Tour Report: Short Tandem Tour of La Rioja & the Basque Country

La Rioja Bike Tour: A Circular Tour from Logroño – 4 Days, 200 km, 2500m of Climbing

In August 2017, Fatima and I decided to take a long weekend in La Rioja region of northern Spain, where the weather was forecast to be a lot cooler than in Andalucía. We drove to Logroño, left the car there and did a 4-day/3-night tour. The route was based on one offered by a company called Navarent in Logroño (navarent.com).  As well as organising tours in the area, Navarent also hire out bikes and provide logistical support for cycling tourists.

The routes we selected mainly followed rough, loose-surface tracks, many stretches of which were quite tough going with a laden tandem. On a couple of occasions we had to get off and push the bike up particularly steep and rough 20-30 metre stretches. After the village of Badarán on Day 1, the route followed some very rough tracks through woods and fields that would probably be impassable after rain. It definitely isn’t a tour for road bikes.

Track Surfaces

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Day 1: Logroño - San Millán de la Cogolla, 48 km

www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/1737226868

Leaving Logroño, we quickly picked up the local cycle network which led us on a curiously meandering route through quiet parks on the edge of town. Picking up the Camino de Santiago we followed it through the park of La Grajera, with its lovely lake and woods.

As we crested one of many tough, short climbs that would come to characterise the tour, I was delighted to find what looked like a damson tree at the side of the trail; the first I had ever seen in Spain. There followed a lengthy and tricky conversation with Fatima and a passing local as I tried to explain to her that a damson is not exactly a small plum and to him that it isn’t at all a large sloe berry (in Spanish “endrina”). Subsequent research with good-old Wikipedia revealed that it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was either! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damson.)

During this part of the route, we encountered lots of “pilgrims” making their way along “El Camino” towards Santiago, many already apparently suffering from the demands of the trail. We left “El Camino” in Nájera to make our way through woods and fields to the village of San Millán de la Cogolla, home of the Monasteries of Yuso and Suso, which together are listed as a World Heritage Site. Yuso is also known as the “cradle of the Spanish language” as it is believed to be where phrases in the Spanish and Basque languages were written for the first time.

We had booked a room for the night in the hotel that is housed in part of the monastery of Yuso. The room was very large and very nicely furnished, if a little expensive. To compensate for the cost, we enjoyed dinner in the nearby “Posada de San Millán”, where a couple of tasty and interesting “raciones” were well complimented by a couple of cañas and another couple of glasses of excellent local wine and where the final bill made the splurge on the hotel room seem a little less excessive.

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Day 2: San Millán de la Cogolla - Ezcaray - Haro, 74 km

Day 2 / Stage 1: San Millán de la Cogolla – Ezcaray, 37 km

www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/1726734254

Before leaving San Millán, we cycled up to the monastery of Suso, which is 2 km and 145 m of climbing out of town. From there, we made our way on quiet roads and rough tracks through sleepy and seemingly deserted villages to join the Via Verde del Río Oja (http://www.viasverdes.com/itinerarios/itinerario.asp?id=72), near Santurde de Rioja. This stretch of the via verde is in excellent condition and offers lovely views of the Sierra de la Demanda all the way to Ezcaray, one of the prettiest little towns in La Rioja.

Day 2 / Stage 2: Ezcaray – Haro, 37 km

www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/1727403167

After a light lunch in one of the many bars surrounding the bustling main square of Ezcaray, we returned to the Via Verde del Río Oja and followed it downhill to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. As we passed the point where we had earlier joined the via verde, it became apparent that the best part of this route is the 8 km from there up to Ezcaray. Continuing downhill, the terrain changed abruptly to fields of grain and potatoes (as well as the ubiquitous vineyards, of course), all much less scenic and interesting than the forested slopes of the Sierra de Demanda that we had enjoyed so much on the earlier part of the route.

Santa Domingo is an important point on “El Camino”, so once again we encountered many hikers making their way westwards. We headed north, following the via verde to Casalareina, before making our way on more rough tracks to Haro. “Capital del Rioja”.

Our hotel, the Hotel Ciudad de Haro, was actually a couple of km out of town, but our room was large, clean and comfortable, and a dip in the swimming pool followed by a couple of hours of sunbathing was a great way to end the ride. That evening we walked into Haro and had dinner in a restaurant in the town centre. Haro is a lovely town and well worth a visit.

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Day 3: Haro - Laguardia, 47 km

www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/1729117745

We decided to cycle in to Haro to enjoy breakfast in one of the many cafes in the town centre. It turned out that very few of them were open before 9:00 am. The one that we chose was invaded by a large group of Italians just as were parking the bike, so we ended up spending 45 minutes there and being served with one of the least toasted tostadas we have ever seen (and we’ve seen lots!).

After breakfast we headed out of town alongside the River Ebro, which we followed all the way to Mañueta in the Basque Country. From there, it was a pretty tough climb on the road up to Laguardia. (A climb that was made a lot tougher when Google maps sent us on a dubious shortcut, rather than leaving us alone to enjoy the steady climb up on the main road.)

Laguardia is a lovely walled town up on a hill overlooking the vineyards of La Rioja and with distant views of the Sierra de Cantabria. We stayed at the Casa Rural Erletxe, which is within the city walls, in a great spot to visit the medieval streets, lovely squares and parks. Laguardia definitely deserves more than a 1-night stay.

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Day 4: Laguardia - Logroño, 35 km

www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/1731804632

After a hearty breakfast at the Casa Rural Erletxe, we headed downhill from Laguardia to Eltziego, home to the wacky Hotel Marqués de Riscal, designed by architect Frank Gehry.

From Eltziego, there was another lovely stretch alongside or parallel to the River Ebro to get back to Logroño. The 4 km climb through the town of El Cortijo and up to a viewpoint seemed a little sadistically cruel at such a late stage of the tour, but the views down across the River Ebro to Laguardia and the Cantabrian mountains were a fitting reward for the effort.

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