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 charm of Spain’s Rioja region has long been one of the country’s best-kept secrets, known by few outside the country’s borders. But an artisitc revolution has quietly taken hold of this ancient region just south of the Pyrenees. The avant-guard energy that has defined Spanish art and architecture in recent decades is filtering into cuisine and winemaking, allowing young chefs to experiment with innovative twists on classic dishes, and vintners to create wines that live up to their reputation as the best in Spain.
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. Then it’s on to Ezcaray, a beautiful town that is home to the famed El Portal restaurant. Finally, we arrive at a historic hotel in Haro, where we’ll visit an authentic Rioja bodega for an exclusive wine tasting. Upon our return to Bilbao, we visit the Guggenheim Museum, home to many of the world’s most priceless works of modern art.
Spain Itinerary at a Glance
Day 1: Transfer from Bilbao to San Millán de la Cogolla. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage site monasteries of Yuso and Suso.
Day 2: Walk in the footsteps of San Millan in the valley of the River Cardenas.
Day 3: Hike along the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, the “Way of St James,” to a pilgrimage stop in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
Day 4: Cross the plains of La Rioja on the Via Verde trail, from Santo Domingo de la Calzada to the mountain village of Ezcaray.
Day 5: Arrive on foot to the hillside hamlet of Turza, or the upper valley of the Rio Oja, before enjoying lunch in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Day 6: Visit a bodega in Haro, the wine capital of the region. Walk through the vineyards, and enjoy a traditional roast-lamb dinner.
Day 7: Transfer to Bilbao, and visit the famed Guggenheim Museum before departure.
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.
Our tours often fill months in advance, and our maximum group size is smaller than most tour operators. It's very quick and easy to reserve a trip. Give us a call at 800-941-8010 or complete the online Reserve a Trip form. We will confirm your reservation with a $500 per person deposit, payable by check or credit card.
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 2+, easy to moderate, on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the most strenuous). The hikes on this trip average of 3-5 hours a day. It may be possible to shorten some walks with private transportation to/from the group. On one day we walk 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, 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.
El Portal Experience
Francis Paniego, head of the Michelin-starred El Portal restaurant at the Hotel Echaurren, is the latest in a long line of acclaimed cooks and innkeepers. He and his team are renowned Rioja chefs and take pride in cooking with the best regional produce to create modern beautifully presented dishes. We will enjoy a leisurely lunch at this restaurant 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.
Nights 1 & 2: 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.
Night 3: 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 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.
A boundless Moment in Rioja...
Using both hands, the cooper works methodically, dragging his adze across the rim of the oak barrel, shearing small slivers of wood from the surface as he goes. Like many things at the R. López de Heredia bodega, barrel-making is a tradition as old as the Rioja wine itself, nearly 140 years in the making. But later, it’s this precision that we taste in the glass—the loamy, limestone-rich soil, the centuries of careful cultivation, and even the smooth, oaky roundness bestowed by the hand-made barrels.
SPAIN DETAILED ITINERARY
Bilbao to San Millán de la Cogolla
Hike – easy, about 2.5 hours; approximately 2 miles with elevation gain and loss of 250’.
Upon meeting our guide in Bilbao, we transfer to the village of San Millán de la Cogolla, where we first visit the Monastery of Yuso, devoted to the cult of San Millán and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The monastery houses a fine library, including the first manuscripts in the Castillian and Basque languages. Its greatest treasure, however, are the remains of San Millán, preserved in a casket decorated with early medieval ivory carvings. After lunch, we take a short walk uphill from Yuso to visit a tiny jewel of a monastery, Suso, where the 6th-century saint lived to the age of 101.
This evening, we enjoy a fine welcome dinner and our first taste of the famed Rioja wines in our monastery hotel.
Hostería del Monasterio de San Millán, San Millán de la Cogolla.
San Millán de la Cogolla
Hike – easy to moderate, about 4 hours; approximately 7.5 miles with elevation gain and loss of 1200’.
After breakfast, we walk from the monastery of Yuso through the village of San Millán towards Estollo, gaining elevation slowly so as to enjoy good views of both the Yuso and Suso monasteries. As we climb gently away from the Cardenas river, along footpaths frequented by local shepherds and Augustinian monks, we traverse varied woodland and sub-alpine pastures. The surrounding hillsides are covered with heather – a favorite food of the local honey-producing bees. Our walk then descends into the valley, bringing us back to our hotel for dinner and a second night in Yuso.
