We got the longest leg of our road trip out of the way early. Laguardia – not the airport in New York – was a solid three hour drive from Madrid. Luckily, we had some wonderful music to help pass the time.
If you’re like me, you’ve thought about places you can escape to when life gets crazy, e.g. framed for a crime you didn’t commit, alien invasion, etc. Laguardia is definitely on my ‘short list’ for off-the-grid locations, though I guess not anymore since I just told everyone reading this blog! This hilltop beauty is so tucked away, not even the car’s GPS could accurately pinpoint its location. If I ever disappear, you could possibly find me working at one of the vineyards in this lovely, medieval village.
‘Medieval’ and ‘Wine’, those are two words that best describe Laguardia. We arrived late in the evening, and were greeted by lonely, silent streets, a golden glow from the lighting, and the surreal sound of only our footsteps as we walked. We had some issues checking into our lodging, as the owner just left her phone number…luckily the Belgians I was with had phones that worked throughout Europe so we were able to contact her. After dropping our bags in the room, we went out for a late dinner…though only late for us, as Spain is known for not eating until eight or later. We found a stunningly beautiful medieval-looking restaurant called ‘Bodegon’, and sampled some of the great local wine. Before securing for the evening, we walked around and took some wonderful nighttime photos of the hauntingly romantic surroundings.
The next morning we found a local bakery and grabbed breakfast before exploring the town. I always love walled cities, having been to places like Dubrovnik, Rhodes, Lucca and Carcassonne before this. In my experience, when you go ‘inside the walls’ things either look really authentic or super touristy…Laguardia was the former for sure, as I could imagine this was exactly how it looked centuries ago. There is wine tourism here during the summer months, but definitely not in February so we didn’t run into any crowds. We walked by a couple churches that weren’t open at the time…it being Tuesday before noon probably didn’t help. As we strolled around, I took note of the narrow streets, the beautiful arches leading into the city, and the grandiose views from the hill of vineyards below.
The highlight of Laguardia was definitely the winery tour…which almost didn’t happen. I booked at Casa Primicia months before the trip, but the person who took my reservation forgot to write it down. With the winery being locked up, we were lucky when an employee who happened to be inside came out for a cigarette. We explained to him the situation, and even though the winery was closed he offered to give us a private tour. Laguardia has a rich history with wine, as it’s the hub of the Rioja region which produces the most wine in Spain. The cellars we visited were from the 11th and 15th centuries, and based on wine sales this was the oldest winery in documented history. I say ‘documented’ because they actually have records showing transactions for wine, dating back further than any other winery can prove. This was aided by the fact that the Catholic Church, which still has much influence in Laguardia, used to own the winery and its profits, thus it kept accurate records. There was such an old school feel here, as they still do everything by hand, stripping the stems from the grapes, and they had on display a goat-skin husk that was used to haul wine out hundreds of years ago when the piping backed up. We sampled many different wines…it was supposed to be only two but my friend Tim kept asking for more and the tour guide graciously agreed. Most wines here use a blend of the Tempranillo and Grenache grapes, which was good but a bit too bold for me in flavor. As we had our lunchtime wine tasting, our tour guide explained to us the color rankings of Rioja wines, which designate how long the wine was aged and time spent in oak barrels. We also learned this winery was listed on the top 100 ‘wine labels in the world’, with a simple design incorporating the owner’s thumbprint.
Before leaving the city limits, we stopped by a winery on the outskirts called Bodegas Ysios, which had a very cool, modern design and some lush vineyards.
Laguardia, and the whole Rioja region, would be a wonderful place for a honeymoon. The wine culture here is amazing, and reminded me of a quote from Martin Luther…”Beer is made by men, wine by God.”