I don’t know why I overlooked the most serene moment of my life when I started on my former blog about this subject. Maybe it was because the images to go with it are not very spectacular; certainly they don’t convey the calmness of the moment, the sense of absolute peace and tranquility, and the near total silence we experienced.
The occasion was a balloon flight over the vineyards and fincas of the wine-growing area of Rioja in Spain. We began our ascent as dawn was breaking bathing our world in a warm pinkish glow as we rose into the sky watching fields and houses below diminish in size minute by minute. Initial trepidation dissipated as soon as we started our flight and the beauty and joy of the morning filled us with awe. For once I felt at one with nature, not in the way I had done when out walking in the mountains or swimming with dolphins, but a feeling of really being part of this marvellous planet of ours.
Up and up we went right into clouds which deadened what little sound there had been up until then. it was totally eerie, chilly and white.
Then the pilot motioned ahead and there it was, the photo I would have died for if I’d known when on the ground that I would actually see it, our balloon shadowed on the cloud in front of us, faint but very obviously there. The moment was too precious to grab for a camera and start focusing, so in a sort of reflex action, I just clicked on the little camera I carry for emergencies like this, and here it is. My only image from my time in the clouds when I really knew the meaning of Serenity.
Eating well is not difficult in Logroño. From Tapas to gourmet foods, the visitor is assured of quality, freshness and a perfect marriage of Rioja to food.
The wines of the Rioja region are legendary, and most restauranteurs in Logroño can recommend a good accompanying wine from the many on offer. And it’s not just the wines: some restaurateurs insist that the olive oil they use is of equal importance.
Restaurant La VentaMoncalvillo
Top of the list must come La VentaMoncalvillo, a country restaurant which lies about 12 miles to the south of Longroño in Daroca de Rioja. Since opening in 1997 this restaurant has grown from a modest little place to one of the most important restaurants in the region.
The two owners, brothers Carlos and Ignacio Echapresto do everything between them from the wine buying to the organization of the seasonal menus. In spring it is daily fresh vegetables like asparagus, artichokes etc; in summer, salads and fruits and the crisp, green vegetables and tomatoes that smell of the sun, autumn offers small game like partridge, quail and woodcock and the earthy tones of wild, woodland mushrooms like morels, porcini and chanterelles, and in winter the heavier casserole dishes and big game like boar and venison.
A dish of wild mushroom sliced so thinly as to be almost transparent and served with the best olive oil and a sprinkling of chives makes a perfect starter at VentaMoncalvillo, especially when followed by Ibérico ham sliced just so wrapped round the white asparagus that is a speciality of Spain.
All dishes are served with wines chosen to accompany them, whether it be a white, a rosé or a deep, dark and luscious red.
Taberna Herrerias, Logroño
In an easy to find area of old Logroño, stands the Taberna Herrerias (means Blacksmiths Tavern), on the street of the same name, a 16th century palace sympathetically renovated without losing any of its ancient charm.
Now a restaurant serving delicious fresh, locally produced food, the clientele is mainly professional people and “ladies who lunch” – everyone hugely enjoying themselves. The wines come from all over the world, but naturally, the locally produced Rioja is very much to the fore, especially the top quality Riojas that are sometimes difficult to source.
The ground floor offers cocktails and light snacks, suitable for a quick ‘drop in’ meal and on the first floor are the kitchens. The main dining room is on the second floor from which it offer views of the 13th century Church of San Bartolomé and the 12th century spire of the Church of Santa Maria de Palacio, but it is not easy to spend time on admiring the outside views when the food on the table is so good.
Even a simple plate like a tomato salad seemed fresher and more tasty than any I’d had before and the seafood dishes, risottos, fish, vegetables and meats, matched with delightful wines from Rioja, were a gourmand’s delight. This restaurant is always very busy and reservations are recommended.
Casa de Comidas Lorenzo, Logroño
For something slightly simpler but equally delicious, the Lorenzo Restaurant in Calle San Agustin is an excellent choice. Its pristine dining room on the first floor is a haven from the bustling street outside and the menu has something to please everyone.
The long list of starters was a problem on our visit, but the owner was happy to bring a selection of his best dishes which enabled everyone to have a “tasting” of the starters which ranged from a simple salad to a risotto. The fish menu contains a great variety of fish from cod, hake, sole, gurnard and monkfish..
If a main course of meat is required, I would suggest trying the roast suckling pig which is a speciality here. It’s not a dish that is available everywhere, but worth trying when you find it.
And if all this food is just too much, then head off to the Calle Laurel for tapas, a mini-meal for which Logroño is famous.