This is a ” how to” guide. How to do a day trip from San Sebastian to La Rioja and visit three wineries in a cost effective manner. The post is a bit long as it describes the process as six detail steps with glorious detail. Its been written for TripAdvisor, but here there are photos to accompany.
The roundabout outside Bodega Muga has vines planted in the middle. This is most certainly wine country.
THE PROBLEM: We found a day tour operated by San Sebastian Food and Wine priced at Euros 345 per person. What??? La Rioja is only 160k’s away and wine is cheap. There are others offering tours, but no prices on their sites ” tell us what you want and we will tailor an offering”. We tried the tourist office in San Sebastian who have no information on wine tours!! They suggested we ask San Sebastian Food and Wine……TripAdvisor have no category for DIY wine tours and nothing that addressed what we wanted to do. The sites for the Bodegas themselves contain no information about getting there unless it is by car.
We have visited a number of wine growing Regions around the World.It shouldn’t be as difficult as this.
THE CHALLENGE: To visit La Rioja, for a day. We wanted to visit 3 wineries. We did not want to hire a car as we both wanted to drink. We wanted to accomplish all of this for much less than Euros 690.
THE OUTCOME: Success….!!!!!! We left our apartment in San Sebastian at 9:00am and returned at 8:00pm. We did one guided 60 minute tour of a Bodega, we visited 3 different Bodegas, we tasted 11 different wines in four tasting rooms, we had lunch in a bar on the Plaza Mayor in Haro. The grand total for us both was Euros 160: 530 Euros below our target. It was hard to imagine we could have enjoyed our day any more than we did.
1. Decide where you want to go in La Rioja.
We decided Haro for three reasons: Muga is situated there and I really like their wines; The map seemed to show a train line that ends in Haro (true but the infrequency of the service made it an irrelevanceto our day); There are a number of Bodegas in Haro and they are very close to each other, literally, just a few minutes to walk from one to the other.
2. Book a tour of a winery.
I suggest you book either Muga or Lopez de Heredia, don’t book both, that will get repetitive. Tours have to be booked in advance. The Bodegas complicate this process for no reason that was clear to me. We started trying to book four days before our visit. If we had started two weeks before it may have been easier.
Muga has a tour and tasting for Eur35 pp. What the Muga website doesn’t say is that this only runs on a Saturday. Muga has a Eur10 tour which goes for about 60 minutes with two wines tasted and described by the guide at the end, this talkie tasting adds another 20-30 minutes. What the web site doesn’t say is that the English version is at 10-00am and the Spanish version at 13:00. The website also doesn’t say that the wine pours are very generous, which they are. We went on the Spanish version and pleasingly captured the meaning of around 80%. The guide speaks quite quickly, but she does not speak as quickly as the Spanish newscasters. You book by going backwards and forwards on the email after submitting a form on the Muga website. An automated system with prepayment would help everyone. But its not what they do. We were told that we could not go on the tour as it was full, they can only accept a maximum of 18 people. We replied in our best Spanish that we had come from Australia and had really been looking forward to visiting Muga as it is our favourite Rioja. Actually, all this is true. They relented and allowed us on. This was very kind of them. On the day there were only 16 people were on the tour, including ourselves.
What the web site doesn’t make clear is that you can walk in off the street and visit their tasting room which is very well set up and you can sample for a small price. What the web site doesn’t tell you is that the Muga tasting room closes at 2:30pm. What the web site doesn’t tell you is that Muga closes at 3:00pm.
The Muga tour was absolutely wonderful. They make their own barrels, they have their own bottling room. The fermentation occurs in enormous wooden vats. We have been on a number of winery tours elsewhere in the World and this was quite distinctive. The Muga web site and processes exhibit much room for improvement. The tour and the tasting was fantastic. We strongly recommend the Muga tour and the Muga tasting room.
Lopez de Heredia = Vina Tondonia. Has tours for Eur30 which are two hours long and for that price you receive a bottle of wine at the end of the tour. What the web site doesn’t say is that the English version of these tours leaves at 3-00pm. What the web site doesn’t make clear is that they have a tasting room in a strange architectural outhouse that is very pleasant. Anyone can roll up and taste their wines at any time for a very reasonable price.
