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With Cava pushing Prosecco out of the best sparkling bang-for-your-buck spotlight and Rioja making a play for the year’s most drinkable red, it’s never been a better time to explore Spain’s diverse, romantic, and visually spectacular winemaking regions.
Grab your passport, book your plane tickets, and follow this comprehensive guide for 10 days of utter wine-fueled bliss.
Days 1 - 2: Exploring Cava in Penedès
Your trip begins in Barcelona, a seaside metropolis known for amazing art, incredible food, and, of course, bottles upon bottles of mouth-watering Cava. Most of the area’s wineries are within an hour of the city, so picking up a rental car when you land at El Prat Airport is your best plan of action.
Where to Sip
Kick your vacation off in style with a visit to Cavas Codorníu, a grand estate located about 45 minutes outside Barcelona. Codorníu has long been a major player in the international sparkling scene and their current fleet spans a multitude of ages, varietals, and price points. Anna de Codorníu, perhaps their most widely known offering, is everything you’d want in an entry-level Cava: Crisp with a gentle, persistent effervescence and delicate floral aroma, its initial subtle sweetness soon washed away by a refreshingly dry, citrus-tinged wave. And it’s no wonder they know what they’re doing—the families behind this iconic brand were the first Spanish winemakers to implement France’s méthode champenoise back in 1872.
“Talking about Codorníu is talking about cava and innovation,” notes head winemaker Bruno Colomer. “Codorníu was a pioneer in the introduction of the traditional method in Spain, and the result was the cava.”
Codorníu has also invested heavily in wine tourism. Guests can descend deep into the cellars for a thrilling trolly tour through the dimly lit labyrinth, zooming past thousands of resting bottles and stopping to admire fascinating displays of centuries-old winemaking equipment. Guided tastings, along with lunch, historical and architectural tours, and garden walks, are also available. You could easily spend all day roaming Codorníu’s hallowed grounds.
If you’ve got time for a few more stops, consider adding some smaller, family-owned numbers to your list. Recaredo’s Brut Nature, long-aged with natural cork stoppers and disgorged by hand without freezing the bottlenecks, is a perfect example of the beloved mineral-forward, bone dry style. Other suggestions include organically-farmed Alta Alella, stunningly verdant Cava Llopart, the eco-savvy Vilarnau.
Where to Stay
For wallet-friendly prices and an unbearably prime location, hang your hat at Hotel Balmoral, a sleek and efficient boutique perched on the edge of picturesque Vila de Gràcia. If the market for something more upscale? Live it up at Ohla Eixample, a stylish five-star outpost boasting a lovely rooftop pool and a Michelin-starred restaurant, or the handsome Alma Barcelona Hotel with its minimalist decor and lush, greenery-strewn terrace. And the Mandarin Oriental, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is always a hit.
Where to Eat
If you’ve got room after all that Cava and canapes, make the most of your evening and hit the streets of Gràcia for an epic tapas and vermouth crawl. Soak up the district’s quirky, lively atmosphere while sampling a wide range of herbaceous house vermouths at rustic charmers like Bar Bodega Quimet, La Vermu, Vermuteria del Tano, Lo Pinyol, Puigmartí Bar Vermuteria, and Vermuteria Lou.
For dinner try Barcelona Milano's cheffy blend of Catalan and Italian cuisine served in a cool, modern space with an open kitchen. And don’t forget to load up on succulent jamon and farm-fresh local cheese at Mercado de La Boqueria before departing.
Days 3 - 4: Tasting History in Tarragona & Lleida
Embark on a scenic tour through the gorgeous winemaking regions west of Barcelona. Take your time driving along the rugged coastline, stopping to admire breezy old-world towns like Sitges, Calafell, and Creixell, before arriving in Escaladei.
Where to Sip
First up, Scala Dei. The Priorat region’s oldest winery, this hilltop oasis was originally founded by Carthusian monks in 1163 and today falls under the trusted eye of head winemaker Ricard Rofes. Scala Dei, which is Latin for “Ladder of God,” sources Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah from 90 hectares of vineyards over 40 different plots. The vines, which date back an average of 50 years, sit at varying altitudes, between 400 and 800 meters above sea level, and sprout from a multitude of terrains including slate, clay, and limestone soils. According to Roffes, this diversity contributes to “a wide range of nuances in the winemaking,” as evidenced by Scala Dei’s impressive array of whites, reds, and the ever-elegant Pla dels Àngels rosé, named 2016’s Best Rosé Wine of Catalonia by the Guide to Catalonia Wines.
