Most people think wine when they hear Rioja. Indeed, La Rioja is a little pocket of sun and wine-soaked paradise, south of Bilbao and north of Madrid. All in all, an OK place for a little tour of some of the best wineries in Spain. We arrived to the utterly deserted Haro train station, the tiny “capital” of the La Rioja region. The streets of Haro are adorable, cobble stoned and winding and barely wide enough for a Smart Car. Beethoven Apartments, directly across from the town cathedral, are the perfect spot to explore the wines of La Rioja from. Beautifully decorated,with a full kitchen, the kindest hosts you can imagine, not to mention the amazing view to the cathedral from the balcony. In contrast to the hopping coast of San Sebastian and party town of Bilbao, Haro is pure slow country living. Nothing more than old stone buildings, vivid blue skies, and bottle after bottle of wine, life screams to a grinding halt here. It is fairly easy to fill a day up with a coffee and newspaper in the morning, a lazy three course lunch, a siesta, a stroll, and some wine al fresco in the evening. The sunsets are particularly lovely as well, a good departure from a night of Netflix. Slow living is sorely absent in most of our modern lives and I think all of us could do with a few days spent here.
We spent a good couple hours wandering the town, admiring the buildings and impossible quaint-ness of everything. The town honestly felt like one of the most genuine places I’ve been – impossibly kind people, rustic architecture trying to be nothing other than what it is, simple food, and no schedules, anywhere. Haro dates back to the 10th century, and the entirety of the Old Town was declared a historical-artistic site in 1975.
Each summer, the Haro Wine festival occurs, including wine drinking competitions, and throwing wine at each other from barrels. Shocking waste of wine!
Before long our stomachs were grumbling and we went in search of food – never far away in Spain. We started with some local wine and the famous Gilda pintxos, before heading to a table for the Menu del Dia at El Antojo del Gallo. The daily menu is simple food done well – a three course affair with coffee, bread, and water for 12 euro. 12 euro! We shared starters of green salad (our pitiful attempt at something healthy) and a stew akin to Fabada – a hearty broth of white beans and sausage, slow cooked for hours with pork and spices. The “starter soup for one” was a little large, but delicious and made to be mopped up with crusty fresh bread.
As a result, we barely managed a dent in our main dishes of “chipiron a la tinta” (squid in their own ink) and cod with tomatoes. The dessert – coffee flan – had to be taken to go. Spain, you finally conquered us. We couldn´t eat another bite.
The next morning arrived bright and sunny. Perfect for melting into chairs in the sunny plaza for a double round of café con leche. We noted two important things sitting in our chairs:
- Haro serves the best mini croissants with their coffee
- Apparently it’s perfectly acceptable to drink wine at 10 am in this town, as we were surrounded by folks with clearly no need for caffeine.
We wiled away the morning doing absolutely nothing but chatting and facing our pale faces to the hot sun. Beethoven Bar & Restaurant, affiliated with our hotel, are very good at pintxos – the deep fried cod and mushroom cheese croquettes are worth stopping in for. That evening we had some wine al fresco, in anticipation of starting our wine tour of the Rioja vineyards the next day – more on that soon!