A Love Letter to Rioja, Spain

Fifteenth in a series of posts about a recent trip to Barcelona, Bilbao, Rioja and Granada

Dear Rioja,

Somehow writing a letter seems fitting, given your romantic nature — rugged like your grand Cantabria mountains, gentle like your rolling Ebro, and lush like the perfect cuvée.

Do I sound like an adolescent with a crush? Well, maybe so, but that’s the state you left me in.

Rioja was all I had hoped thanks in large part to Hotel Castillo El Collado’s innkeeper, Javier, who seemed to anticipate our every need. He greeted us as we left in the morning, handed me hard candy upon my return (he thinks I have a thing for candy… then again he may be right), and offered a little something to tide us over in the afternoon. Case in point:

“A little ham?”

“Perhaps a little cheese?”

“And some fruit?” Okay, that sounds good!

“Of course! Just five minutes!”

As promised, in five minutes, Javier arrived with two glasses for our bottle of wine, balanced on a huge tray alongside elegantly presented nibbles: two kinds of cheese, thinly sliced ham (as only the Spanish can make it), sliced kiwi, pear and orange. Pop went our cork.

Appetizers at Hotel Collado

Javier’s work never seemed to be done (in fact, I don’t know when he sleeps). One evening after dinner, when I stepped upstairs for a pre-bedtime brandy, Javier seemed to have read my mind. He was at the ready and quickly led me to the glass-enclosed bar, choosing from several options.

And when we thought there was nothing else we needed, not a nibble, not a drop, he still was eager to think of something, surely something, that might make our evening perfect:

“Café?” No gracias.

“Té?” No gracias. Too much caffeine.

“Té verde?” No, still too much caffeine. Maybe chamomile.

“Yes! Chamomile!”

“And some madeleines? Something small?” Well, okay. That sounds good. Gracias.

Every day was like that. We were fortunate enough to use Laguardia as our “base camp” so we were under Javier’s tender care for four nights.

As we left Rioja, returning up the A-68 to the Bilbao airport, less than two hours away, I reflected on our experience at Hotel Collado and wondered how the building of several “wine tourism” hotels have affected his business. Several large wineries, including Marqués de Riscal and Eguren Ugarte, have constructed contemporary accommodations.

They seem soulless.

To experience Spain fully, or at least Rioja, I’d rather stay someplace that doesn’t feel like a Marriott. And I prefer small places with intimate, friendly service.

Our room, “Los Navegantes,” was large and extremely comfortable for our purposes: two friends traveling together. That said, it is one of the rooms that hasn’t yet had a makeover. Javier showed me several rooms that have been freshly updated, each with distinctive and tasteful decor, elegant bathrooms (with new plumbing fixtures) and high quality linens. Best of all, they come with Javier.

The “Love and Madness” Room (Amor y Locura)

Click on the link for better quality photos on the hotel website



Hotel Collado


The Doña Blanca Room:

Well, dear Rioja, I hated to leave you. Perhaps it is not goodbye, but only farewell, until we meet again.

[Just published: my review of Castillo El Collado on Trip Advisor]

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