Enjoy a guided tasting in Scala Dei’s medieval barrel room surrounded by soaring brick columns and stone walls before venturing out to explore the original monestary’s partially-restored ruins, set upon a green patch of hillside a short walk from the cellars. Then hop back in the car and make your way southwest to Abadia de Poblet, a one-of-a-kind facility stashed in magnificently intact early-12th-century Cistercian monastery in the Conca de Barberà region. The winery produces small, batches made with whole bunches of once-forgotten local grapes like Garrut and the low tannin, high acid Trepat. Sample the 2016 La Font Voltada, a single-varietal Trepat featuring a brilliant liveliness and distinctive black pepper notes. While the cellar isn’t open to the public, docents provide tours of the breathtaking campus and the gift shop stocks plenty of bottles.
Travel another hour northwest to Lleida and you’ll stumble upon Raimat, a century-old winery wholly committed to sustainable viticulture. Walk among rows of organic vines and learn about Raimat’s gravity-fed irrigation system, which diverts snowmelt from the Pyrenees to its 2245 hectares of individually-overseen vineyards. See how they combat pests using strategically-distributed insect pheromones instead of harsh chemicals then head into the modern winemaking facility, built to blend seamlessly into the natural landscape. Finish with a tasting where you can choose your samples based on Raimat’s unique classification system, a method in which bottles are labeled on a scale of one to 10 based on a combination of aroma, taste, body, and barrel intensity.
Where to Stay
You’ll want to stay in Lleida, an ancient Catalonian city with a long and fascinating history, ample amenities, and easy access to the region’s best wineries. The hotels are also a bargain here, ranging from streamlined mid-tier outlets like the well-appointed Hotel AA Lleida and Hotel NH Lleida Pirineos to higher-end escapes like the five-star Finca Prats Hotel Golf & Spa and Parador de Lleida, a 17th-century convent turned upmarket boutique in the city center.
Where to Eat
For lunch, pop into El Rebost, a warm and welcoming family-run restaurant in Escaladei serving hearty portions of traditional Catalan favorites paired an assortment of top vintages from neighboring Scala Dai winery. The ancient city of Lleida also offers several enticing options. For a special afternoon meal, snag a table at The Ferreruela, a contemporary Mediterranian outfit inside a renovated fruit warehouse highlighting seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients and regional techniques, or the Michelin-starred La Boscana in nearby Bellvís, known for its striking window-lined design, stellar wine list, and lush pastoral grounds. And for supper, head to La Huerta for old-school, rustic dishes cooked in a fiery open hearth or mix it up at Macao, a Japanese fusion outpost sporting a sleek, contemporary look and an enthusiastic local following.
Day 5 - 6: Old Meets New in La Rioja
With more than 600 wineries, over 65,000 hectares of vineyards, and a distribution footprint stretching across 130 countries, Rioja is by far one of Spain’s hottest wine regions. Rioja reds are lauded for their beefy tannic structure, luscious fruit notes, and remarkable aging potential comparable to Bordeauxes and Burgundies. The official D.O. (Designation of Origin) is comprised of three sections bridging both sides of the Ebro river: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental.
Where to Sip
Begin by exploring Europe’s highest concentration of century-old wineries in Rioja Alta, the westernmost zone. Your first stop is Bodegas Bilbaínas, founded near Haro’s once-bustling train depot in the early 1900s and currently run by newly minted technical director Mayte Calvo de la Banda. Bilbaínas stands as Rioja’s oldest bottling firm, putting out prestigious wines under the labels Viña Zaco, La Vicalanda, and the company flagship Viña Pomal while operating the municipality’s largest network of underground cellars as well as its greatest tract of vineyards. Inside, turn-of-the-century relics like colorful tilework, stone archways, and hulking oak feuders contrast with modern touches like concrete egg fermenters, a chic visitor’s center, and displays detailing Compromiso, an experimental line incorporating barrels designed by international tattoo artists. Look for Viña Pomal Alto de la Caseta, an 100% Tempranillo gem that spotlights the region’s native grape with grace and precision, and Cava Viña Pomal Blanc de Noirs Reserva, Rioja’s first 100% Garnacha sparkling blanc de noirs.
