Forty kilometres south of Vitoria-Gasteiz, across a range of high, little-populated hills, the wine-growing district of Rioja Alavesa feels a rather incongruous appendage to the Basque Country. The north side of the Ebro valley does, however, belong to Araba, the same province as Vitoria-Gasteiz. As a result, so too do several of the richest and most famous Rioja wineries, even though the province of La Rioja, as well as the largest town hereabouts, Logroño, lies immediately across the river.
Assuming you have your own transport, exploring the picturesque villages and bodegas of Rioja Alavesa makes a wonderful way to spend a day. The pick of the towns is lovely old Laguardia, while competition between the wineries is so fierce that several have invested quite astonishing amounts of money to attract attention, most notably Bodegas Ysios with its Santiago Calatrava-designed headquarters, and Marqués de Riscal, where Frank Gehry has created an amazing showpiece hotel
If you drive down from Vitoria-Gasteiz, be sure to stop after 35km at the Balcon de la Rioja, a staggering hillside viewpoint that offers a first magnificent panorama over the plains below.