Route of the castles in La Rioja
City walls in Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Monastery of Nuestra Señora de La Piedad. Casalarreina
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Wine, nobility and pilgrims
The area known as La Rioja Alta is famous for being a land of exceptional wine. Its towns and villages, set amid vineyards and wineries, are all almost exclusively involved in wine production. It is also a region with a long history, and home to a stretch of the Way of Saint James, the ancient pilgrims' route through Europe. The various castles we are going to visit are proof of its heroic past, marked by various battles and wars between nobles.
We begin our route –which can be done in a single day– in the village of Cellorigo. Although nothing is left of its mediaeval castle, the scene of a battle in 882 between Muslims and Christians, its location in the foothills of the Peña Luenga peak in the Montes Obarenes offers a splendid view over the lowlands of La Rioja.
A series of local and regional roads takes us successively around the different sites along this route. The first of these is Sajazarra (at a distance of 9 kilometres), although before we reach this village, a couple of detours will lead us to the villages of Castilseco and Villaseca, both home to Romanesque churches (12th-13th centuries).
The castle-palace of Sajazarra was built in the 15th century by the noble family of Velasco. It is in an excellent state of conservation. It consists of an exterior wall enclosure, with round towers at the corners, and a slender keep. Also worth visiting is the church of La Asunción, in a mixture of styles.
We are now travelling through a land of outstanding wines, and our route is lined with vineyards and fields of cereals. We come to Anguciana (5 kilometres away). This is the site of a stately Gothic tower-fort (early 15th century), built of good quality stone and with the typical defensive elements commonly found in this type of construction: battlements, machicolations and arrow slits.
Cihuri, only 2 kilometres away, has an interesting bridge over the Tirón river dating from Roman times and reformed in the Middle Ages. Another 2 kilometres takes us to Casalarreina. Sites worth visiting here include its mediaeval farmstead, with houses and noble palaces, and the early 16th-century Renaissance monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Piedad.
Continuing along the Tirón river valley we come to Tirgo, with its interesting Romanesque church of El Salvador, and to Cuzcurrita de Río Tirón. This is the site of the castle of Los Velasco (15th century), which is laid out in the form of a walled enclosure with rounded towers at the corners and a keep in the centre. In the village itself, it is well worth visiting the splendid Baroque church of San Miguel (18th century).
On the way to Ochánduri (3.5 kilometres), a small village which is home to the Romanesque church of La Concepción (13th century), is the shrine of Nuestra Señora de Sorejana, in the Romanesque-Gothic style. We then continue on until Leiva (4 kilometres). This is the site of a Gothic castle-palace (16th century), with a square floor plan and towers at the corners.
After 11 more kilometres we come to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town standing on the Way of Saint James and which was formerly the largest walled enclosure in all La Rioja. Parts of its walls and three gateways (12th-14th century) still survive. However, its most outstanding monument is the cathedral, with Romanesque origins (12th century), although with numerous subsequent reforms.
From here, we can continue on our way to the village of Bañares (5 kilometres away) in order to visit the churches of Santa Cruz (with a splendid 12th-century Romanesque façade) and Santa María la Antigua (Gothic, 15th-16th century), before ending our route at the church of Baños de Rioja. In the centre of town stands a mediaeval tower-fort in an excellent state of conservation. It was built in the 13th century and reformed many centuries later.