Western La Rioja

Easter weekend, 3 days holiday, and we decided to make a short trip to an area we’d actually visited before (pre-van), the western side of La Rioja.  The last time we visited here was January 2016, when everything was closed and we were all alone pretty much everywhere, but had a great trip!  In actual fact I wrote a Trip Report for that trip on Trip Advisor afterwards, which will expand on the blog here.

So this time, we started by heading to very western La Rioja following a Park4Night recommendation, fairly confident that even arriving in the dark we’d get a good spot.  We were heading for the chapel and hostel of Nuestra Señora de Carrasquedo, just south of the town of Grañon, just west of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.  And yes, on arrival, it’s well lit and plenty of space to park up under the trees of its car park.  We had a very nice beer on the terrace, and had a good, if windy, night’s sleep.

Day 1

The next morning we decided to make the most of the sunshine and followed one of the marked walks through the woods next to the hostel, nothing complicated or groundbreaking, but a nice stroll to start the day.

 

We then thought we’d head up into the mountains to check out the town of Ezcaray.  An easy drive up there, with great snowy mountain views in front of us, Ezcaray is essentially the base town for the small ski station of Valdezcaray.  There’s some easy van parking at the start/end of the Via Verde del Oja cycle path, on Park4Night, and although when we got there around midday it was full, we managed to park in a lay-by just a little further up the road.  It was also the access point down to a river walk, so we had a nice walk along the river, and then into town.  Bustling on Good Friday, lots of bars and terraces, and we had some great rabas at a place called El Refugio – which looked popular and good!  Overall, we were a bit underwhelmed by the town itself to be honest, but it was a nice morning stop.

 

After that we headed back down the road, and went to see if we could find a lunch spot – which we did, and a good one at that!  Just a few villages down the road, at Santurde de Rioja, we headed up to the Ermita de la Virgen de la Cuesta overlooking the town, and it turned out the valley and snowy mountains beyond.  It was a great spot and we felt quite smug on finding it!  BBQs, picnic tables, and the large chapel, a nice parking area with the views, and nice and level too.  The only thing to bear in mind was the one sharp curve on the way up, which could be an issue for longer vans.

 

After lunch, we decided to stop at Santo Domingo de la Calzada, which we’d already driven through on the way up to Ezcaray and it looked like it had lots going on.  Indeed it did, with two markets going on in town, and, as  it turned out, lots to see.  Santo Domingo is the major stop on the Camino de Santiago between Logroño and Burgos, so we started by popping into the tourist office, who were very helpful.  We then climbed up the Torre Exenta – the cathedral tower which is actually separated from the cathedral.  And great views from the top!  Then we headed to the cathedral to check it out, which was well worth it, it’s a long story, but it even has a live chicken inside!  We then popped into the Parador which was the previous pilgrim’s hospital for a sneaky drink.

 

We then made a quick stop at the AC Area in Casalarreina to change waters as we still weren’t quite sure where we were going to stay that night.  A nice area, and what looked like a nice bustling town too.

IMG_20180330_192720 photoshopped
AC Area Casalarreina

Our last stop of the day was to one of the Pueblos Más Bonitos de España – Sajazarra, just a little further north.  With easy and obligatory parking at the entrance to the village, this was a little place worth visiting.  It is small, but worth a stop, with a lovely castle, and nice streets to wander around.

 

We then continued on through the vineyards towards a town we’d been to before and loved, and which conveniently has an AC Area – Labastida, actually in the Basque Country.  The area is in a car park, and there’s plenty of space, although the majority of it is slightly sloped.  There’s full water services, with some very high pressure water, watch out!  The overnight looked good, lots of other ACs and quiet spot…until at around midnight a group of harmless but loud teenagers took up residence for an hour on the picnic benches of the area.  After that we had a very quiet night!

Day 2

The next day we had a lazy morning, eventually heading up into the town of Labastida for a morning pinxo and drink in one of its many bars.  We managed a quick peek in the huge imposing church too, which was prepping for the Semana Santa parades, but on this occasion decided against going up to the higher church.  Highly recommendable though, as is the walk up to the top of the hill above.

 

We had a plan for the rest of the morning – a walk we’d seen on our last trip but not had time to do.  We headed up to the nearby town of Rivas de Tereso, surrounded by vineyards and evidently with a popular restaurant and winery for lunch as it was quite hard to park!  The walk we’d seen was a nice circular walk billed as an archaeological walk through the vines, with a lot of little detours to see various necropolis and ruins.  We decided just to do the basic circle, up to the ruins of the chapel of Orzales.  Generally signposted…a little help from Google maps satellite, and a little intuition (some paths had been returned into fields…) we managed to get there in the end, a nice ruin with a view, and then back to Berta.

 

Lunch was on the cards, and basically we had to continue up the road as there was nowhere to turn the van round – so we went on up the windy picturesque road until we came across a viewpoint, the Mirador de la Sonsierra, which had the most fantastic views over the whole of western La Rioja, including the walk we’d just done, and lots of van parking (and turning) space.  Perfect!  So we lunched and siestaed there very smugly!

IMG_20180331_164320
Mirador de la Sonsierra

With no fixed route after that, we had to decide whether to go back down into La Rioja, or over the top of hill into the Basque Country.  We chose the former in the end, as there was one place we hadn’t got to on our last trip which we really fancied trying to get to – the Castillo de Davalillo.  This castle can be seen from all over northern La Rioja, picturesquely topping a hill on a meander of the Ebro river.  It turned out to be quite a feat to get there, as there’s no signage and it’s accessed along a one track road through the vineyards with some steep curves at the end (not for longer vehicles).  Worth the risk though, as the road ends in a nice big car park next to a large chapel and picnic area below the castle ruins.  We got there just in time for a spectacular sunset, seeing the lights come on in the hilltop villages of Briones, San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Laguardia, before a stunning orange full moon rise.

 

We then headed for the AC area at San Vicente de la Sonsierra, a town topped with a castle and church, with the AC area tucked beneath the town next to the medieval bridge over the Ebro river.  A nice overnight, quiet and sheltered from the wind.

 

 

Day 3

The following day, we decided against walking up to the town of San Vicente, as we’d done so on our previous trip and it was quite a way up from the AC area, but we had a nice stroll around the river and bridge area first thing.

 

We then headed up the Ebro to Briñas, a very picturesque town with a nice river walk and viewpoint over the area.  And had a nice drink on the square in one of its several bars.

 

We then started to head vaguely homeward, leisurely driving the back roads through the vineyards and along the Ebro.  We stopped for lunch on the edge of the Ebro at a Park4Night spot just before Frias in Burgos.  A nice place with what looked like good swimming in summer – and we heard our first cuckoo of the year too!

IMG_20180401_152302
Lakeside lunch

We then made one more stop, just south of Frias to the village of Tobera.  Famous for its waterfalls, and as we’d had a lot of rain recently we’d heard they were in full flow.  We managed to park down in the town and walked up past the falls to the very picturesque chapel in the gorge above, and miraculously coincided with the priest turning up to show some visitors around, so got to sneak in and see the painted chapel inside.  A treat!

 

Our last quick stop before the last run home was to change waters in the AC Area in Frias, somewhere we’ve stayed before and one of the most beautiful towns we know – always a pleasure to get a glimpse of the town from far or near.