Discover the fertile valleys, dramatic mountains and picturesque villages of this hidden part of Spain, and enjoy its historic hotels, fine wines, and excellent cuisine.
Spain Hiking Tour Overview
The beauty and charms of the Rioja region of Spain have long been well-kept secrets, known mainly to the Spaniards. But there is an evolution quietly taking place south of the Pyrenees. The artistic flamboyance that has defined Spanish art and architecture in recent decades is filtering into cuisine and winemaking, allowing young chefs, such as our friend Francis Paniego, to experiment with innovative twists on classic dishes, and vintners to create wines that live up to their reputations as the best in Spain.
We begin our discovery walking inn-to-inn, immersing ourselves in each locale and arriving at our hotel each afternoon on foot. Our first walks take us along the Rio Oja valley and the Camino de Santiago, to the mountain village and monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla. We then spend two nights in Ezcaray, a beautiful village and home to the famed El Portal restaurant. Finally, we arrive at a historic hotel in Haro, where we visit a Rioja bodega for an exclusive wine tasting. Upon our return to Bilbao, we visit the Guggenheim Museum, home to priceless works of modern art.
Spain Itinerary at a Glance
Days 2-3: Hike from Santo Domingo de la Calzada along the Camino de Santiago to our next inn in the mountain village of San Millán de la Cogolla, where we spend two nights in a converted 17th-century monastery. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage site monastery of Yuso, and enjoy hiking through the surrounding countryside dotted with villages born under the protection of the monks.
Days 4-5: Hike from San Millán de la Cogolla to Ezcaray, where we spend two nights. Here, we have the option a culinary immersion in the kitchen of one of Spain’s leading Michelin-starred chefs (at additional expense), or hike trails in the scenic Rio Oja Valley. Meander through Ezcaray's fascinating streets and plazas and under its arcades.
Day 6: Enjoy a final hike from Puerto de Penacerrada to Labastida, before transfering to Haro, the capital of the Rioja wine region. Lunch will be on trail, or at a traiditonal bodega. Alternatively, spend the day in Haro where a traditional wood-fired lamb lunch and wine tasting awaits.
Day 7: Transfer to Bilbao and visit the famed Guggenheim Museum. Departure from Bilbao, Spain.
The Boundless Journeys Advantage
- A passion for travel. Simply put, we love to travel, and that is woven into every one of our journeys.
- Unique, award-winning itineraries. Our flexible, hand-crafted journeys have received accolades from the world’s most revered travel publications.
- Insider connections. There is simply no substitute for traveling with a knowledgeable insider.
- Small groups. We tread softly, and our average group size is just 6-8 guests.
- Flexibility to suit your travel style. We offer both small-group departures and Private Collection trips, so that you can choose which works best for you.
- Customer service that goes the extra mile. There is no request that is too big – or too small – for our staff to handle.
- Sustainability. We are committed to traveling responsibly – striving to preserve traditions and cultures around the world, and to protect fragile natural habitats.
Trip Rating (1 Easiest - 5 Most Strenuous)
Traveling to and From
Most Convenient Airport:
Bilbao Airport (BIO), Bilbao, Spain or Madrid Barajas International Airport (MAD), Madrid, Spain.
Meeting Time and Place:
Your guide(s) will meet you on the first day of the trip at 9:00 a.m. in the lobby of the Hotel Miró in Bilbao.
Departure Time and Place:
The trip will end by 1:30 p.m. at the luggage storage center in Bilbao. From there, taxis are available to the Bilbao Airport. The transfer takes about 20 minutes. While it is possible to depart downtown Bilbao for the airport as early as 11:00 a.m., this is not advised as it will mean missing the visit to the Guggenheim Museum. Please schedule your flights accordingly.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Boundless Journeys' trips are designed for energetic and flexible individuals who like to be active and have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. Vintage Rioja Hiking is rated 3+, moderate to strenuous, on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the most strenuous). The hikes on this trip average of 4-6 hours a day on quiet roads and paths, with moderately strenuous sections. It may be possible to shorten some walks with private transportation to or from the group. On a few days we walk from “inn-to-inn,” which means there is minimal vehicle support, except to transport our luggage.
Preparing for this Trip
It is very important that you realistically assess your physical condition with regard to the demands of this trip. The more prepared you are for the activities on this trip, the more you will enjoy yourself! Please engage in moderate aerobic activities (hiking, jogging, or cycling) for at least 30-45 minutes several times a week for 4-6 weeks before the trip. If you live in a flat area, try to incorporate some stairs into your workout, or use a treadmill with varying incline capability. Consult your doctor before undertaking any new fitness programs.
