Spanish Road Trip – Day 5: Gijon to Logrono

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - Bilbao, Spain - Gijon, Spain - Logrono | Posted on 09-12-2011


On day 5 of our Spanish road trip, we knew we had a long travel day ahead of us so we had a little breakfast in Gijon before hitting the road early.

We stuck to the northern coastline for most of the day drinking in the view of the ocean and the rugged terrain. For lunch we stopped in a little seaside Basque town, where we headed straight into the old town and bounced from bar to bar eating the pintxos which just got better the further along we went. A bite of desert and a coffee at the harbour were in order before climbing back into the car.

Cruising down the highway, we saw a turnoff to Bilbao and I made the executive decision that we couldn’t go this close to Bilbao without at least seeing the infamous Guggenheim Museum there (designed by the same architect who did the EMP in Seattle). T’was but a quick stop for some architecture appreciation, and the obligatory self-portrait and we were off again towards our destination for the evening.

We’d heard about Logrono from D, who is a serious foodie on Chris’ tour and always has his finger on the pulse of a city (and the couchsurfers in that city). We’d been talking to him about the memorable pintxos culture in San Sebastian, and he spoke highly of the variation that’s evolved in Logrono. Standard pintxos are when you go into a bar, order a drink and then take a piece or two of the finger food that’s laid out all over the bar, and each bar serves a variety of dishes. In Logrono, they’ve tweaked it a bit where there’s many bars concentrated in one area, but each serves only their specialty – they might serve only one thing, but you can be damned sure they make it really, really, really well. When we found out Logrono was in the heart of La Rioja (desert wine country towards the central/north or spain that produces some of our favorite wines), we knew we had to head there.

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We veered off the coastline and started heading south, and just short of sunset we were rolling through a mountain pass with a solid wall of clouds at one end when suddenly we pushed through the clouds and the desert of La Rioja spread out in front of us. Looking back at the mountains, there were rivers of clouds flowing over the green hills like waterfalls, down to where they met the orange sand which stretched out infinately to where it met the pink and purple sky of sunset. There was a faint mist laying over the land through which ancient villages built around castles on hilltops peeked out. The moon rose up over the desert giving the mist a silver shimmer that dissolved into darkness as the waning sunlight slid away into the sky that went forever deeper through purples and blues to twilight.

It was a moment where everything just seemed right.

Pulling into Logrono shortly after dark, we were questioning our decision slightly – after seeing all these beautiful ancient towns across the desert, Logrono’s outskirts seemed like a bit of an industrial town, but once we hit the city’s centre we had no regrets. The hotel we’d booked (Marques de Vallejo) was absolutely amazing – a little boutique hotel right dead in the middle of the old town, where the cobblestone streets were so small we had to walk our luggage in because we couldn’t get our car down there. The hotel was right on the corner of the main pedestrian/bar hopping street, so we took a quick siesta until about 9pm when the bars started to open, then jumped straight out into the Friday night fray.

The street was absolutely alive with blocks and blocks of bars each offering up their own pintxos specialty: the mushroom place, the pineapple and meat on a stick place, the patatas bravas shack! Each one you’d go in, and for a euro or two you’d have a glass of wine and a fantastic bite to eat, and then move onto the next place. We were there in offseason, so I’m not sure what it’s like in the rest of the year, but as a winter sport it was what the locals would do – there were families out drinking wine and eating tapas with their kids on their shoulders, friends talking and laughing everywhere, music playing live all over the streets! It was a glorious night of popping in somewhere for a drink + a bite and then moving onto the next place for another drink + a bite, and continuing to do this until the bars started to sell out of their evening’s treats and the roads quieted down shortly after midnight.

We continued to bar hop around the city a little longer, which led to us discovering “the best patatas bravas ever” and some silly smiling in a city square, before making our way back to our hotel and curling up for the night.

Suggested reading: This blog post at does Logrono some justice…

Spanish Road Trip – Day 4: Santiago, Ourense and Gijon

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - Gijon, Spain - Ourense, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 08-12-2011


On day 4 of our Spanish road trip, we woke up late in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and met up with C for a pre-work wander and some brunch.  We wandered back into the old town, and found a great little restaurant hidden in an alleyway where we had some surprisingly good tapas and unsurprisingly good conversation.

Back to the hotel for hugs and farewells, and we were back on the road again…

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I’d read about a town reasonably nearby called Ourense that had some natural hot springs, and since I’m a bit of a nut for hotsprings, we doubled back a little to find the town.  It’s a small town that has a lot of hotsprings along the river, and had a lot of commerical spa development, but recently built walking paths up and down the river from the down, and had developed a number of public hot springs along the paths.  On a cold afternoon such as this, the entire city seemed to be out walking with their families, and stopping for a soak in the hot springs where they’d catch up with their friends and neighbors.  It was a great display of  public works development that fostered community and encouraged an active population (even in the cold of winter).  We spent a couple hours soaking in the various hot springs, listening to the vibrant spanish conversations around us, enjoying the view of the river, and generally letting go of any remaining stresses.

Tip: From the highway, go into town and take the bridge over the river. Turn right, and keep going up until you come to the white pedestrian bridge. Park and walk across it and you’ll find the biggest public hot springs.  Read the rules when you get there so you don’t get barked at in Spanish. You are not permitted to take photos in the hot springs, which the attendants rigorously enforce for the privacy of the bathers, which is why I’m not posting any photos.

Thouroughly relaxed, we got back in the car and headed north towards the coast along an incredibly treacherous, windy road which relaxed into highway once we hit the coast and pointed eastward.  We decided that we’d drive until about 10pm, which the GPS indicated would have us near the city of Gijon.  Chris pulled out his iPhone, did some research and booked us into the last room at what ended up being a fantastic, cheap, gorgeous old hotel right in the centre of town (Hernan Cortes Hotel in Gijon). It was just after 10, so we went out to find some dinner, and using our handy-dandy, mental how to pick a restaurant when travelling checklist, skipped over the tourist traps and ended up eating in a brilliant basque pub; they’d just keep refilling your cider and there were no english menus so we just pointed to the guys beside us and mimed lobsters, and ended up having a seemingly endless seafood feast for an incredibly reasonable price. Huge win!

After dinner (and many bottles of cider), we made our way back to the hotel, strolling along the beach, stopping into bars along the way (including one gay bar that had questionable artistic direction), and had a bit of trouble reading the map to find our way back to the hotel 😛

After a blissful day of friends, hot spring chilling, and good dinners filling happy bellies, sweet dreams came quickly…