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Luxury in the La Rioja region: drink, bathe and play in the finest Spanish wines

When you think about it, Spain is a bit bonkers. They host the world’s largest annual tomato fight (La Tomatina), their national sport is bullfighting, they celebrate festivities by building human towers and every year, they release angry bulls into the narrow streets of Pamplona whilst willing participants run for their lives. It doesn’t sound particularly luxurious, does it? If, like me, you prefer to marinate your meals in tomato sauce and not your face, then Spain might seem a little stressful on the surface. However, as ALTB reported earlier this month, the country has recently been recognised as the top wine-tasting destination for 2013, with Wine Enthusiast citing the La Rioja region of northern Spain as the ultimate hot-spot for decanters and decadence. It’s not surprising. Worldwide, every reputable restaurant is expected to stock the Rioja grape; it’s a symbol of good taste and after-dinner indulgence. However, aside from unforgettably fine wine and an evident aptitude at grape growing, what else can Spain offer in the way of luxury? After all, Spanish holidays are often typified by high-rise hotels in over-subscribed resorts and the sun-stroked hedonism of British heat-seekers. But are these associations unfair in a country that is, in my opinion, positively ripe with potential? Well, it depends on what you consider luxury. If you think a Renaissance palace-turned-hotel that used to belong to Empress Eugenia de Montijo (wife of Napoleaon III) is luxurious, then you might want to visit the Palacio Eugenia de Montijo in Toledo (an hour from Madrid). Equally, a visit to a “wine spa” that specialises in “vinotherapy” and offers bathtubs full of Merlot is, to some, the height of extravagance. Sound intriguing? Well the Peralada Spa & Golf Resort in Catalonia offers just that, touting grapes as nature’s most powerful antioxidant. Famously, Cleopatra loved nothing more than a good soak in the finest Egyptian wine. If it’s good enough for the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt then, surely, it’s good enough for us. Indeed, opulence is plentiful in Spain, with high-end hotels, sumptuous spas and award-winning restaurants. Aptly, one of the most esteemed hotels in the country can be found in the aforementioned Rioja region. Boasting a beguiling mixture of modern architecture against a rustic Spanish landscape of vineyards and terracotta rooftops, every whim is catered for at the Hotel Marques de Riscal. Designed by the distinctively abstract architect Frank Gehry, this hotel is like no other in terms of its aesthetic. It looks like a casually discarded pile of ribbons, residing on a sun-kissed hillside and rippling, life-like, in the gentle Spanish breeze. It’s an architectural fairy tale and visitors have often marvelled at its structural integrity – it seems impossibly fragile and yet, at the same time, futuristically indomitable. It’s also anything but your average accommodation. Last year, the head chef was named the Best Chef in Spain at the Madrid National Gastronomy Awards – around the same time the La Rioja was recognised as the Capital of Gastronomy. As if that doesn’t sound sumptuous enough, the Marques de Riscal also runs a Cleopatra-approved wine spa that’s served by its own vineyard. The Spa Vinothérapie Caudalie Marqués de Riscales promises an “incomparable feeling of rebirth,” with wine barrel baths, crushed cabernet scrubs and fresh grape skin treatments. Evidently, there’s a theme of inebriant gratification in Spanish culture. It left me wondering what the Spanish wouldn’t do with wine. They drink it, they bath in it, they cook with it and, as I soon found out, they fight with it. The annual Haro Wine Festival (Batalla del Vino as it’s known in Spain) is famous in La Rioja. Hoards of booze-happy revellers take to the streets of Haro to soak each other in wine, using whatever container they can get their hands on. It’s a free-for-all and before long, red wine flows into the gutters like rain. Whilst this doesn’t sound luxurious in the slightest, it sounds like serious fun. What better way to top off a wine-centric pampered weekend? After all, when in Spain… Rory Sexton is Managing Director of Economy Car Hire. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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