Weather in La Rioja is most pleasant in spring and fall. Although these times also correspond to the rainy seasons, there is rarely a great deal of rain. Of course, you should come prepared for a variety of weather conditions, and we will walk and hike in the rain unless conditions make it hazardous to do so. The often variable weather conditions make dressing in layers essential. The following are average temperatures in Bilbao during the spring and fall:
APR MAY SEPT OCT
62/46 67/51 76/58 69/53
You may obtain more detailed weather information on www.weatherbase.com.
Optional Culinary Immersion
Francis Paniego, head of the Michelin-starred El Portal restaurant at Hotel Echuarren, and his team are renowned Rioja chefs. On Day 5 there is the opportunity to spend a few hours observing the various kitchen activities and learning a few basics of Spanish, and particularly Riojan, cuisine. This is then paired with a leisurely lunch with your choice of El Portal’s renowned tasting menu or the hotel’s more traditional restaurant. Please note, this experience should be requested 60 days in advance of your departure, and is based upon availability. The cost typically ranges from €80-€100 per person, and is subject to change. Participating in this will mean opting out of the walk and picnic lunch on Day 5.
In addition to the beautiful scenery, great hikes, and fine accommodations, one of the highlights of any visit to La Rioja is the opportunity to enjoy its world-class wines. Rioja reds are products mainly of the tempranillo grape, which grows well in the local climate. Wines vary by locality, and we will have the opportunity to taste many varieties throughout our travels, as wine will be included with evening meals. Our exploration of these wines is topped-off with a tasting at a traditional Rioja bodega (winery). Bodegas range in size from large corporate concerns to small family-run operations, and are generally not open to the public. While in Haro, however, we have the opportunity to visit a smaller bodega, and after learning about the local wine-making processes from the vintner, we have the pleasure of tasting their delicious final product.
When to Go
Spring and fall are the best times to visit La Rioja. Temperatures are pleasant for hiking, and roads and towns are less crowded than the busy summer months when most Europeans vacation. During the spring, the landscape is more lush than during the fall (after a likely dry summer). The fall brings the grape harvest, and you may see grapes being picked or other later stages of the wine production process.
Trip participants have certain responsibilities to both Boundless Journeys and your fellow travelers. This includes understanding the conditions described in the trip itinerary and making sure it is appropriate for your interests and abilities, based on a review of the trip ratings, consultation with Boundless Journeys' staff, and perhaps your doctor. In addition, trip participants are responsible for preparing for a trip by undertaking the proper fitness training. At the guide's discretion, a participant may be asked to leave the trip if the guide feels that the person's further participation may be detrimental to the individual or to other trip participants. If you have any questions about the difficulty level of the trip you have chosen, please contact Boundless Journeys to speak with one of our Destination Managers.
Small group travel affords us the opportunity to seek out the most remote and exotic destinations on the planet. Often we are exploring these locales with just 6-12 guests. The nature of active group travel is such that not all participants have the same ability level or interests. Traveling at a pace that is comfortable for the entire group, with a spirit of flexibility and adventure are all part of this intimate experience.
Overview: One 3-star and three 4-star hotels, occupying unique and historic buildings in excellent locations.
Night 1: Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Sto. Domingo de la Calzada, La Rioja, Spain
Built in the 12th century by Saint Dominic to give shelter to the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, the Parador offers elegant style, with tastefully decorated bedrooms, majestic living rooms, and an impressive vaulted lobby.
Nights 2 & 3: Hosteria del Monasterio de San Millán
San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja, Spain
This four-star hotel is located in a wing of the famous Yuso Monastery in San Millán de la Cogolla, in the heart of the high Rioja, a region known to produce some of the world’s finest wines.
Nights 4 & 5: Hotel Echaurren
Ezcaray, La Rioja, Spain
This 17th-century hotel has developed a reputation as a fine gastronomical haunt, where traditional recipes have been handed down from generation to generation. The hotel’s wine list is also renowned, offering more than 300 fine selections, and its restaurant is Michelin-starred.
Night 6: Hotel Los Agustinos
Haro, La Rioja, Spain
In the midst of the historic center of Haro is Hotel Los Agustinos. Dating from 1373, this four-star hotel has at different times housed a convent, a school, and even a prison.
Spain Detailed Itinerary
Ezcaray to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Hike – easy, about 4.5 hours; approximately 9 miles with elevation gain of 150’ and loss of 650’.
Upon meeting our guides in Bilbao, we transfer to the village of Ezcaray, where we start our walk to the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. This beautiful walk on a former railway line, follows the Rio Oja, a tributary of the Ebro River, the main artery of the Rioja wine-producing region.
