La Rioja is one of the smallest autonomous regions in Spain. The region is best known for its Rioja wine, whose grape grows in the valley of the Rio Oja River.
In addition to the Rio Oja, the Ebro also flows through the area. It is the least populated region of Spain, with only 315,675 inhabitants (estimate from 2018). More than half of the inhabitants live in the capital Logroño, on the Ebro. The majority of the villages have a population of less than 200. Nevertheless, this small region is certainly worth a visit. The pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela, for example, runs through this region and it also has much to offer culturally and gastronomically.
History of La Rioja
La Rioja has a rich history. The region was in the hands of the Celts, Basques, Romans and Moors before it became part of the kingdom of Pamplona. The area then fell under two provinces but was merged in 1833 under the same name as the capital. Only in 1982, after the introduction of democracy in Spain, did La Rioja become an autonomous region under its current name.
Capital Logroño is a must-see when you visit this area. Here you will find many memories from the past of the region and the old traditions. Since the Middle Ages, the city has served as a junction for trade and pilgrim routes. One of the attractions is the beautiful stone bridge Puente de Piedra over the Ebro. This was the bridge over which the pilgrims traditionally entered the city. In the old centre, there is also a pilgrim guest house and fountain and, still, many pilgrims. In addition to the many cathedrals and churches, you will find some baroque palaces here. The capital of the wine region is famous for the gastronomic area. The centre is littered with tapas restaurants. It is the place for tasty tapas or pintxos in Basque, and of course wine.
In addition to the capital, the cities of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Arnedo are worth seeing. In Santo Domingo de la Calzada you will find both the cathedral of San Millán de la Cogolla and the monasteries of San Millán Yuso and Suso. According to the historiography, the very first words ever written in Spanish in these monasteries. Suso and Yuso mean “higher” and “lower” in Old Castilian.
The monasteries have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1997. Arnedo is a pre-Roman city founded by the Celts in the last part of the Stone Age. You can still find the site on the hill that protected the town. In the 8th century AD, Arnedo was the capital of one of the 26 Moorish provinces. Nowadays, it is an excellent place to visit.
Moreover, it is close to some nature reserves of La Rioja and the town of Enciso, the city where more than 1400 traces of dinosaurs have been found. The seven excavations can be visited free of charge. A park that you cannot miss is the beautiful nature reserve of Sierra de Cebollera. Here you will find impressive mountain landscapes, dense Mediterranean afforestation, unique animal species and mountain streams with waterfalls.