La Rioja Alta

The Upper Rioja, the most prized subregion of La Rioja's wine country, extends from the Río Ebro to the Sierra de la Demanda. La Rioja Alta has the most fertile soil, the best vineyards and agriculture, the most impressive castles and monasteries, a ski resort at Ezcaray, and the historic economic advantage of being on the Camino de Santiago.

The rivers forming the seven main valleys of the Ebro basin originate in the Sierra de la Demanda, Sierra de Cameros, and Sierra de Alcarama. Ezcaray is La Rioja's skiing capital in the valley of the Río Oja, just below Valdezcaray in the Sierra de la Demanda. The upper Najerilla Valley is La Rioja's mountain sanctuary, an excellent hunting and fishing preserve. The Najerilla River, a rich chalk stream, is one of Spain's best trout rivers. Look for the Puente de Hiedra (Ivy Bridge), its heavy curtain of ivy falling to the surface of the Najerilla. The Monasterio de Valvanera, off the C113 near Anguiano, is the sanctuary of La Rioja's patron saint, the Virgen de Valvanera, a 12th-century Romanesque wood carving of the Virgin and Child. Anguiano is renowned for its Danza de los Zancos (Dance of the Stilts), held on July 22, when dancers on wooden stilts plummet through the steep streets of the town into the arms of the crowd at the bottom. At the valley's highest point are the Mansilla reservoir and the Romanesque Ermita de San Cristóbal (Hermitage of St. Christopher).

The upper Iregua Valley, off N111, has the prehistoric Gruta de la Paz caves at Ortigosa. The artisans of Villoslada del Cameros make the region's famous patchwork quilts, called almazuelas. Climb to Pico Cebollera for a superb view of the valley. Work back toward the Ebro along the Río Leza, through Laguna de Cameros and San Román de Cameros (known for its basket weavers), to complete a tour of the Sierra del Cameros. The upper Cidacos Valley leads to the Parque Jurásico (Jurassic Park) at Enciso, famous for its dinosaur tracks. The main village in the upper Alhama Valley is Cervera del Rio Alhama, a center for handmade alpargatas (espadrilles).

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