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A discovery


Logroño, the heart of La Rioja

SPAIN’S FERTILE HEARTLAND I am standing at the entrance of the ‘Calle del Laurel’ in Logroño after what has been a food and wine discovery. ‘El Educador en Vinos’, the wine guru, took us from Taperia to Taperia (there are 50 of them) where a group of us sampled ‘tapas, pintxos et vinos’, Spain’s favourite way to socialise. If there is an economic crisis in Spain, it’s surely not visible in Logroño where the locals are out in force, the beer and wine is flowing in abundance and the food is fresh and plentiful. The nearest airport to Logroño is Bilbao and while you’re there, take in the Guggenheim museum before you head south. You will need around 1hr30 min to get to Logroño and the relatively small provincial town has a number of hotels all within walking distance from where it all happens. The Hotel Marques de Vallejo, Hotel Gran Via and Hotel Carlton Rioja are all geared up to accept golfers and with knowledgeable staff on hand to advise you on where to eat and drink. Mind you, the ‘Calle Laurel’ is as good as any place I’ve been to, to have a few drinks.

The North of Spain is well known for the food with San Sebastian having more Michelin star restaurants than anywhere else in Spain. It’s all in the produce and with an Atlantic climate, growing conditions are ideal. And if you’re looking for wine … none better than the local tipple, the world renowned Rioja wines. Driving from the North Coast, there is a distinctive change in landscape once you get through the mountains. Logroño lies in a valley 384 meters above sea level and was first a commercial port inhabited by the Romans. Grapes have been grown in Logroño since the Phoenicians and the earliest written evidence of the existence of the grape in La Rioja dates back to 873. As was common in mediaeval times, monks were the main practitioners of wine making in La Rioja and great advocates of its virtues. The first legal recognition of Rioja wine came in 1102 by the King of Navarra and Aragon. There are three distinct regions within La Rioja, the Alta, Alavesa and Baja with the latter being more influenced by a Mediterranean climate and the wines produced there are more used as blending components. With an annual production of 250 million litres of wine, of which 85% is red, the main grape used is the Tempranillo and the distinct characteristic of Rioja wine is the oak ageing creating the vanilla flavours.

For the Rioja drinkers amongst us, there are four categories. First, simply labeled Rioja is the youngest wine spending less than a year in oak. The Crianza is aged at least two years of which one in oak. The Reserva, aged at least three years of which at least one in oak and finally the Gran Reserva, aged at least two years in oak and three years in the bottle. All have a seal on the bottle confirming the origin. One of the most impressive places to visit when you’re into your wine is the Vivanco winery and its wine and art museum. An impressive enough visitor centre with shop, restaurant and facilities awaits you but when you look around, you only see vines as far as the eye can see. But there is a small round glass building a couple of hundred yards away. Within that glass dome are a lift and stairs down to the winery, cellars and museum. Talk about the Tardis ‌ this opens up to a whole underground world with massive gravity fed oak vats moving through to the French oak barrels that hold millions of litres of Rioja. Turn the corner and enter the 4,000 sure meters museum, still underground. 8000 years of wine making history and several original artefacts and pieces of art form the permanent exhibition.

Not necessarily in that order …

GOLF, WINE, FOOD The Rioja region is situated on the Camino de Santiago route and you will see plenty of walkers with back packs roaming the country side. This ancient pilgrimage route has influenced the region’s food culture as walkers through the ages interchanged cultures and customs. The cuisine is simple but lately, young chefs are moving the needle with contemporary interpretations of traditional dishes. Let’s face it, good food starts with good produce and no region in Spain has access to meat, fish and vegetables like the Rioja region. We were entertained in a few restaurants all in the centre of Logroño. Kabanova, part of a group with a few restaurants in Logroño, has a young female chef at the helm. La Quisquillosa and La Cocina de Ramon all turn dining into an experience. Many small dishes made out of what the markets offered that day guide you through the culinary delights the region has to offer. Oh … and it goes without saying, all accompanied by … Rioja :-).

Now, food and wine are some of my favourite pastimes but golf is my passion and the reason I went to the region was to see what the golf was like. There are four courses in and around the city with Logroño Golf just on the outskirts. Generally a big wide course for big hitters with a couple of tricky holes (12 and 18) where the waterhazard runs through and with large undulating greens, this course is no pushover as it always seems to be windy. There is quite a bit of variety in the holes but the standout holes are the Par 4 sixth with a tee box high up overlooking the hole and where you drive into the lowlands towards the lake. On the back, hole 15 where you have to navigate over a brow in the hill with a green below you and virtually surrounded by bunkers. Good to know is that the club house is ranked the #1 restaurant in Logroño which translates in … you won’t go home hungry. About half an hour and heading west from Logroño and in the Rioja Alta region we played the … Rioja Alta course. Part of a bigger tourism development and with the Camino de Santiago route virtually run-in through the golf course, an undulated course with a variety of holes. The first couple of holes are tight and technical carved out of the side of a hill but turning back towards the club house, the holes become a bit wider. The course was recently taken over and a lot of work is being undertaken to restore it in its former glory. The playing surfaces are all good but the surrounds need a bit of tidying here and there. All in all, a pleasant and challenging round of golf in an area with superb views over the surrounding countryside.

Another half an hour but this time going south, the Club de Golf Sojuela is higher up and on the edge of a large forest with fabulous views, particularly from the back 9. A self contained development that ran into trouble when the crisis hit is now under new ownership and on the way back. Extensive work is being carried out on the course and while the undulating layout already requires a variety of shots one immediately recognises the hand of Sever Ballesteros in the design. With doglegs left and right, a mix of tight and open driving holes, undulating and fast greens, the continuous upgrades will turn this course into a real top class facility. A modern all amenities possessing clubhouse with a terrace overlooking the course adds to the appeal of Sojuela Golf. Like in all the clubhouses in the region, food is something they all excel in and it wasn’t any different here. The fourth course and another Seve design is Izki Golf. The course lies north of Logrono ideally situated to play on your way from or back to Bilbao. The course was built on government land in Montaùa Alavesa and in an area of natural beauty. A distinct change from the drier valley, this mountainous and heavily forested area is home to lots of wildlife, wild boar in particular, which presents a challenge to keep them from damaging the course. A regular venue on the Challenge Tour, this meandering lay out will test Europe’s best especially from the back tees. In excellent condition and with a thriving membership, who again demand nothing less than excellent club house food and local wines, Izki Golf for sure has to be on your itinerary when playing golf in the region.

For more information contact Urko Zabala Asua from He can handle anything you can throw at him and will make the necessary arrangements. This trip was made possible through the local council of LogroĂąo and Jose Maria (Pepe) Notivoli who is as passionate about his region as anybody and would like the world to see what the Rioja Region has to offer. A special thanks to David Bedia Reventum, the Director of Golf at LogroĂąo GC and Roland Machenaud, EGTMA member who has decided that the Rioja region is as nice a place to live as anywhere in the world. Words: Jo Maes, President of the EGTMA Pictures: Logrono Council, Golf Courses, Vivanco, Jo Maes


La Rioja, food, wine and golf - April 2018  

A discovery through a relatively unknown region of Spain where golf plays second fiddle to the wine and food culture.

La Rioja, food, wine and golf - April 2018  

A discovery through a relatively unknown region of Spain where golf plays second fiddle to the wine and food culture.