Many moons ago whilst touring around La Rioja on an icy winter’s day, looking for somewhere to stay for the night, we stumbled across sleepy, sandstone, medieval Sajazarra and spent a memorable afternoon there. The narrow, cobbled streets were empty, the fine mansions and casonas looked deserted and the imposing 15th century castle felt intimidating.
We were just about to turn on our tracks, when a grand old oak door in the main village square caught our eye. Curiousty called and on opening it, we were amazed to find a room brimming with life – all the local labourers, whom we had assumed were out trimming their vines, were gathered around a roaring fire, proper free-range chickens pecking at crumbs on the floor and the locally produced Rioja running freely! We were immediately made to feel very welcome and on leaving felt we had made new friends.
Sadly there was no room at the inn – in fact at that particular time there was no inn. But things have changed. A 19th century mansion, which was an inn, has been carefully and lovingly restored by its artistic owners to make a comfortable and relaxing small hotel.
Maintaining many of its original features, you are in for a surprise when you step off the street into the house to find an amazing display of objets de art and other curiosities from the region blending in with antique furniture. There is even an old barber’s chair in the entrada!
The hotel makes an ideal place to stay to enjoy the village of Sajazarra (from the Arabic ‘lake of flowers’)- backed by the dramatic sharp pointed crags of Pena Lengua and looking onto the spectacular Sierra de La Demanda. These days there are two bars, one of which a country style restaurant, and several small bodegas where you can sample the local tipple and stock up your cellar. The kindly owners of the hotel can organise visits to the wineries, lay on wine tastings or rent out bicycles for those wanting to be energetic.
And it makes a great base for exploring the region; Haro, the wine capital with its grand bodegas, is just 11 kms away and within a short drive you’re in Santo Domingo de La Calzada, a key point on the Camino de Santiago and famous for its cathedral and its crowing cock. A little further on the ski resort of Ezcarray offers breathtaking views year-round and the ancient monasteries of Suso and Yuso at San Millan de la Cogolla are a must-see for the history buffs. Beyond Haro, but still within easy reach, the Rioja Alavesa with the lovely villages of Labastida, Laguardia and many more is a delight to explore, whilst nearer at hand the surrounding villages of Casalarreina, Tirgo and Cuzcurrita del Rio Tiron should not be missed.
You will not go hungry here either – there are numerous, tempting restaurants to sample the delicious local cuisine, but one which you should not pass by is Bodega Guillermo at Cuzcurrita del Rio Tiron – do go with an appetite though – there is only one menu – fifteen different dishes of all the local specialities, from garlic soup to grilled baby lamb chops will be placed before your eyes by the ever attentive, yet eccentric Guillermo in his carpet slippers. And all for 28 euros a head with as much wine, coffee and liquers that you can manage.
Things might have changed in Sajazarra but local traditions remain.