Hotel Marques de Riscal

Elciego, The Basque Country, Spain Book from Eur310

Reviewed by Tom Bell
Iconic vineyard hotel in the Rioja built by Frank Gehry, who gave Bilbao the Guggenheim: perfect for style-seekers and gourmands
There is a law in the Rioja that manifests itself through bricks and mortar: the more successful your vineyard, the bigger you build your headquarters. This lush landscape is littered with the results, each trying to outdo the other. But at Marques de Riscal, you can’t help thinking they’ve pressed the nuclear button and obliterated the competition in one fell swoop. Architect Frank Gehry - best known for the Guggenheim in Bilbao - came down and nailed together vast sheets of claret titanium; in an act of submission he set the hotel on a marginally lower level than the church it faces. It is an extraordinary building, a vanity project par excellence.

It sits above the Marques de Riscal winery - the oldest in the Rioja - surrounded by vineyards, and there is a lovely terrace to the well-stocked wine bar, where you can sit and watch the grapes ripen as you knock back a glass of the local nectar. There’s also a super-cool spa hidden in a building that preceded Gehry’s star attraction; you’ll find a lovely indoor pool and sun beds overlooking the vines. Some of the rooms here open onto terraces and are definitely worth going for. Those in the main house aren’t quite as big or as lavish as their price suggests, but bathrooms are divine. Finally, the terraces, which are all over the place, one in the sky outside the library, where views stretch for miles.

Highs

  • An easy 2-hour drive from Bilbao; design buffs could combine 2 nights at Miro Hotel (next to the Guggenheim) with a stay here
  • The gourmet restaurant, serving such delights as foie gras curd, suckling pig and Cameros cheese with honey ice cream. There's a relaxed bistro, too, and you can carve ham off the bone at breakfast
  • The wine, exquisite stuff, which you drink surrounded by vines. You get a bottle to welcome you, and a tour of the vineyard, and you can borrow bikes to visit neighbouring wineries
  • Bang & Olufsen TVs in your Gehry-designed room, along with Gehry cloud lampshades, Nespresso machines and Artemide lamps
  • The Caudalie spa - seriously lovely, with a range of indulgent grape-based treatments

Lows

  • Rooms are incredibly expensive most of the time; prices rise as the hotel fills up, so book early to get the best rate
  • Sometimes interiors feel a little empty, as if something is missing amid all the showy design
  • Security on the gate when you arrive seems a bit unnecessary
  • The building is unquestionably impressive, but whether it belongs in this deeply rural landscape, close to the medieval village of Elciego, is debatable

Best time to go

This is a year-round destination, but the wine harvest in October is a great time to visit. The vines turn red across the land, wildly pretty. It is the most important month of the year, an exciting time to be here.

Our top tips

  • The wine is very well priced here; you can buy from the vineyards or from wine shops in local towns. If you want to take a few cases home, you’ll have to come by car, in which case you might want to consider taking the ferry from Portsmouth or Plymouth. The voyage takes 24 hours and arrives in either Santander or Bilbao. It’s far more relaxing than belting along French motorways
  • As you’re in the Rioja wine fields, you might also assume that you’re in the antonymous province of La Rioja. In fact, you’re still in the Basque Country. The wine fields are divided into 3: Rioja Alta; Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. The hotel is in the latter, which marks the southern tip of the Basque Country, hence the fact all the towns have 2 names, one Basque, one Spanish. Part of the Navarre is within Rioja Baja
  • Great for...

    Foodie
    Spa
    Wedding
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Boutique Hotel
    • 43
    • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Indoor Pool
    • Spa
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Concierge Service
    • Bicycles Available
    • Vineyard Tours
    Room:

    Rooms

    The 43 extremely airy rooms are split between the hotel and the spa wing at the back. You will probably want to stay in the main house, but the same style runs throughout as the spa rooms were completely refurbished when the hotel came along. What’s more, the designer was Gehry himself.

    Premium Rooms at the front of the hotel overlook the village; those in the spa wing have views over wine fields. For what it’s worth we rather liked the ones in the spa, a couple of which open onto a small courtyard of vines - not a bad spot to enjoy your complimentary bottle of wine. Slightly more expensive are the Grand Deluxe Rooms in the main house, which are more spacious.

    The style is deeply attractive throughout - effortlessly contemporary and seemingly simple with materials contributing both form and design. Wavy leather bedheads are cut into walls of blond wood, theatrical red curtains protect your privacy. If you take an Executive Suite you get leather armchairs to loll about in and those with big windows tend to have padded window seats. All rooms have kingsize beds and beautiful linens, then Bang & Olufsen TVs through which you can access the internet. There are DVD players on request (a library of films waits at reception), separate CD players too.

    You get Gehry’s cloud lampshades everywhere and doors that slide out from between walls without the slightest hiccup. Rooms at the front of the main house come at odd angles with the titanium roof overhanging dramatically. Bathrooms are utterly fabulous: stunning back marble, vast mirrors, cavernous baths and separate walk-in showers, then robes and slippers and lovely oils. As for the Gehry Suite - the best room in town - it comes with a private balcony that looks across to the village and its church.

