Calypso Capers

Camping Our Way Home Across Northern Spain

With The Odd Bodega Visit of Course!

Whilst this is supposedly a sailing blog, our camping excursions have become a very memorable part of our summer season. So much so that we had decided to lift out of the water a little earlier to allow us to travel to a few big cities, isolated country villages and not least to several vineyards across Northern Spain.

Our extended mid-season trip down through Portugal, including our God-daughter’s wedding in the Algarve, stooping to camp during the journeys there and back and staying on yacht Farr Horizon in the Algarve had already been one highlight of the season – would this be another?

The answer is a very resounding YES! We will not go into too much detail here as we could write a book and sound even more verbose and boring than usual, so will try and give a flavour using mostly pictures:

Our first visit was to Pazo de Oca, a house originating in the C13th , but it was the C18th gardens that Val had read about – likened to Versailles. We were still in Galicia and it was raining – but Val was happy enough.

We quickly headed East towards Zaragoza, but taking in the ever-changing countryside with it’s run-down old farming communities and numerous hilltop castles and churches. In places we would see several very small villages with huge churches just a couple of miles apart. A very stark reminder of how the peasants were treated by both the nobility and the Church back in the Middle Ages!

And we visited cities. Each has its own simply amazing Cathedral and we never cease to be awstruck. Firstly to Burgos:

We spent hours in here, marvelling at both the engineering and artistic skills of the Medieval craftsmen, but also wondering how many lives were lost toiling on the construction site and by those in the fields to pay taxes even in years of drought. This is the biggest cathedral we have seen to date, it just went on and on…..far bigger than this photo suggests.

When we reached Zaragoza its cathedral was obviously very different, although again VAST! Construction began in 1681 and the “Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar” was finally completed in 1961. At the side of Burgos Cathedral this is not exactly Ikea, but it certainly has a more modern feel.

Inside the dimensions were more than impressive, but the congregation for the ongoing service fitted easily within the small, ornate chapel at the heart.

Whilst in Zaragoza we also visited the Aljaferia Palace. This started life as a Moorish fortress, becoming an Islamic palace (home to the Aragons, family of Catherine), later to be converted to a palace for the Catholic monarchy. It has fallen into disrepair over the years, last used as a military barracks in the 1960’6. Some elements of the interior decorative plaster remain but whilst nice to visit Catherine’s old home we didn’t stay long!

From here we went to Logrono, the largest town in the Rioja area. We stayed at an excellent small campsite on the opposite bank of the river from the centre, just a short walk away. We found a very nice wine bar with a good selection of Riojas by the glass and excellent tapas. We tried several before heading out to the vineyards to find stock for the cellar.

We spent a few days driving around the beautiful Rioja Alta area, through vineyards and to some very interesting bodegas that seem to compete not only for best wine, but also for best architecture (as also shown in the blog for last year’s trip home through the vineyards). Below is Bodega Baigori, which reminded us of a Bond movie set, with it’s large glass entrance hallway sitting above the very modern production area with laboratories and tasting room:

And below are Bodegas Marques de Riscal and Vina Real/Contino

But we saved our favourite visit until last. Paul had read about a husband and wife team producing excellent Rioja at their small bodega – Abel Mendoza and his wife Maite. 

We here visiting Bodega Sonsierra next door and saw a small sign on the adjpining building, where somebody just exited. So we knocked on the door and Maite answered. She explained that they were in the middle of harvest and didn’t have time to accept visitors, especially as they didn’t have a shop and were not geared up for visitors at the best of times.

When we apologised and said that we had heard their reputation and called on the off-chance Miate relented and invited us in.

Paul had just about exhausted his nightschool Spanish and we were please to find that Maite had excellent English. We said we would buy a few bottles of wine and be on our way to let her get on with wine making (Abel tends to the vines and Maite is the oenologist). However we were treated as welcome guests and after a taste of their best wine (amazing!!) we were given a winery tour.

Abel pretended to be grumpy as he was consigned to packing bottles for shipping, but he was as lovely as Maite. We learned all about the bodega, their organic farming principles and how closely Abel tends to the vines. We learned that the best wine that we had tasted, “Grano a Grano” is picked from the bunch by hand, grape by grape, and left for natural fermentation to start for a few days before the grapes are crushed. The attention to detail here is amazing, but because of the small size and lack of a corporate advertising budget the wine is excellent value – and we took advantage, the Berlingo now filled to the brim with a precious cargo!

We had arrived in Logrono just a few days too late for the main part of the Rioja festival (the tasting, darn it), although  some signs still remained.

Our final stop was Pamplona, just visiting for the afternoon where we had lunch at an atmospheric old bar and saw the route of the bull run…

……before these happy campers headed out of town to a remote campsite where we had a night in a glamping pod so we didn’t have to de-camp the next morning before heading to Bilbao to catch our ferry home at the end of one of our best seasons yet (but they have all felt that way!)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                NEXT LOG                    PREVIOUS LOG

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