Elsewhere in Haro you’ll find CVNE, another major area house originally erected in 1879. The tourist-friendly winery offers several different experiences but no matter your route, make sure to snag a taste of Monopole Clasico, a recently-revived cult favorite dry white blended with Manzanilla sherry and aged in sherry butts, as well any available vintage of the multi-award-winning Imperial Gran Reserva. Architecture enthusiasts shouldn’t skip over 142-year-old Lopez de Heredia, also in Haro, where a futuristic visitors center designed by the legendary Zaha Hadid introduces guests to classic styles produced using strict old-world methods. If time permits, continue to feed your aesthetic appetite at Bodegas Ysios, a boutique Rioja Alavesa winery tucked away in the Sierra Cantabria foothills. The main building was designed by Spanish sculptural architect Santiago Calatrava and its geometric, cathedral-like expanse plays beautifully against the rolling landscape.
Where to Stay
Logroño, a friendly city on the banks of the Ebro river, is your go-to homebase. The town offers out-of-towners a bevy of attractive and affordable lodging, dining, and nightlife options. Check into Hotel NH Logroño Herencia Rioja for comfortable, light-filled guestrooms and a handsome lobby bar or spice things up at the polished Eurostars Fuerte Ruavieja, where artsy rooms feature bold red accents and weary travelers can recharge at the onsite spa.
Where to Eat
Logroño is famous for its taperías, quaint quick-serve tapas joints each hawking a different delectable pintxo, or snack. Get your fill along the narrow cobblestone streets just west of Parque del Espolón, where more than 50 vendors of all shapes, sizes, and specialties have set up shop. Don’t leave without trying champis, the city’s signature griddled stack of plump, juicy mushrooms smothered in succulent garlic butter.
For something more substantial, try Tondeluna, a smart, laid-back eatery with a focus on seasonality and sustainability plus a standout wine list. No slouch, Logroño also boasts its fair share of Michelin stars, from Ikaro’s unconventional masterpieces to farm-to-table innovations at Venta Moncalvillo and expertly-prepared, ocean fresh nigiri and sashimi from Kiro Sushi.
Day 7 - 8: Riverside Relaxation in Ribera del Duero
Your next adventure lies a two and a half hour drive southwest in Ribera del Duero. Along with its sister D.O. Rueda, this leafy corner of northern Spain continues to rank as one of Europe’s most underrated wine trails. Established in 1982, the D.O. falls along the fertile banks of the Duero river and encompasses ideal elevations, soil types, and climates for cultivating Tinto Fino, the area’s term for the Tempranillo grape that accounts for 95% of vineyard growth. The D.O. currently recognizes more than 270 Ribera del Duero wineries, most specializing in complex, food-friendly reds that strike a balance between big and bold and smooth and silky.
Where to Sip
With an eye for technical innovation, a commitment to sustainable viticulture, and a knack for artful perfectionism, Bodegas Legaris is a fitting first stop. Designed in 1999 by renowned architect Domingo Triay, the winery is a beacon of natural light jutting up from the earth at various slanted angles and revealing a meditative courtyard garden behind interior floor-to-ceiling windows. Make your way through Legaris’s outstanding portfolio starting with the entry-level Roble, a single varietal Tinto Fino bursting with red fruit and finishing with a soft kiss of vanilla thanks to a short stint in American oak. Follow that with the herbaceous, keenly-structured Crianza, a blend of Tinto Fino and Cabernet Sauvignon, before arriving at Calmo, a 100% Tinto Fino standalone that packs a powerful, spice-laden punch.
Pago de Carraovejas, a hillside winery with unparalleled views of the monstrous Peñafiel castle, is another Duero must-see. Visitors can roam the vineyards before settling in for lunch at Ambivium, the estate’s swish onsite restaurant. Try the fresh, vivacious El Anejon, which combines Tinto Fino with small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for a floral, medium-bodied red with assertive minerality. And if music’s your thing, check out Bodegas Neo, an unconventional rock and roll winery with an inhouse recording studio and an internationally acclaimed flagship red made from 100% Tempranillo.
