La Rioja

Rural tourism

La Rioja

Paquita Salas

Paquita Salas, a television programme created by Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrosi, revolves around the peculiar conduct of a cinema talent agent. Originally from the town of Navarrete in La Rioja, her career became famous in the 1990s. Now, visitors arriving in the town have often found out about it from the series, although paradoxically it has not yet been possible to film there. People from Navarrete have recently flooded social media with petitions aimed at the directors to bring Paquita Salas back to her native land. ‘This is more impressive than the miracles of Fatima!’ Javier Calvo, one of its creators, wrote of the movement on social media.


La Rioja: a place to learn to live again

Paquita Salas provides us with an excuse to discover one of the many towns which possess the charms of the Spanish countryside: wine, ceramics and clean air. 

By: Pelayo de las Heras

La Rioja is a place where nature is represented in all of its possible forms: snow in the mountains in winter, vineyards with a Mediterranean scent, and dry earth that is as profound as is it intense. In different places, it brings together and accentuates aspects of the entire geography of Spain: three stages and one alternate route of the Camino de Santiago pass through La Rioja, where Navarrete is a particularly charming stop along the 937-kilometre French Way. 

Its culture, both tangible and intangible, continues after so many years: pottery making, agriculture and wine are, here, the main drivers behind society

Navarrete is, first and foremost, a town with its own identity. Set apart from the noise of the world, its nearly three thousand inhabitants live between its medieval-looking stony alleyways and an immense rural landscape. The district has many tourist sites, amongst which visitors can see sweeping traces of the region’s history. The centuries are thick on the stones that make up Navarrete, a town whose very essence seems stuck in time, making it an ideal stopping place on the Camino de Santiago. There the scents of wine, clay, and the sweat of the wine-growers and craftspeople mix with the stories of its visitors. ‘Each one is a story!’ explains Juan Cruz, manager of the municipal pilgrims’ lodge of Navarrete, who enthusiastically welcomes those who take a break from the Camino each year. ‘Some do it for religious reasons’, he continues, ‘ others for sport… it depends on each person. I did it for the first time in 1999 as a personal challenge, and I enjoyed it so much that since then not only have I completed it several times, but I have ended up as a hostel manager.’

Speaking about the hostels, Cruz especially highlights the role played by the kitchen, a place ‘for people to come together and share their experiences’.

For him, it is impossible to ‘explain why it is so irresistible’. Navarrete is, in the end, an accurate representation of what La Rioja is like: from the small hill which dominates the valley, the town seems at once calm yet full of life, like a small relic from the past. That is why its culture, both tangible and intangible, continues after so many years: here, pottery making, agriculture and wine are the main drivers behind society. ‘Navarrete is a place that the most experienced pilgrims tend to choose. It’s a place for reflection, to be connected with nature and with people’, notes Cruz.

Paradise does exist

The mystique of the Camino de Santiago in this region is such that it is possible to undertake it at any time of the year, thanks in part to the existing social culture surrounding the wine, which has led to the emergence of a particular lifestyle. So much so that the options for vineyard visits are, like their lush expanses, almost infinite: one can see them on foot, on a quadbike, on a Segway, or even from a hot-air balloon. In the case of Navarrete, it is even possible to visit the vineyards on horseback, reminiscent of medieval times. Here, everything to do with wine is possible, turning La Rioja into a site of pilgrimage for wine-tourism enthusiasts. Its importance can be seen when the wine itself is considered as the axis of activities, which range from wine tasting and grape treading to the bucolic possibility of playing sports between the grapevines.

In part, the region is a kind of Spanish Tuscany, with the calm that resides in the simplest forms of hedonism; with a light as warm as it is strangely colourful. In addition to the vineyards – a kind of Bacchic garden – Navarrete has points of interest that are more than just anecdotal: one example is the ruins of the Hospital San Juan de Acre, its chapels and ancient church, whose altarpiece represents the most exquisite type of art one can find. The Camino de Santiago provides the town with some of its deepest symbolism: crossing Grajera reservoir, following the ravine of Prado Viejo, you arrive in Navarrete, where old ruins rise. These are the places from which the age-old – and still current –community life comes forth, often reflected in the various pottery workshops. Its seclusion when faced with the eminently urban life which can be had in Logroño provokes this type of connection: less than five decades ago, 70% of the population still devoted themselves to ceramics in one way or another. The life of the whole town embraces its past, as demonstrated in the concentric streets, a distant memory of its conception as a stronghold. This comes as no surprise: in part, a walk in Navarrete, as in La Rioja, is a walk through history. 

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