TripAdvisor identifies the Lopez de Heredia tour as being of very high quality. We cannot judge. We applied to join the tour by email, we experienced a negative process similar to the one we experienced with Muga. We were told that the tour was full and we were not able to get a place that day. We were OK with this as Muga had already confirmed our spot by then. By coincidence we were in the tasting room at Lopez de Heredia at 3:00pm when the English tour left, there were only 9 people, it wasn’t full at all! If we had asked (and paid) I’m sure they would have let us tag along. But by that stage we had been on one tour and had made return travel arrangements.
The Lopez de Heredia tasting room is a really nice set up. Three generous serves of wine were Eur7.5. Tasting was great and the lady explained each of the wines to us. The Lopez de Heredia web site and processes exhibit much room for improvement. We thoroughly recommend a visit to the tasting room at Lopez de Heredia = Vina Tondonia.
Each of the three tasting rooms were staffed with people very good at describing the wines to us and each person was very friendly. No one seemed very interested in taking our money for the wine we had consumed. At Muga and Lopez de Heredia we left the money on the table as no one wanted it. At the third (Gomez Cruzado) the lady refused to let us pay as we had purchased a bottle of wine. This was all very, very charming.
3. Getting to Haro from San Sebastian
Ok you’ve decided to go to Haro and you’ve booked a tour of Muga or Lopez de Heredia. Now you have got to get there.
Buy a train ticket from San Sebastian to Miranda de Ebro. The summer timetable operates from June 6 (or 16 I can’t quite recall) and trains leave/arrive as follows: 0628/ 0900; 0857/ 1052; 0933/ 1128.
We took the 0933 . It is the A Coruna intercity train and is rather comfortable and quick. Price pp (one way) about Eur15, return twice that.
At Miranda de Ebro be clear. There are no conveniently timed buses to Haro; the next bus after our 11:28 arrival was at 16:52. There are no conveniently timed trains to Haro; the next train was about an hour after the next bus.
Outside Miranda de Ebro station there is the answer. A taxi rank. These taxis have no meters. But they do have a fixed price laminated sheet. The price to Haro is Eur22.
4. Getting back from Haro.
Note that the train times I quote are those we experienced on June 28 2016. A date covered by what I understand to be a summer timetable for the trains.
There are two choices. The train runs from Haro station to Miranda de Ebro at 18:16 arriving 18:55. The train from Miranda de Ebro to San Sebastian leaves at 19:35 and arrives back at 21:28.
The second choice, which is what we did, is to book the taxi that took us from Miranda de Ebro to Haro to bring us back to Miranda de Ebro. In communicating with our taxi driver, we could point to a precise patch of ground where we would be in Haro and the precise time we would be there. That worked perfectly, another Eur 22 for the trip back. At Miranda de Ebro we got on the 17:41 train (start point Madrid, destination Irun) arriving at San Sebastian at 19:48. Another very pleasant clean train. Another Eur15 each. Actually we bought the return tickets in San Sebastian the previous day from the automatic machine in the ticket office, as we were very clear which train we were going to catch.
I do not know what it would be like trying to get a taxi in Haro without prearranging it with a taxi from Miranda de Ebro. We read Trip Advisor and concluded that it would be very difficult. Which is why we booked our return ride with the taxidriver who took us to Haro.
5. In Haro.
The centre of town is about 15 minutes from “Avenida Bodegas”. Lots of places to eat in the centre of town around the main square. We didn’t see any Bodega that served food. The town square is attractive.
6. Tastings at the Bodega’s.
Each of the Bodegas we walked past seemed to be open for tastings. You just roll in and they will sell you a glass, or a flight, at a very reasonable price and talk to you about their offering, usually in English.
We did this at Muga, Lopez de Heredia and Gomez Cruzado. We had never heard of Gomez Cruzado wines, they are directly across the road from Lopez de Heredia. It seemed to be a location where they warehoused barrels rather than make wine. It was the find of the trip for us. The tasting was a fabulous experience sat outside on a 26 degree day and the wines tasted wonderful. We thoroughly recommend a tasting at Gomez Cruzado.