Paella, Pinxtos and Penguins - The Rioja Valley
Updated: Sep 21
It was November and Spain is a great place to escape the cold British winter. Ryanair had a deal on for £10 return. So viva Espagne. Ole! Early morning I was in London and early afternoon I was in Santander. The itinerary was light. Two nights for Santander, one in Bilbao and one in the Rioja valley. Five days of bliss!
On Arrival in Santander
The city bus stopped right outside the airport 'arrivals' and dropped me at the bus station in the centre of town thirty minutes later. For only 2 Euros it’s great value.
I took the ALSA coach to Bilbao - under two hours for 13 Euros, it was sleek and comfortable. Took another ALSA to Logrono for the Rioja Valley, two hours for 14 Euros, and yet another ALSA bus from Logrono back to Santander Four hours for 15 Euros.
Like most European cities Santander has every type of accommodation for every budget. I chose the Gran Hotel Victoria next to Sardinero beach for the first two nights for £40 per night.
In Bilbao I stayed at the Ripa Hotel but this was a big mistake. The Ripa was poor beyond words, not even worthy of describing. A better option would have been the Gran Hotel Domine across from the Guggenheim. A little more for the night at about 70 Euros, but a 100 miles difference.
The Rioja valley was amazing. Accommodation was at the Bodega Finca de los Arandinos. A jewel in the crown of Rioja. With its own organic winery in the basement, this family run hotel and spa was in a class of its own. Set in its own vineyards the views from the balconies were a highlight of the trip.
Back In Santander the night before my flight I stayed in town at the Hotel Picos de Europa for £30 which was more than adequate for a one night stay, close to bars and restaurants, and two minutes walk to the airport bus in the morning.
Must Do / Don’t Miss
Spain is famous for tapas but Northern Spain and Santander has pinxtos, like giant tapas. With a small glass of wine and a pinxtos for 2 euros it is very cost effective for any budget, lunch or dinner.
If you visit this area you must walk the beach at Sardinero in Santander, visit the Casino, and see the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. 16 Euros entrance fee, but five levels of art plus unique statues outside on the riverside. It also sprays a mist every 15 minute outside the building to make it look like it’s clouded in fog.
Plaza Barria in Bilbao. A historical neoclassical square built in the 19th century. Everyone goes here for Tapas.
You must visit all the wineries you can in Rioja - The Vivanco is a wine museum where you can also have lunch. Its main attraction is an underground winery full of casks and historical implements used in the making of wine over the centuries.
My Suggestions for your trip -
In the Santander port area you have the Centro Botin, a music theatre with rooftop access and views across downtown Santander. The historic Santander Cathedral near the port.
See the giant bank, the Santander headquarters of course.
The Magdalena Palace at Sardinero beach Santander. They also have a small marine zoo with penguins. (I expect you were wondering when they would appear)
The Bilbao tourist areas are always fun but check information on the day.
Another interesting visit is to Santiago cathedral in downtown Bilbao and Logrono cathedral Walk along the Bilbao Estuary in Bilbao and see the amazing bridges and murals.
Wander Logrono parks and see murals everywhere, stroll along the Ebro river in Logrono.
Have Paella in one of the many Logrono restaurants
See the Vivanco wine museum in Briones and drink organic wine and take a tour at Finca de Los Arandinos even if you don’t stay there (but make sure you stay there).
Hotel Gran Victoria http://www.granhotelvictoria.com/
Gran Casino del Sardinero https://www.grancasinosardinero.es/
Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao https://www.hoteldominebilbao.com/
Guggenheim Museum https://www.guggenheim.org/
Plaza Nueva Barria https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plaza_Nueva,_Bilbao
Magdalena Palace https://palaciomagdalena.com/en/
Bodega Finca de los Arandinos https://www.fincadelosarandinos.com/en/finca-de-los-arandinos-english/
Vivanco wine museum Briones https://vivancoculturadevino.es/en/
Centro Botin https://www.centrobotin.org/
Hotel Picos de Europa, Santander. https://www.grupopicosdeeuropa.com/en-us