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Exploring La Rioja; San Vicente de la Sonsierra Wine Festival.

Road trip! To get to La Rioja region of Spain we passed through 3 different counties; Cantabria, Pais Vasco and Alava. It took about 3 hours driving in total and on the way we stopped off for a coffee in Islares. Unfortunately it was raining but the bay would be stunning were it sunny;


We arrived at about 11am in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, where the wine festival was taking place. We paid 5€ for the day and this included a wine glass in a holder to carry it round your neck for the day and 5 tokens to get into 5 bodegas (wineries.) The town had put on a free bus to pick us up and collect us too but we soon worked out it was quicker and simpler to walk around to each place. The first winery we stopped at was called Ramirez de Inoriza. Here they had lots of tapas laid out and you could try a few different wines. I prefer white so had that one, even though most of the wine this region produces is usually red. Here is a guide I found online about the different types of wine available in La Rioja, taken from At this winery they didn’t really explain the process so we took our wine with us and walked along the road to the next one.


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This one was called Ramirez de la Piscina. Here you could sit at the bar and try all the wines. I was surprised to see a rose, as most Spaniards I have spoken to about wine think Rose isn’t really wine. This one was good though! Next we were taken on a tour of the winery and explained how making wine has changed over the years. It was all explained in very quick fire Spanish but I think I picked up the majority of what was said. Here is a picture of a sheep skin leather, which was how they used to transport wine in the olden days. And of me using an old grape press.

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Viña Ane was the next Bodega. This one is quite famous in the region as its Author wine is used and promoted by famous Chef Juan Mari in his restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian. Here I tried the red wine, it was okay. We walked around and saw all the many oak barrels and the owner of the winery was friendly and spoke slowly in Spanish so that I could understand.

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After lots of wine tasting at about 3pm we headed to the next town to have a siesta. On the way we saw an Osborne Bull, originally used to advertise the Osborne Sherry company.


In the evening we returned to San Vicente de la Sonsierra for more wine! We went to visit the Olmaza winery, and this was the first one that had the vineyard attached to the bodegas so we could see the grapes growing. The people in this winery were super friendly and it was run by the whole family. I had broken my glass (it dropped off the chair I put it on) so they gave me one if theirs and explained how they like to harvest the grapes by hand. They get the whole family together in September or October, depending on sun etc, and all go around picking the best grapes. Most of their oak barrels come from France.  They also showed me a porrón, a glass jug with a thin spout used to drink wine. The owner showed me how to drink from it then I asked him to do it again so I could take a photo;

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The last bodega was located inside the little town and was one of the oldest wineries of the area, called Teodoro Ruiz Monge since 1870. Here they only had red on offer to try, and I was really impressed. It was very smooth and the best one I had tried so far. I asked why it was like that and it’s because they use older methods of using the whole grape rather than crushing it.

In the evening we went to the Plaza Mayor, the main square to hear some more information about wines and to see a blind tasting, where an expert had 3 red wines to try and to guess which wine was which. At sunset, around 9.30pm we climbed to the top of San Vicente de la Sonsierra where there is an old church, La iglesia de Santa María la Mayo, thought to be built in the 1600’s. The views of the old buildings with the vineyards in the background were impressive…

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At 10pm the town had organised a group of Russian dancers to perform. They were quite young but so in time with each other and looked amazing! They did quite a few dances and the night ended around midnight when we made our way back to the hotel to sleep.

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I feel like my Spanish improved dramatically this weekend, but that could be the wine helping!

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Exploring Cantabria; Puente Viesgo, Ontaneda and Santander in the rain.

Thursday morning was spent sleeping and resting from my sprained ankle from the day before. I was feeling better and was itching to get out by Thursday evening so after lunch at around 4pm we headed to Puente Viesgo, that won Cantabrias’ Best Town award in 2007. It’s very small and pretty and set within a backdrop of hills.


A bridge goes over a fast flowing river and there is a path that goes along the river heading into the village. The town itself has a town hall, church, a few bars and one shop, a posh hotel and an old peoples home and Spanish homes, that is pretty much it. It was nice to wander around for an hour or so.

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Nearby is a village called Ontaneda. If you were going by car along the main road you could blink and miss it. However it is famous for its Helado (ice cream.) Helados Lopez and family have been selling icecreams in a tienduca since 1895 and there was a queue to get inside. I chose a scoop of toffee and a scoop of chocolate and it was yummy!

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Today we had plans to get up early and explore the coastal path in Santander however the weather had other ideas. I was told not to have breakfast as we were going out for it! We went to Santander by train (40 mins) and had breakfast in Valor, a chocolateria specialising in Churros con chocolate. I had tried these before when I lived in Madrid (at Chocolate San Gines, Sol) but these ones were with a thicker chocolate sauce that was more on the dark side than milky. It was a great breakfast and prepared us for all the walking we were meant to do.


It started to drizzle as we walked around town, seeing the townhall, library and cathedral. We also visited Mercado Esperanza, the local market where fresh fish, meat and fruit and veg are sold.

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As we started to walk around to the coast the rain got fiercer so we saw the first beach and the Raqueros monuments.

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We eventually hid in a Chiringita and had a clara and tortilla. The rain began to pour so we gave up on walking the coast and got a bus back to the train station and the train back to Torrelavega. After a bit of shopping we returned home. I am now getting ready for the weekend ahead, a festival of wine tasting in La Rioja region! More food, more wine and more exploring to do! (Photo below of sunset, view from my window last night!) It’s still raining this evening….


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