One of the best routes you can take by car in Spain can be done through La Rioja Alta, an area full of dream towns, wineries, nature, cities with a lot of history and everything you can expect to enjoy your trip.
La Rioja Alta is made up of several regions, each one with great charm where you can enjoy its wonders. The route by car that we are going to propose here is designed to be done in several days since you will visit many towns and cities and you will need them to get to know them in depth.
We recommend that you choose the same place to stay for all the days that you are in La Rioja Alta and that you move from there. Santo Domingo de la Calzada, being in the center can be a good place.
What to see in La Rioja Alta on a route by car
Day 1 of the route by car through the Rioja Alta
During the first day of the route that we are going to take by car through La Rioja Alta, we are going to visit the regions of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Nájera, two very important and very interesting historical towns in the area.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Without a doubt, one of the essential places to visit in La Rioja is Santo Domingo de la Calzada, one of the most important towns on the Camino de Santiago with a great history behind it and a monumental legacy that you cannot miss.
The main monument that you must visit is the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, around which the entire old town of the town is articulated where you can enjoy its streets and squares as well as palaces and other churches. The Cathedral is known for the famous legend of the rooster and the hen, which is why you will find a chicken coop inside.
Other places you should visit in Santo Domingo de la Calzada are the Church of San Francisco, the walls or the Cistercian Abbey.
The Monastery of Cañas and Badarán
After visiting Santo Domingo de la Calzada you can take the car and go to the nearby Nájera, but instead of doing it by the highway, what we recommend is to take the secondary roads that take you through some of the towns in its region.
One of them is Cañas, where the Monastery of Santa María de San Salvador de Cañas is located, an abbey of Cistercian nuns considered the first female community in Císter. From its interior we must highlight its Church as well as its Chapter House and the Cloister.
Nearby is the town of Badarán where you can visit several wineries as well as walk its streets and admire various mansions and its church. A few kilometers away is Tricio, a small town from which we must highlight the Basilica of Santa María de Arcos, a Paleo-Christian temple from no less than the 5th century with Romanesque paintings from the 12th century.
The town of Najera
Of course, the main point of interest to visit in the Nájera region is its capital. The history of this town is linked to the Kingdom of Nájera, which existed between the 10th and 12th centuries and was the cradle of the kingdoms of Navarra, Aragón and Castile. The history of Spain possibly began here.
The main point of interest to visit in Nájera is the Monastery of Santa María la Real, which was the episcopal seat of the Kingdom of Nájera and also a royal pantheon, so today you can visit the tombs of the ancient monarchs of the kingdom.
A few meters from the monastery is another interesting place in Nájera. We are talking about the Church of the Holy Cross, of which we must highlight its façade, its altarpieces and its sacristy. The tour of the Villa de Nájera can end next to the Najerilla River, from where you have the best views of the Cuevas de Nájera.
Day 2 of the route by car through La Rioja Alta
We are going to dedicate our second day of this very special route by car to touring the Sierra area, made up of two regions with many places of interest: Anguiano and Ezcaray. Remember to get up early to take advantage of the day because you are going to go through winding roads to go from one place to another.
Getting to the Valvanera Monastery is not easy. The road runs through a mountainous area with many curves although with spectacular scenery so time will fly by. To get an idea, from Santo Domingo de la Calzada it will take approximately one hour to get there.
But the route is worth it, not only for the landscape that you will find on your way but also for the final destination. And it is that the Valvanera Monastery, a Benedictine abbey at the foot of the Sierra de la Demanda, is a haven of peace with an enviable setting.
From the monastery we must highlight the Romanesque carving of the Virgin of Valvanera, who is the patron saint of La Rioja. After the visit, we return along the same path to the Cárdenas River Valley.
Berceo and San Millan de la Cogolla
After passing through towns such as Anguiano or Estollo, we reach the small town of Berceo where we can visit the beautiful Church of Santa Eulalia de Mérida. But the main interest of Berceo is historical, since two of the most important characters in the history of Castilian were born here, San Millán and Gonzalo de Berceo.
