As the story goes, it needed a lot of excellent Rioja wine to persuade Canadian star architect Frank Gehry (yes, the same who is behind the amazing Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) to design the very unique Hotel Marques de Riscal.
Why he did not want to do the work in the first place is unknown. What’s clear though is that the world would miss one of its iconic structures, had the owners behind the ‘City of Wine’ aka Bodegas Marques de Riscal, not been able to make him change his mind.
The hotel, which is part of the prestigious The Luxury Collection, was on my bucket list for some time and when I recently booked a trip to Spain’s famous wine-growing region La Rioja, it was clear that I had to finally tick it off!
Nestled among the lush green vineyards on the outskirts of Elciego in Rioja Alavesa, the most noticeable part of the hotel are the huge titanium ribbons in gold, silver and pink that symbolize red and white wine flowing out of a bottle. The colours continue to change throughout the day depending on daylight and the angle of the sun.
Approaching the hotel, it is hard to believe that this spectacular modernist structure forms part of one of the oldest and most traditional wineries of La Rioja. In fact, the winery itself was built in 1858. That said, Marques de Riscal always has been recognized to be on the forefront of innovation, having been the first in the region to implement Bordeaux-style winemaking, thus mashing and de-stemming grapes.
Today, the whole complex is known as the City of Wine. Alongside the hotel, it includes the historic winery buildings, a tasting room and wine shop. A tour of the winery is included in the room charge, so make the best of your stay and learn more about wine making at Marques de Riscal – and off course end the tour with a proper wine tasting.
Of course, you can do the tours also as a day visitor, without staying in the hotel.
Hotel Marques de Riscal is actually divided into two separate buildings. The Gehry wing hosts a wine bar, gourmet restaurant, a library located on the top floor with an adjacent lovely rooftop terrace, and also part of the hotel rooms.
Most of the rooms are however located in the Spa wing. As the name suggests, it also hosts the hotel’s renown Spa by Caudalie and indoor pool.
Both buildings are connected by an elevated glass-enclosed walkway that allows spectacular views of the roof.
Different to the very dominant and highly visible Gehry wing, the second building is largely covered by a maze of green bushes, completely blending into the surrounding area.
We stayed in the Spa wing, and rooms there are specious with high ceilings and large windows offering gorgeous views of the surrounding vineyards and the distant mountain range.
The rooms too reflect the hotel’s strong affinity to design, with some quirky features like the stylish bedside lamps, and the colour scheme of dark red and brown on the walls, floors and also the furniture.
The marble-clad bathrooms are large, which is rare in hotels in general and in Southern European countries in particular.
The beautiful little library on the top floor of the Gehry wing is the perfect place to sit down to study some of the books or simply sip on a glass of wine in front of the fireplace.
However, if the weather is good, you will likely prefer the rooftop lounge which is accessible through the library. It is one of several terraces of the hotel offering you different views of the amazing roof-structure and the surrounding area in always different angles.
Indeed, you will find another slightly different but equally beautiful view of the town of Elciego and its church San Andrés on the downstairs terrace part of the hotels wine bar.
Inside, the bar has a large display of Marques de Riscal wines you can taste by the glass and there is also a selection of traditional regional food offered, should you be in the mood for a lighter dinner.
In case you fancy a more elaborate cuisine, the Michelin-starred Restaurante Gastronomico Marques de Riscal offers two tasting menus, composed of either fourteen or 21 ‘ideas’.
Unsurprisingly, breakfast at Marques de Riscal is also quite unique. Served at the table, something that today has become a rarity, there is a lovely breakfast menu composed of a collection of freshly baked bread and pastries, fresh fruit and yoghurt as starters, followed by a charcuterie and cheese platter with the best produced from the area, and egg style-of-the-day.
Should the weather be good enough (it usually is from around May to September/October), you could head to the terrace outside the restaurant to have your breakfast there. It offers the perhaps most spectacular views over Elciego taking in the roof design.
Hotel Marques de Riscal
Calle Torrea Kalea, 1 – Elciego