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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

The Best House in the Region
Friday, October 13, 2017

A repentant thief discovered this 19th century sculpture of Our Lady currently venerated as Queen and Mother of La Rioja at this mountain sanctuary. Today it has a church that looks like a miniature cathedral, flanked by an old Renaissance inn and a Neoclassical monastery.

It is obvious that Our Lady of Valvanera is the patron saint of La Rioja because she has the best house in the region: a sanctuary located 1,000 meters above sea level in a lush, green valley in the Sierra de la Demanda, surrounded by mountain peaks (Mori to the north, Umbría to the south, Cándalo to the east, and Pancrudo to the west) and innumerable forests and bodies of water (the name Valvanera, according to scholars, comes from Vallis Venaria: Valley of the Water Veins). Driving along the road, full of curves and breathtaking views, we come upon a cross with the warning: “No woman shall cross this point to enter the municipality of (...) and if she does, she will be arrested until she pays sixty wages to the King's prosecutor.” 

Naturally, that was a thousand years ago. Today everyone, both men and women, are welcome to visit this Benedictine monastery where we can spend a day (or days) listening to Gregorian chants inside the Gothic church and birds chirping in the forest. In addition, we can do all this while hiking or cycling along the mountain routes and then replenishing carbohydrates with a hearty plate of caparrones (Anguiano red beans) at the inn's restaurant. To round off the meal, a chupito or shot of liqueur distilled by the monks, which is also a digestif, thanks to the juniper and chamomile that grow on the mountain slopes.



The Monastery of Valvanera is located in the municipality of Anguiano, a town famous for its festive Danza de los Zancos (Stilt Dance), where the participants launch themselves spinning like tops down a stone-paved slope, at the bottom of which they are stopped by the crowd. On a route along this valley irrigated by the Najerilla River, you must visit the village of Pedroso, where excellent walnuts that among the best in Spain are harvested.





Continuing along the valley you arrive at Baños de Río Tobía and another gastronomic milestone: the Martínez Somalo cured meat factory, which has been making chorizos (spicy sausage), salchichones (salami-type sausage), cured loin, and ham for 110 years. In Nájera, the king is the pepper, to which a festival is even dedicated in Autumn. Before or after visiting the Monastery of Santa María la Real, the main monument in this historical village, you must savor the typical flavors of La Rioja and visit the Hostería San Millán de la Cogolla, located within another monastery, the Monastery of Yuso, where you can also stay the night.


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