Early this evening, we visit the cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and the surrounding old town, a key stopping point on the Camino de Santiago (the “Way of St. James”). The town is named for an 11th-century saint who worked miracles for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, constructing a road, a bridge, and a hospital which now houses our four-star hotel.
Tonight we enjoy a fine welcome dinner and our first taste of the famed Rioja wines at our favorite local restaurant.
Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Santo Domingo de la Calzada to San Millán de la Cogolla
Hike – moderate to strenuous, 6 hours; approximately 13.5 miles with elevation gain of 2,050’ and loss of 1,775’.
Today we hike inn-to-inn – from our Parador in Santo Domingo de la Calzada to our monastery hotel in San Millán de la Cogolla. Our hike starts on the Camino through grain fields. Once beyond the village of Manzanares de La Rioja, our trail climbs to a high point for a picnic lunch, where we enjoy an assortment of fresh local specialties – cheeses, sausages, fresh bread, vine-ripened tomatoes, and the like – with views south to the dramatic 7,500’ peaks of the Sierra de la Demanda.
Upon our arrival in San Millán de la Cogolla, we check into our fine hotel, occupying a wing of the Yuso Monastery. We spend the next two nights at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, visiting the monastery and its progenitor, the smaller nearby monastery of Suso, exploring the monasteries’ lands, and indulging in excellent food and Rioja wines.
Hostería del Monasterio de San Millán, San Millán de la Cogolla
Hike – moderate, 4 hours; approximately 7.5 miles with elevation gain and loss of 1,200’.
We start the day with a visit to the tiny jewel of the Suso Monastery, before exploring its much bigger and younger sibling monastery at Yuso. Suso houses an important collection of paintings, chests decorated with precious stones, and outstanding ivory carvings, as well as a fine library containing many early codices, and an unusual archive of documents dating from the 11th to the 16th centuries.
Later this morning, we walk from our hotel along one of the many trails frequented in the past by local shepherds and monks, inspired perhaps by the example of San Millán, a shepherd before he found his true vocation. The trail is a little rocky in places, but well worth the fine views of both Suso, clinging precariously to its hillside, and the bigger Yuso, dominating the village in its beautiful valley. This afternoon we return to our hotel and have time to relax before another sumptuous dinner.
Hostería del Monasterio de San Millán, San Millán de la Cogolla
San Millán de la Cogolla to Ezcaray
Hike – moderate to strenuous, about 5 hours; approximately 10.5 miles with elevation gain of 1,900’ and loss of 2,025’.
Today we have the pleasure, once again, of walking inn-to-inn, from San Millán de la Cogolla to the village of Ezcaray. We walk up the valley of San Millán before climbing steadily west through oak and beech woods to the isolated village of Pazuengos. From here we climb again to a col, before dropping down through the tiny hamlet of Turza into the Rio Oja Valley, to reach our destination in Ezcaray.
Our hotel for the next two nights, located opposite the village church of Santa Maria, boasts one of the finest restaurants in Spain. Tonight we dine at the hotel bistro, featuring the homemade traditional creations of Marisa Sanchez.
Hotel Echaurren, Ezcaray
Hike – moderate to strenuous, 3.5 hours; approximately 7.5 miles with elevation gain and loss of 1,275’; or optional culinary immersion (at an additional expense, and subject to availability).
This morning we enjoy a scenic walk in the bucolic Río Oja Valley, which becomes alpine in character in its higher reaches in the Sierra de la Demanda, to visit one of Ezcaray’s most beautiful outlying hamlets, Zaldierna. After a picnic lunch, we return by the same route.
Alternatively, today begins with culinary immersion in the award-winning kitchen of the Michelin-starred restaurant at our hotel. Please note, this experience must be reserved in advance of your departure, and is based upon availability. Just being in the presence of the skilled culinary artisans who work here is memorable. For lunch you’ll enjoy a tasting menu of the many dishes you’ve witnessed being prepared.
There is time in the afternoon and evening to explore the nooks and crannies of Ezcaray before you have dinner on your own, either at our hotel, or in one of Ezcaray’s many lively tapas bars or restaurants.
Hotel Echaurren, Ezcaray
Puerto de Peñacerrada to Labastida; Haro
Hike – moderate, 4.5 hours; approximately 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1,700’ and loss of 2,700’. Afternoon wine tasting.
After breakfast, we transfer to the Puerto de Peñacerrada, the start of our walk. We begin with a gentle climb through boxwood and beeches, skirting the massif of the Sierra de Cantabria, to emerge into sub-alpine pastures on the south side of the ridge. We marvel at the ruined monastery of Toloño, and as we continue downhill, enjoy splendid views to the south of the Rioja.
