Destination on the Rise: Vacationing in Ribera del Duero, Spain

With new luxury outposts now open in the wine region, there’s never been a better time to visit the up-and-coming locale.

Courtesy Monasterio de Valbuena
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Drive an hour north of Madrid’s bustling romantic metropolis and you'll start to see open spaces; two hours and you’ll find hills; three hours, and the vineyard dotted valleys of Castilla y León appear, a region in Spain's high plains where fortress-like castles overlook acres of grapevines, as if protecting the next year's harvest. 

Tucked inside the region lies the gem of Ribera del Duero, a D.O.—or dominación de origen—that is smaller, more intimate, and less overrun than Rioja, its cousin to the northeast. Established just 33 years ago, it belongs to a stretch of the country’s northern plateau filled with medieval structures, rolling hills, lush valleys, and—perhaps most notably—impressive vineyards.

Like Rioja, whose wines are better known in the United States, Ribera del Duero specializes in the native Tempranillo grape that makes full, lush, well-structured red wines with the sort of dark fruit and strong tannins that pair perfectly with the land’s simply prepared meats. But here in Ribera you can find better value for quality, and many wines ripe for the collecting—bottles worth keeping for five or ten years after plucking them straight from the hands of their makers. Luckily for wine tourists, it has become increasingly easy to organize visits and tastings to the area’s wineries in recent years. (Look to Ruta del Vino Ribera del Duero, who can help arrange anything from a tapas tour to a multi-night stay at a vineyard.) The region itself is eager to share its story, amenable to tourists and not yet mobbed by them.

But the region’s fast growing wine industry has also ushered in new luxuries as of late, including a duo of five-star hotels (like the recently opened Monasterio de Valbuena and newly refurbished Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine) and perfectly rustic restaurants, offering a pleasantly bucolic contrast to the vibrant bustle of the nation’s more urban destinations. Here within, suggestions for where to stay, what to do, and where to sip (and eat) in the up-and-coming pastoral escape.