Just 1km from Berceo is San Millán de la Cogolla, where you can almost walk. And it is undoubtedly one of the essential places to visit in La Rioja Alta, mainly because of the Yuso and Suso Monasteries, which are a World Heritage Site and are considered the cradle of the Spanish language.
The Suso Monastery is the smaller of the two and is located at the top. Its construction began in the 6th century and in it the Mozarabic and Romanesque styles are distinguished. It is a very simple monastery in which the Glorias Emilianenses were written, written in several languages, including Spanish and Basque, being the first known writings in both languages.
At the bottom is the Yuso Monastery, much more monumental than the first and which was built from the 11th century onwards because the Suso Monastery was becoming too small. Of the same we must highlight its cloister, its church, the sacristy and the Hall of the Language, an emblematic place of the monastery.
After visiting these monasteries that will leave you impressed, you should start your way to another place that will leave you speechless. To get there we will return to Santo Domingo de la Calzada and continue through the Ezcaray region.
As soon as we arrive in Ezcaray we will find an immense building, the Royal Cloth Factory, founded in 1752, an example of the textile importance that this area had for a century. It currently houses the Ezcaray Town Hall and a hostel.
But the most important thing to see in Ezcaray is its popular architecture, which finds its maximum exponent in the surroundings of the Plaza del Conde de Torremuzquiz, the nerve center of the population, always very busy. Different streets start from there that you must walk through and that will surprise you.
Day 3 of the route by car through La Rioja Alta
The third day of the route by car through La Rioja Alta we will dedicate to getting to know the Haro region, which has the largest number of medieval towns in the area and to which you will have to dedicate a full day, starting with its capital.
The city of Haro may not have the monumental importance of other cities and towns in La Rioja, but what it does have is the largest concentration of wine cellars that you can find in this area. That is why it is known as the capital of wine.
The historic center of Haro is articulated around the Plaza de la Paz, where the Town Hall is located and from where you can walk through the town admiring its emblazoned houses and palaces until you reach the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Vega.
And from there you can get to the Barrio de la Estación, which emerged in the 19th century as different wineries were installed in it and now flood it. Even if you don’t like wine, it is a must to admire its industrial architecture.
Briones and San Vicente de la Sonsierra
Less than 10 km from Haro, following the course of the Ebro River, we reach Briones, which is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. And of course, it is not for less.
Briones is located on a hill 80 meters high, from which you have great views of the Ebro Valley and the mountains of the Sierra de Toloño. In Briones we must highlight the Plaza de España, where the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption is located. Also noteworthy are the ruins of the Castle of Briones.
From the viewpoint that is next to the Castle you can see another castle, that of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, which is where we will now go. Its main point of interest is the complex formed by the Castle of San Vicente and the Church of Santa María la Mayor. From here we can admire the Medieval Bridge in the foreground and further away, Briones, the place where we come from.
Casalarreina and Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón
Once again we take the car and head to two other towns very close to Haro that are worth a visit. The first of them is Casalarreina, a town with a very interesting wealth of heritage.
From Casalarreina we must highlight the Monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Piedad, from the 16th century, the main point of interest being the Plateresque portal of its Church, as well as its cloister. Nor should we forget the Church of San Martín and especially the Palacio de los Condestables de Castilla, one of the most historic places in La Rioja Alta where Juana la Loca or Pope Adriano VI passed.
Nearby is Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón, a small town with a very curious name that will surprise you as soon as you arrive due to its beauty and charm. From here we must highlight the Castillo de los Velasco and the Church of San Miguel, located in the Plaza Mayor and from which there are interesting views of the Tirón River.
To finish our tour by car through La Rioja Alta and this day in the Haro region, we will go to another of the towns that are considered one of the most beautiful in Spain.
This is Sajazarra, whose main point of interest is the Castle-Palace, very similar to that of Cuzcurrita and which is in an exceptional state of conservation. In the town we must also highlight other places such as the Church of Santa María de la Asunción and the remains of the wall.
This is how our 3-day tour of La Rioja Alta ends, which we have divided into zones in case you have fewer days and you have to choose.
You can find more information on the official tourism page of La Rioja.