preparation for my recent trip to Ribera del Duero and Rioja, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find the “perfect” places to stay that would enhance my visit to wine country. But where does one begin? There are a number of sites from which you can research wine hotels. Here are three great ones to start the proverbial ball rolling:
Begin your trip planning early on, especially if you will be visiting wine country during the late summer or early fall; these are the most popular times for wine travel since the vines are in full bloom and the landscape is breathtaking. Other times of the year (my trip was in April) are likely to be much less crowded but you do sacrifice a little in regards to scenery. In order to ensure that your trip to Spanish (or any other) wine country is an amazing and unforgettable (in a good way) experience there are also a number of other matters to consider prior to booking:
- Does the winery offer free or discounted tours for hotel guests?
- Does the hotel offer recommendations and/or advice for visiting surrounding wineries and/or restaurants other than its own?
- How old is the hotel? If it is older, when was the last renovation? Are the amenities modern enough for you?
- Does the hotel have a restaurant and/or bar on site?
- Is breakfast included in the cost of the stay? (This can be very costly if not included)
- Does the hotel offer free internet/Wi-Fi? (This should be free, but often, you’ll pay handsomely. So be sure to ask!)
- Are there other things to do when not visiting wineries? (i.e. exploring quaint villages by foot, on-site spa facilities, parks, etc.)
- Unlike the U.S., very few Spanish wineries just allow you to walk in and taste. Contact them in advance for reservations.
Once you have narrowed your list of hotels make sure you check reviews on trusted sites liketripadvisor or Yelp. Additionally, you might consider staying at two or three different hotels during your stay to vary your experience. This is exactly what I did during my weeks visit to Ribera del Duero and Rioja. In order to see what the areas had to offer I chose three very different hotels, from location to amenities to cost. All three provided a different and absolutely enjoyable experience – none of which I would have traded.
Marqués de Riscal (Elciego, Rioja) – Let me begin by noting that all the hype this hotel receives is well-deserved. It has been featured on numerous television programs and graces the covers and pages of architectural and travel magazines on a regular basis. Designed by famed architect,Frank Gehry, the Marqués de Riscal hotel (part of the Starwood Luxury Collection) opened in 2006 and changed the landscape (literally) for winery hotels around the world. With its Gehry-signature twisting ribbons of pink and gold metal, the hotel is quite a spectacle as it rises gloriously above the winding hills of the small town of Elciego. The only other structure rising to these heights is the Church of San Andrés in the village across the street.
The hotel, which literally sits atop the Marqués de Riscal cellar, has 43 delightfully appointed guest rooms, a fully stocked library on the top floor with expansive balconies to take in the landscape, and a spa (Vinothérapie® Caudalie) which specializes in grapeseed-based treatments. Two restaurants and a wine bar are also onsite, including the Marqués de Riscal Restaurant run by Riojan chef Francis Paniego. This restaurant received its first Michelin star in 2011. I enjoyed two meals in this restaurant (including one 11-course tasting menu) and both meals were phenomenal. Breakfast (served in Bistró 1860 restaurant) is absolutely incredible. One note: try to book your reservation with breakfast included as it normally runs 50€ per person.
The winery was created in 1858 (first vintage released in 1862) and is Rioja’s oldest. It also continues to be one of Rioja’s most popular and largest producing wineries. A variety of white, rosado, and red wines are produced under Rioja DOCa, Rueda DO, and Castilla y León VdlT. The winery offers a comprehensive tour of the facilities along with a guided tasting at the end. The current Marquis of Riscal, Javier Hurtado de Amézaga, is the winemaker and continues to represent the family in the Marqués de Riscal winery.
Finca Torremilanos (Aranda de Duero, Ribera del Duero) – Just a short 90-minute drive from Madrid’s Barajas Airport in the town of Aranda del Duero sits Finca Torremilanos. The château is tucked away (almost hidden) off a main road but it is a beautiful sight as you approach the estate surrounded by beautiful gardens and 200 acres of vineyards. Open since 2000, the hotel is decorated in classic Castilian style (many people confuse this with being “dated”) and has 38 rooms and suites which have air conditioning, underfloor heating, and free Wi-Fi. The suite in which I stayed had double French doors which opened to a view of the vineyards. Even in April, when there were no leaves on the vines, it was beautiful. The hotel also has an excellent restaurant serving seasonally-inspired Castilian fare as well as a quaint wine bar where one can try any number of wines produced here.
The Torremilanos winemaking tradition dates back to 1903, and in 1975 was acquired by the Peñalba López family who increased the estate’s acreage under Tempranillo. The winery has made its own wine barrels for years and a tour through the winery is well worth the time (especially if you are lucky enough to meet the owner, Pilár Albéniz, an absolutely charming and incredible woman). The bodega produces sparkling, white, rosado, and red wines from Ribera del Duero DO, Castilla y León VdlT, and Cava DO (they are the only authorized Cava producer in the area). A visit to the town of Aranda de Duero is really a must as it is home (actually, the capital) of the most amazing lamb (lechazo asado) you will ever wrap your lips around.
Raiz de Guzmán (Roa, Ribera del Duero) – If you are seeking a truly personal experience then look no further than Hotel Raiz. This six room (five doubles and one suite) hotel is situated in the heart of Ribera del Duero just a two-minute walk from the new Ribera headquarters. Run by father-daughter duo, Javier and Miriam Jimeno, Hotel Raiz has thoughtfully appointed rooms with everything one needs for a simple and delightful stay. This is not your white glove service hotel and never claims to be; but if you want to feel like you are at home with family then this is definitely the place. The restaurant in the hotel is also run by the Jimenos and serves up some of the best of the local cuisine. Ask Miriam for a few recommendations and do not pass up a plate of amazing jamón iberico with some local bread doused with any number of delicious olive oils kept in house.
The Raiz winery is a small production facility utilizing 62 acres of the best of the local grape, Tempranillo. The cellar was built in 1985 and stores the 750 barrels of wine made here. A rosado as well as four reds are all produced under the Ribera del Duero DO. Also sharing the grounds with the winery is the Páramo de Guzmán cheese-making facility which produces some incredibly delicious and award-winning raw sheep milk cheeses (served in the restaurant as well). Tours are available for both the winery and the cheese warehouse facilities.
Spanish wine country is an amazing experience in and of itself; but when you combine the journey with amazing accommodations it becomes a truly memorable experience. Grab a few bottles of your favorite Spanish wine and see where they originate; then begin to plan your next unforgettable vacation. Enjoy the charm and luxury that awaits you on the Rutas de Vino de España.
Life short. Drink Spanish wine!