Hostería del Monasterio de San Millán, San Millán de la Cogolla
San Millán de la Cogolla to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Hike – easy, about 2.5 hours; approximately 5 miles with elevation gain of 150’ and loss of 575’.
This morning we take a short transfer to the nearby village of Manzanares de la Rioja, where we start our hike to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Much of our route proceeds along the Camino de Santiago, or “Way of St James,” along which pilgrims from all over the world make the trek to Santiago de Compostela. We walk through rolling countryside cultivated with wheat, potatoes, and other vegetables, and eventually ascend a hill where the belltower of the church in Santo Domingo, illuminated in former times by a fire to guide weary pilgrims to safety, comes into view. The town is named for an 11th-century saint who worked miracles for pilgrims, and built the road, bridge, and hospital that now houses our four-star hotel. After check in, we visit the ‘cathedral’ of Santo Domingo (which houses possibly the most ornate chicken coop in the world), and the cloisters, and gain insight into one of the most important pilgrimage routes in the Western world.
Tonight we will dine in our favorite family-owned restaurant, a short distance from our hotel.
Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Santo Domingo de la Calzada
San Millán de la Cogolla to Ezcaray
Hike – easy to moderate, about 4.5 hours; approximately 9 miles with elevation gain of 650’ and loss of 150’.
This morning we walk from our hotel through town (perhaps pausing along the way to buy some traditional Santo Domingo pastries), and follow a beautiful trail along a former railway line parallel to the Rio Oja, a tributary of the River Ebro which is the main artery of the Rioja wine-producing region. The walk along the Oja valley offers splendid views to the south and of the 7000’ peaks of the Sierra de la Demanda, the natural frontier between Rioja and Castile, and the high meseta of central Spain.
Our hotel for the next two nights, located opposite the village church of Santa María, boasts one of the finest restaurants in Spain. This evening, we dine at the hotel bistro, featuring the homemade traditional creations of Marisa Sanchez.
Hotel Echaurren, Ezcaray
Hike – easy, about 4 hours; approximately 6.75 miles with elevation gain and loss of 675’ (Turza); or approximately 7.5 miles with elevation gain and loss of 725’ (Zaldierna).
The purpose of our morning walk today is to stimulate our appetites for lunch in Francis Paniego’s award-winning Michelin-starred restaurant, El Portal. Our options include a circular ramble to the isolated hamlet of Turza, on the west side of the River Oja valley, or a longer walk further up the same valley to the hamlet of Zaldierna.
There is time in the afternoon and evening to explore the nooks and crannies of Ezcaray before you have dinner on your own, whether at the hotel or in one of the town’s many lively tapas bars or restaurants.
Hotel Echaurren, Ezcaray
Haro and the Wine Country
Hike – easy, about 3 hours; approximately 5.5 miles with elevation gain of 275’ and loss of 150’.
After breakfast this morning, we transfer to Haro, capital of the wine-producing area of Rioja where wine has been made for about 2,000 years. We visit the traditional winery of Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, on the banks of the River Ebro, and enjoy a wine-tasting before setting off on a gentle walk through vineyards planted with the Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo grape varieties.
After a picnic lunch, we transfer to the wine museum of Briones, before returning to our centrally located hotel in Haro. A short walk across the town square brings us to the Restaurante Terete for our farewell dinner, a traditional wood-fired lamb roast, accompanied by the some of the region’s justly famed red wines.
Hotel Los Agustinos, Haro
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Walk – easy city walking, about 2 hours; approximately 1.5 miles.
This morning we return to Bilbao and visit the glittering Guggenheim Museum with an art historian. The fabulous building, designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry, has been a major stimulus to the urban renewal of post-industrial 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 guide will assist you with arranging a taxi to Bilbao airport or, if you are staying on in Bilbao, make recommendations for lunch and other sites to visit.
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.
- May 03–09, 2015
- Sep 06–12, 2015
2015 Land Cost
$4,695 per person
Accommodations (hotels, tents, cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. A single supplement is paid by participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability. If you reserve at least 120 days prior to departure, you may be eligible for a reduced or free single supplement.* This is generally limited to the first one or two solo travelers to reserve, and the reduction is outlined in the pricing for each trip. Please note, free or reduced single supplements are not combinable with other offers or promotions.
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 120 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. Please see these trip pages for more details.
- 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:
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
- May 03–09, 2015
- Sep 06–12, 2015
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