This afternoon, we may enjoy a last picnic lunch on the trail, or perhaps at a traditional bodega. Alternatively, we may opt to spend the day in Haro, the attractive ‘wine capital’ of La Rioja, enjoying tapas, or perhaps a traditional lamb lunch, and wine tasting. Later this afternoon, we find ourselves at our final hotel, ideally located in the center of town.
Hotel Los Agustinos, Haro
Walk – easy city walking, about 2 hours; approximately 1.5 miles.
This morning we return to Bilbao and visit the famed Guggenheim Museum. This fabulous building, designed by American architect Frank Gehry, has been a major stimulus to the urban renewal of Bilbao.
The Guggenheim’s permanent collection, now considered one of the world’s most important collections of avant-garde art, includes works by some of the most significant artists of the second half of the 20th century. If you have an afternoon flight planned, your guides will assist you with arranging a taxi to the Bilbao Airport. If you are staying on in Bilbao, your guide will be happy to recommend a place for lunch.
Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary to take advantage of weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these should the need arise.
- Apr 27–May 03, 2014
- May 25–31, 2014
- Aug 31–Sep 06, 2014
- Oct 05–11, 2014
2014 Land Cost
$4,595 per person, No Single Supplement*
Accommodations (hotels, tents, cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. A single supplement may be charged to participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability. We have made every effort to eliminate or greatly reduce this cost for most of our scheduled small-group departures; however, these savings are limited to two single supplements per departure. Therefore, the first two single participants to reserve will receive the savings. This is not applicable to our Private Collection journeys.
If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will try to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If you reserve at least 90 days ahead and a roommate is not available, you will only be charged a “forced” single supplement in the amount of 50% of the standard single supplement (unless otherwise noted in the detailed itinerary).* Single accommodations are limited so you are encouraged to reserve early!
*This does not apply to cruises in the Galapagos Islands or Antarctica. Please see these trip pages for more details.
Optional culinary immersion on Day 5
- Expert leadership
- All accommodations
- All meals except one dinner
- All transportation during the trip
- Rioja wines with dinner each evening
- All activities as noted in the itinerary
Please complete the following information to request a reservation. A trip deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your reservation (payable by check or major credit card). Once we receive your request we will contact you within one business day to confirm availability and answer any questions you may have.
About our guides
With a Boundless Journeys guide, your experience is that of friend and local adventurer. We believe strongly in working with local guides, experts in the areas to which we travel, and they hold the keys to unlocking the hidden delights of your chosen destination. Although you will never know they are at work – the mark of a truly great leader – our guides make magical things happen and add a dimension to your trip that you could not experience on your own.
Over the years we have forged bonds with some of the best guides in the world, and we typically work with a small team of guides in each region. You will be informed of the guide for your trip one month prior to your departure.
Nicholas Law: A U.K. ex-pat residing in Barcelona, Nick has been guiding and designing active cultural tours in Spain for nearly 20 years. His passion for Spanish culture and heritage have at times led him in the directions of teaching, writing, translating, editing, and publishing; including time with the University Complutense in Madrid. With ample experience and a love of all things Spanish, Nick is an ideal traveling companion on our Vintage Rioja and Andalucia & the Alpujarras tours, where guests continuously comment on his extensive historical knowledge and friendly manner.
What other guests have said about Nick:
“We were very excited about this trip because of its itinerary. We had never visited this part of Spain, but we never expected the experience we had! The hikes were unlike any we have ever had – through pastures, vineyards, and small hamlets. The food was outstanding – whether it was the gourmet picnic lunch prepared by our guides, or the 14 course tasting menu we had in Ezcaray. But, the most memorable feature was our guide, Nick, who brought to the trip not only his knowledge of the area but his ability to bond with his guests. As a result, we got the feel for the culture of the region. We laughed a lot and enjoyed every moment, whether on the trail or off.” - A.M. & M.M., Scotch Plains, NJ
Picture Yourself Here:
Inn-to-inn walking and hiking through rural countryside and along the Camino de Santiago
Premier wine-producing region with excellent vintages and cuisine
Visit to a traditional Rioja bodega (winery)
Historic 16th- and 17th-century monastery hotels
Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum and Yuso Monastery – a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Optional culinary immersion in the kitchen of Francis Paniego, Michelin-starred chef of the famed El Portal restaurant (at an additional expense)
- Apr 27–May 03, 2014
- May 25–31, 2014
- Aug 31–Sep 06, 2014
- Oct 05–11, 2014
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