How to Take the Ultimate Biking Trip in Rioja
Those who love great wine and food don’t have to look much farther than Rioja, one of Spain’s most picturesque regions, for an unforgettable vacation. With its winding roads, rolling hills, and historic villages, Rioja makes for an easy-going biking trip, perfect for couples, families, and groups of friends. Our five-day cycling journey, part of Travel + Leisure’s bookable trip series with luxury outfitter Butterfield and Robinson, will have you exploring Rioja’s most picturesque corners and tasting its top dishes.
Rioja is also a hub for art and architecture. And one of the area’s most impressive architectural sites happens to be a Frank Gehry-designed hotel: the Marqués de Riscal. Its titanium roof is a marvel of swirling, undulating ribbons, which reflect light beautifully come sunset.
Our editors have made sure that you’ll have a unique experience at this visually stunning spot, with a special cocktail hour on the Marqués de Riscal’s terrace. Sip, savor, and enjoy the remarkable views. Read on for the full day-by-day itinerary of this Travel + Leisure Great Adventure, and contact Butterfield and Robinson should you want to enquire about or book this Rioja vacation. From $5,995 per person, based upon two people traveling.
Start in the city of San Sebastian, and settle in for a journey over the Basque Mountains and through the foothills between the Pyrénées and the Sierra Cantabria. In the heart of Navarra, your first stop is the sleepy Basque village of Balkonpe. Here, you’ll get acquainted with your bikes, and set off on a rolling ride through lush hills. After stopping for lunch at Casa Arteta — a typical Spanish restaurant specializing in fresh vegetables and grilled meats — your route rolls on toward the famous town of Pamplona. The Camino de Santiago (Santiago Trail) passes through Pamplona en route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where, according to legend, the body of St. James came to rest. After a gentle riverside ride along a quiet bike path, you’ll merge onto this pilgrimage trail for the first of a few times during the trip. Then it’s through the town gate of Pamplona, following the same steps that pilgrims have trodden for centuries (and still do). After freshening up at your hotel, you’ll be joined by your local host, who will share some of Pamplona’s unique history, taking you to sites including the bullpens from whence the bulls emerge during the San Fermín festival (the notorious Running of the Bulls). Tonight, you are free to choose from the many restaurants in Pamplona.
Stay: The historic Gran Hotel La Perla, in Pamplona, has welcomed everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Charlie Chaplin.
Your second day of riding continues into the countryside of Navarra. Begin your ride at the top of Perdón pass, a famous checkpoint for Camino pilgrims, and gently wind your way through other villages used as stopping points along the route. Continue, parting ways from the Camino, and carry on along the Arga River, sweeping across the rolling hills of the Navarra countryside. An optional climb with rewarding views is available before lunch at Arinzano Winery, designed by renowned Spanish architect, Rafael Moneo. The afternoon drive to your next hotel provides a perfect opportunity for your next experience of local culture, the siesta! An hour or so later, you’ll arrive at the Hotel Viura, in the picturesque stone village of Villabuena de Álava (also referred to in the Basque language as Eskuarnaga). This unassuming hamlet sits in the heart of La Rioja and has barely 300 inhabitants — yet over 40 wineries. Before dinner, you can pop into the wine shop in Hotel Viura and taste some of the incredible local selections. If you take a walk outside, you’re bound to see a game of traditional Basque handball being played — known as pelota in Spanish, or jai alai in Basque. Almost every village great and small in Rioja has a fronton (a court used for pelota). Tonight, you can dine in the Viura’s restaurant or venture out for a meal nearby.
Stay: For two nights, you’ll be at the avant-garde Hotel Viura, which impresses with its 33 modern rooms, all with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Today’s ride is a loop through the countryside between Basque and Riojan municipalities. The wine region of La Rioja pays no attention to these political boundaries, overlapping into both; it does, however, have sub-wine regions of its own. You’ll traverse two of these sub-regions in the next few days, beginning with Rioja Alavesa, the heart of the whole region. The riding is hillier here, but arguably the most beautiful. Your morning loop takes you through some exceptional wine country, including the villages of Abalos and San Vicente de la Sonsierra, where you’ll stop for an informal tasting and lunch in a local wine bar run by Benjamin Romero, who also owns the nearby Contador winery. After a rolling ride through more beautiful vineyards back to the hotel, enjoy some downtime, a massage or a wander around the village — the evening is yours to discover on your own. We suggest visiting the regional hub of Logroño, famous for its tapas scene and frequented by the locals. For something closer, try our favorite asador in the area, Fuenmayor’s Restaurant Alameda.
Your morning ride is on more vineyard-lined roads with sweeping downhills (and a few necessary uphills) as you cycle the coattails of the Sierra Cantabria. Along the way, you will also be treated with views of Ysios Winery, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. You’re free to discover lunch on your own today in whichever town you choose. For a more relaxed ambiance, we recommend stopping at Restaurant Hector Oribe in the village of Pàganos. Those looking to challenge themselves can extend their ride up the mountain to pass over the Sierra, looping back down into the valley before sitting down for lunch. Afterwards, cycle back to your new hotel, the Marqués de Riscal, and enjoy downtime in the spa or visit the onsite winemaking facilities. Later on, with the departing sun reflecting off the gold and burgundy titanium waves of the roof, you’ll reconvene for cocktails on the terrace taking in views of the surrounding countryside. Dinner this evening is in the hotel’s own Michelin-starred restaurant — Francis Paniego has created a tasting menu to accompany the Marques de Riscal’s standout wines.
Stay: The Marqués de Riscal, a Luxury Collection Hotel, boasts 43 contemporary rooms, and an incredible Vinotherapie spa in partnership with beauty brand Caudalie.
After breakfast, you’ll be delivered to the Bilbao airport or train station in time for your departure. Adiós!