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Exploring the Rioja Region with Pablo Villegas

By Mario R. Mercado

10.21.15

From the November/December 2015 issue

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Photo courtesy of Hotel Viura

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Classical guitarist Pablo Villegas has rare bragging rights: He has performed for the Dalai Lama, played Carnegie Hall, and recorded a concerto for a platinum-selling album. (His latest, Americano, is out now.) Villegas’s sound is inspired by the music of Spain’s La Rioja region, where the Manhattan resident grew up and returns yearly. “You hear everything from flamenco to folk there,” he says. Also not to be missed: the wines, ranging from easy-drinking to complex and powerful.

Handspun Souvenirs
“In Ezcaray, the Valgañón family has produced fine alpaca, cashmere, and mohair fabrics since 1930. The wools are combed with thistles, which makes them extra fine. At their shop, Mantas Ezcaray, you’ll find a wide array of baby blankets and scarves. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt anything softer or warmer.”

A Feast by the Family
“Two-Michelin-star El Portal de Echaurren serves modern dishes such as prawn carpaccio with tomato tartare. The restaurant shares a kitchen with Echaurren, where the chef’s mother prepares regional classics like grilled lamb. Go to either, drink to your heart’s content, and spend the night at their 25-room hotel.”

Rooms with an Epic View
“Located 30 minutes northwest of the region’s capital of Logroño, Hotel Viura (pictured) is housed in a cluster of concrete-and-glass cubes that sit next to a 17th-century church. Some of the 29 rooms have outdoor terraces. All face the majestic Cantabria mountain range.”

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Into the Vines
“The grape-growing parts of La Rioja yield 11 varieties, including tempranillo. A standout winery is Vivanco, where I once performed in a hall surrounded by giant fermenting barrels. Make sure to try the Reserva and tour the museum, which documents 8,000 years of winemaking around the world.”

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