Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ribera del Duero, Rioja, and Madrid

Ribera del Duero and Rioja

We stayed at Burgos and used it as a base to explore the wine regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Although in the end it worked well, it may be a better idea to split this into two different trips, since the distance between Burgos and the closest point of either destination is at least 1 hour. In addition, and to really enjoy each destination, it is necessary to stay at least one week on each location.

Hotel Landa. The Hotel Landa, just outside Burgos, is exceptional. It is a Castle that has been renovated with the best possible taste, combining Gothic architecture with the most modern amenities. Rooms are very spacious and service is incomparable. Breakfast is wonderful and fresh, and the wine list is very good. Very highly recommended as a destination in itself.

Abadia Retuerta Le Domaine (Sardon del Duero). The winery at Abadia Retuerta Le Domaine is now part of Relais et Chateaux, and includes a boutique hotel, a formal restaurant, a bistrot, and of course the winery itself. We visited the vineyards and winery, an exceptional combination of old fashion methods with the most modern technology to enhance efficiencies. We had lunch at the bistrot, and enjoyed the excellent wine, the fantastic menu with local fresh fare (Castillian specialties), and exquisite service. The abbey has been renovated wonderfully! Throughout the service is as good as it gets. Very highly recommended.

Tinto Pesquera. The wines built by Alejandro Fernandez are among the best in the world. Touring the winery is a unique experience that helps understand what true love for both wine and perfection is. The story itself is magnificent, from humble starts with only one goal in sight: to make the best possible wine. Today, the lines of Alejandro Fernandez (Pesquera, Condado de Haza, Dehesa La Granja, and El Vínculo) are among the best in the world, and for the price, the best possible values. The tour of the winery is strongly recommended.

Vega Sicilia. Obviously among the 5 best wines of the world, legendary, almost mythological! Do anything you can to get in. Once there, kiss the soil.

Restaurante Marqués de Riscal (El Ciego). We visited the winery and had lunch at the One Michelin Star restaurant. The red wine is of course quite good, although the white is undrinkable because of its metallic taste. The visit to the winery is yet another mass tourism experience, with buses and hordes of people asking really stupid questions….

The restaurant is good although they are going to have to work very hard to keep the Star. The tasting menu is delightful, with a sequence of twelve dishes honoring the region. Nothing out of the ordinary for this type of experience, however, in which “fusion” dominates and becomes commonplace. Service was attentive and correct, but there were too many details out of place… dirty menus… nervous waiters watching over you… people cleaning around the corner…. etc. Not sure if we would recommend it.

Asador Restaurante El Molino de Palacios (Peñafiel). This was quite a find! It is an old mill, transformed into a family restaurant with a lot of charm and a bit on the kitsch side, to be expected into such provincial and out of the way setting. Nevertheless, service was very correct and the food was extraordinary. This is real food, honest, unpretentious! Gambas al Ajillo the way they should be, amazing cuts of meat cooked just right, and a wine list with dozens of local “Riberas” that can be the envy of the best restaurants in Paris. Lots of energy and full of locals at lunch. Highly recommended, look for it.


Hotel Ritz de Madrid. It continues to be the old fashioned, grand establishment in which you basically move into heaven as soon as you check in. Of course it can benefit from a renovation, but frankly we prefer it the way it is. Perhaps there are places with more modern bathrooms… but there is absolutely nowhere in Madrid with this address, level of service, or taste. Do yourself a favor and stay there at least once in your lifetime. And don’t be intimidated by the stuffy attitude of the concierges, they are there at your service so use them and just remember that you are their boss!

Restaurante de la Terraza (Hotel Ritz). The Ritz Terrace has what is probably the best setting in Madrid. Every detail adds to a magic experience: the lighting, white cloth on the tables properly starched, table settings, service, wine list, and of course the food itself. Make sure to get a reservation, and dress formally (jacket and tie). Enjoy one of the most enchanted places on earth.

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