Where to Stay
Splurge on a room at Castilla Termal Monasterio de Valbuena in Valladolid, a five-star luxury resort set in a picturesque 12th-century Cistercian monastery. After checking in, kick back and enjoy the sprawling 2000-square-meter spa, which includes 16 different treatment rooms plus large mineral-rich thermal pools. For the ultimate indulgence, reserve a guided tour of the water contrast circuit and wind your way through a string of saunas, steam baths, and invigorating warm and cool pools amidst replicas of 11th-century Roman paintings.
Where to Eat
No wine-lover worth their salt would dare visit Pago de Carraovejas without indulging in an artful prix-fixe lunch at Ambivium, the winery’s sophisticated, sun-drenched restaurant. The seasonal tasting menus showcase fresh, local ingredients presented with inventive flare and the optional wine pairings range from house vintages to selections from the vast domestic and international collection. The bar’s inspired cocktail program serves as a pleasant surprise.
For dinner, turn to Converso Restaurant at the Castilla Termal Monasterio de Valbuena. The estate’s suave onsite brasserie dishes up exceptional suckling lamb and other regional dishes alongside hand-picked wine in a genteel setting. Rather venture off campus? Reserve a spot at Valladolid’s Michelin-starred Trigo, where decorated chef Víctor Martín puts a cutting edge spin on a refined list of Spanish classics.
Day 9 - 10: Fall in Love with Madrid
Finish your whirlwind journey with a stint in Madrid, one of Spain’s most beautiful, most inviting, and, lucky for you after all that driving, most walkable cities, before catching your flight home.
Where to Stay
While you might be tempted to settle for an airport hotel, a truly epic last night out on the town is better served by more centralized accommodations. Check out the four-star Hotel Meliá Madrid Serrano on Calle de Claudio Coello for a slick, spacious, and surprisingly affordable stay (and it doesn’t hurt that the lobby lounge whips up a mean gin and tonic). Or if you find yourself with a little cash left over, do it up at The Westin Palace, Madrid, arguably the city’s most famous hotel perched on the scenic Plaza de Neptuno. Once Europe’s largest hotel, the opulent structure has housed many a movie star, artist, and dignitary over its 105+ years of business. The hotel’s regal period decor, including a breathtaking Art Deco stained glass dome, is testament to its unflappable staying power.
What to See
For sightseeing, either sign up for one of the city’s many public walking tours or DIY it by downloading travel guru Rick Steves’ Streets of Madrid mapped audio tour, popping in your headphones, and following along as the master spouts his wisdom. Set aside extra time for exploring the area’s epic plazas like Puerta del Sol, a huge square with roots in the 15th century, and Plaza Mayor, a busy stretch lined with shops and restaurants and constantly buzzing with people.
Where to Eat
The best way to get to know Madrid is via a wine and tapas crawl. Start by stepping back in time at Stop Madrid, one of the capital city’s oldest bars dating to 1929. The simple chalkboard menu details the day’s edibles (pro tip: the anchovies, drenched in olive oil and littered with briny Spanish olives, taste every bit as good as they look) and you’d be hard pressed not to find something that suits your fancy among the 40+ wines by the glass. A few blocks away lies Bodega de la Ardosa, an 125-year-old tapas bar with some of the best croquetas in town. Next, make your way to La Venencia for a lesson in the wines of Jerez. The treasured space is a magnet for sherry lovers, attracting tourists and locals alike with their dusty barrels of authentic, delicious fortified vino. Order a flight and enjoy the people-watching but remember to keep your camera out of sight—the stern staff behind the pine is serious about the no photos rule. End your crawl at Taberna Matritum in La Latina, a homestyle Catalan bistro with tasty cuisine and a vast array of domestic and international wines. Note that the owners also operate a take-away bottle shop if anything special catches your eye.
In the market for something stronger? Keep the party going with a top shelf tipple at Bar Cock, a polished cocktail den that’s been shaking (or stirring) up martinis for Madrid’s finest since 1921. After, let loose at Salmon Guru, with its celebrity mixologist Diego Cabrera, off-the-wall cocktails, and flashy, neon-lit decor or get creative at Macera TallerBar, a cavernous, industrial-chic hipster hub that eschews big label booze in favor of curious housemade infusions.