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Bathrobes
    • Cd player
    • Central heating
    • Coffee maker
    • Coffee tea making
    • Complimentary wine
    • DVD players/games consoles (on request)
    • Hairdryer
    • Internet access
    • Internet access
    • Ipod dock
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Phone
    • Pillow menu
    • Radio
    • Safe box
    • Satellite tv
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi
    • Wifi internet

    Eating

    Breakfast is taken at the top of the house and it’s delicious. You get jugs of fresh juice, plates of sliced fruit. There are cakes, patisserie, loaves of baguette and homemade jams. You can dig into local cheeses or carve yourself a slice of ham off the bone. There’s chorizo and salami, too, and eggs cooked to order.

    For lunch, head to the wine bar, which has walls of wine, lovely views back to the village and a super little terrace on which to soak up the sun. Snacks and sandwiches, hamburgers or a plate of spaghetti are served here during the day.

    Bistró 1860 is up on the top floor with sublime views from its terrace and a herb garden for the chefs. The food is deliciously rustic, perhaps toasted goat’s cheese salad, meatballs with truffles, or a stew of monkfish and clams.

    The main restaurant is as stylish as the impeccable food it serves: claret walls soar up to high ceilings, windows frame views of the church. There are 2 menus. The 'memory menu' offers 5 courses and might include tomato tartar with langoustine and white garlic sauce, battered hake served with roasted peppers and rice soup, then Cameros cheese with honey ice cream. If you fancy a feast try the 9-course 'Vanguardia tasting menu'. Highlights include foie gras curd with red wine caviar, Cantabrian lobster with a green bean salad, suckling pig, and sautéed pineapple with caramel mousse. The wine list is extensive, with a good selection available by the glass, and some surprisingly affordable bottles.

    If you want to eat out, head to pretty Laguardia (a 5-minute drive), a hilltop town with tasty local food. Also close is the winery at Arabarte, where you can eat at weekends; simple Riojan food. You’ll find the first Michelin star awarded in the Rioja 30km southwest at El Portal in Echaurren. It’s a contemporary space in a lovely old village, well worth visiting. Logroño, a 15-minute drive, is the capital of the Rioja. There’s a batch of good restaurants scattered about the Old Town. Some are smart, others simpler serving pintxos (tapas). Cachetero (c. Laurel) is the best in town.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Coffee maker
    • Coffee tea making
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Organic produce
    • Restaurant
    • Room service
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • Bliss out in the spa, which has an indoor pool that’s free for guests. You’ll find sun loungers on a small terrace, too. The spa itself offers a wide range of treatments including vinotherapy, or grape massage to you and me. Baths, wraps and scrubs all make use of grapes for their wellness properties, but you can have an old-fashioned back rub if that’s what you want. There’s a fitness centre and a hammam; they’ll even pour wine into your Jacuzzi

    • As you'd hope, there are vineyards galore. A free guided tour of Marques de Riscal's is included in the room rate (book in advance) and you taste a couple of the less expensive bottles at the end. Bicycles at the hotel are free for guests to use and you can follow tracks through the wine fields. The wine museum in Briones is also worth seeing

    • Elciego is a pretty village with a couple of bars and a scattering of shops. The vineyards provide much local employment and as a result villages in the region have expanded elegantly. Expect attractive modern perimeters with the old village in the middle

    • Or head to Laguardia, a gorgeous hilltop town 5km north. It’s a small cultural hub and has lovely views; a path strewn with benches curls round its northern crown. Lots of good bars and restaurants wait. San Vincente de La Sonsierra, another nearby hilltop village, is also worth discovering

    • During summer there is always a fiesta somewhere close. They are great fun, with bands marching through the streets, beautiful girls dancing in the plaza, and lots of wine flowing in the bars

    • Logroño, the capital of La Rioja, has a very pretty Old Town full of bars and restaurants and pretty plazas. The Camino de Santiago cuts through. Follow it east along the River Ebro or west back to Laguardia. Its 2 oldest churches - 12th-century San Bartoleme and 13th-century Santa María - are both worth seeing. The feast of Saint Mathew is celebrated in the last full week of September

    • Good road links to Pamplona and Bilbao mean day trips are a cinch. San Sebastián is a little further, but worth the effort

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Cycling
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Private guided tours
    • Shopping / markets
    • Traditional cultures
    • Vineyard Tours
    • Wine tasting

    Kids

    Children are welcome and baby cots and extra beds are available, but this is a formal hotel so kids and parents may feel a bit at sea.

    Best for:

    Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Executive rooms can fit an extra bed or baby cot

    Babysitting:

    On request

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    8/
    Rooms
    6/
    Food
    6/
    Service
    4/
    Value
    6/
    Overall

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