Our last couple of days were spent on my stomping grounds in La Rioja. We started out in Laguardia, a well know village surrounded by vineyards and wineries in the north of Rioja. We were lucky enough to stay in the bed and breakfast that is owned by my friend, Zorione, that I talked about in an earlier blog. The place is exquisitely decorated by Zorione herself, with colors of pinks and purples and fancy hanging chandeliers, and I knew we had to stay here. When I made the reservation, Zorione assured us that the best room was reserved for us and boy was she right! It was beautiful, purple, black and silver was the color scheme and it was very elegant with long draping curtains and bedspreads to match.
That afternoon we went out to explore the town and found a great little ‘bodega’ (winery) to visit inside the city walls. It was the same one that I had visited earlier with Cristina, but this time in English and we were accompanied by some British and Australian visitors. We went down into the cave to see how the wine was made and the guide let us climb up the ladder to take a whiff of the wine that was now fermenting in a big vat, waiting to be bottled. We then were invited to taste the wine that was ‘brewing’ or oxidizing in the tank and compare it to some ‘winemaker’s wine’ that they had made themselves. We were informed that this special winemaker’s wine doesn’t have to follow any of the normal rules that the other wines from the Rioja have to follow. For this, the winemaker’s can decide when the wine is at its best to bottle and to drink exactly to their own taste preference.
That night we went out for a tapa or two but decided because it was quite rainy that we would relax and have a nice dinner in a beautiful restaurant in the town square.
The next day we woke up to a wonderful breakfast display laid out for us in the breakfast nook of the house. We both commented how nice it was for once to eat breakfast carefree in our pjs!
Zorione came down to join us for breakfast and she informed us that we had a visit scheduled to tour one of the bigger wineries in Laguardia that afternoon, the Ugarte winery.
We arrived a bit early to the visit and we were standing outside in the blowing wind as an older man approached us and asked us what we were doing waiting outside?! He entered and scolded the tour guide for not letting us in earlier and ordered her to get us some coffee and tea to warm us up. We soon found out that he was the founder of the winery and at his age still working daily, tasting wines, chatting with visitors at wine tastings, and of course still 100% running the business. He later showed me who he was by standing next to a sculpture out front that quite resembled him. Hmmm…wonder why?!
As we started our Spanish tour of the winery (the only one they offered that day), I was translating pretty much everything the tour guide was saying, but I will say that after a couple of weeks here, she was doing a pretty good job of understanding all by herself! We walked through the caves where they stored all of the specialty wines at just the right temperature and humidity. We then entered into the storerooms where they kept the barrels of wine that were still fermenting. There were rows and rows of barrels, reaching the ceilings some 20ft high, all waiting until the perfect time to be bottled.
We were shown up to the second floor where we went out onto a terrace and could see their vineyards for miles and miles, and then it was off to the tasting. We tried one that was ‘vino del año’ (wine of the year) meaning that it has spent less than a year in oak barrels and within a year is bottled and ready to drink. We then had a ‘crianza’, a young wine staying in oak barrels 12 months and then another 12 months in the bottle.
After our tastings, captivated by the beautiful landscapes, we moseyed over to the restaurant that was also inside of the winery for a delicious lunch, where each course was especially paired with a different wine from their reserves. It was such a treat to enjoy such a delicious meal surrounded by the picturesque backdrops of vineyards reaching for miles and miles in all directions.
After that we were on our way to our very last destination, my home for the last four months, Logroño. We went straight to the house where I had been living and my ‘familia española’ welcomed me back with open arms. It was so nice for my Mom to finally meet them! She was very excited to see how I had been living and who I had been sharing these months of my life with. We dropped off some of my suitcases, chatted for a while, and then were off to Fermín’s house to introduce my mom to one of my intercambios and his wonderful family. We would be staying the night there, so we entered with a couple of suitcases and the family greeted us with smiles and kisses. We chatted for a bit, Fermín took us to drop off the car, and then is was off to ‘la calle’ Laurel.
As we walked, Fermín explained many of the different parts of the city to my mom and we even got the treat of walking past the Río Ebro (river that runs through the town) and the stone bridge, two beautiful parts of Logroño that I love. We met up with Crisitina and Zorione to ‘do’ Laurel Street, meaning popping in and out of little tapas bars that offer specialty tapas and are packed with people enjoying their evening. It worked out perfectly that we ended up being on calle Laurel on a Saturday night, perfect for my mom to see just how it actually is any given weekend….FULL! As we walked the street and found our way through the crowds, we stopped in two of some of the most interesting bars on the strip I had ever been in. One offered fried pigs ears and the other sardine and green pepper sandwiches. But again, my mom was quite the trooper and tried everything!! So proud!
Tired from many busy busy days, we said our goodbyes to Zorione and Cristina and headed back to Fermín’s house. To put a perfect end to the night we shared a wonderful homemade carrot ‘biscocho’ (cake/bread) that Norma had prepared and coffee while having some lovely conversation with the whole family! The next morning we woke up early and had a real American breakfast, with eggs, ham, toast, and of course some more of that awesome carrot cake! They were very excited to make an American breakfast while having ‘experts’, so they called us, in the house to make sure they were preparing it correctly. And they did a perfect job!
The door bell rang a bit later and it was Cristina, Andrés, and the kids ready for a day in Munilla. I really wanted to show my mom Munilla, a town about an hour outside of Logroño, where we had spent many weekends roasting peppers, digging up potatoes in the garden, and enjoying the ringing of cowbells as the cows grazed the surrounding mountain ranges. We arrived in Munilla and gave her the grand tour of the house, the surrounding landscapes, and the river that flows past the back of the house. We also headed up the mountaintop to get a good view of the whole valley as well as show her the dinosaur tracks from ages ago. We ate a great lunch in Munilla at the one and only restaurant there and then we were off to relax our feet in the hot springs of the nearby town, Arnadillo. I am so thankful that I got to show her that little part of my life here since it is a place that I really enjoy so much!
Back to Logroño we went and it was time to pack. Never a fun time, but thankful that we were able to compact her suitcases down to just two for her long journey back to the States. Being the bad daughter that I am, I asked if it would be ok if we could just send her on a bus back to Barcelona, about a 5 hour bus ride, and trust her newly acquired Spanish skills to get her to the airport. She graciously accepted the challenge. Well, after a quite catastrophic sendoff at the bus station (almost missing the last bus of the night), she was off on her own to make it back home….and she did it perfectly!
We had such an amazing time together here and I know there is no one else that I would have rather spent cruising the coast of northern Spain with. It will be an experience that both of us will surely cherish for the rest of our lives.