If you are familiar with Rioja, you will know that the region is best known for its red wines made from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. You might even know that its most important white grapes are Viura and Malvasia, with a tiny bit of Garnacha and Maturana Blanca.
If you had to pick just one grape to represent Rioja, what would it be? Well, 9 out of 10 would probably choose Tempranillo, so it was a bit of a shock that Rioja’s latest tourism “jewel” was named after the main white variety, Viura, instead.
Now, I’m not a ‘proper’ travel blogger. I rarely review specific destinations, hotels or restaurants, but I am interested in the things that make the beautiful Rioja region a great tourism destination. I do, however, still get requests from friends and followers on twitter for advice on making the most of their trip to Rioja.
I realise that most people visiting Rioja have a great deal of competition for their limited travel time and budgets. If I can convince travellers to choose Rioja, and I really do recommend it, this may be their one chance, so somehow they’ve got to get a full experience of Rioja in only 2 or 3 days. The pressure is on!
Panorama Villabuena de Alava
Well, I have always had lots of ideas of wineries to visit, restaurants, scenic drives and viewpoints, and even non-wine destinations. However, Rioja has always been held back from attracting more higher-end tourist looking for a luxury experience because most hotels, with the notable exception of the expensive “City of Wine“, were more serviceable than attractions in their own right.
So, I was very keen to see if the arrival of Hotel Viura would change that. I was not disappointed!
The hotel is an amazing, modern building set at the foot of a lovely, traditional village called Villabuena de Alava, home to wineries such as Viña Izadi and Luis Cañas, but in sharp contrast to it. The wilfully shambolic lines, boxes of colourful concrete and glass, placed seemingly at random by a playful giant, are a refreshing and still welcoming sight. I particularly liked the fact that the wall of glass above the main entrance reflects the traditional village buildings, bringing them “into” this new arrival, tying the two together. I can see why the Mayor pushed for this to be built. And I can see how the developers, designhouses, are right to be getting a lot of positive coverage.
The hotel itself is probably best described as minimalist, almost austere, luxury. Polished concrete, chicken wire screens on the stairwell, chalked drawings on darkly lit walls in the corridors and moody lighting.
The rooms are open and airy. Tall ceilings and enormous beds, with the elegant bathroom integrated into the room rather than separated from it. They also have large flat screens, blueray players, and free wifi (what luxury for social media types like me). The deluxe rooms and suites also have outdoor space to enjoy the cool evenings and fresh morning air.
The hotel also boasts a large restaurant (with what I am assured are VERY well attached barrels over the diners’ heads) and an amazing, naturally cool and humid wine cellar just off the side. The cellar also boasts a “secret passage” that apparently was used to connect this cellar, and its treasures, with the local church that collected the “tithes” from the local populace. Needless to say, the treasures are very different today, but incredibly, this wine cellar is not just stocked with Rioja wines, but also international wines (I believe that the sommelier, Jose Gonzalez Godoy, might have a penchant for ice-wine!).
So why “the future of Rioja” title above?
If Rioja is to continue building the brand around the world, not only at the luxury end but in the rest of the market, consumers need to understand more than grape blends and ageing criteria. A regional wine brand is also about culture, and the best way to get more people to understand that is by getting them visiting the region and experiencing it, creating brand ambassadors around the world, whether they are wine Press, travel bloggers, food lovers or wine consumers. Rioja has invested a lot in making the wineries more welcoming and attractive, the food has always been good, but is becoming more creative, and the infrastructure of roads, stations and airports are also being developed.
But none of this means very much if there is nowhere to stay.
The accommodation alternatives in the area NEED to improve, and Hotel Viura is a great step forward in this respect. For many of today’s travellers, while we still exist in an era of relatively easy and cheap air travel, weekend get-aways are linked with pampering, affordable luxury and unique experiences.
So, if you are looking for a place to travel, you want a bit of luxury and you want to be near lots of wonderful places to experience, yet in the quiet countryside, I highly recommend you check out Hotel Viura (and I’m not alone in saying this).
Here are some of my photos of the hotel and the environs:
For full disclosure, I’d like to point out that my 1-night accommodation was free of charge thanks to Hotel Viura and Mango PR