Spain Off Track

Leaving behind the urban environs for a little good, old-fashioned flirtation with Madre de la Naturaleza
By Daniel Montero
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Basking in a Basque sunrise  (Daniel Montero)

Envision block and block of pubs, discobares, discotecas, lounges, clubs, cafes, and crowds of people thick enough to create traffic jams at 3 a.m., all of it fueled by a seemingly limitless supply of cerveza, sangria, tapas, and that infectious flamenco beat. Couple that riotous nightlife with a dizzying array of museums, cinemas, theaters, and shops, and it's easy to understand how a Madrid night can blur into dawn with a near-seamless embrace for the good life. For those who enjoy their nightlife and culture in perpetual overdrive, Spain's capital will accommodate. For folks like me, after a few days of utter metropolitan cacophony, I long for the uncrowded expanse of a hillside trail, a sunrise hike, and (okay) a few glasses of wine—but standing in the actual vineyard, rather than elbowing for space at one of Plaza de Santa Ana's watering holes.

So my wife and I took all we could of Madrid's many attractions before escaping the city's proverbial nightlife, and heading out in a rental in search of the Spain that lives beyond the tourist route.

For our plan, we adopted the simple, sonic matra of Que Que será será: Head north from Madrid into La Rioja, the verdant landscape responsible for some of Europe's best wine; route through Logroño, La Rioja's capital, and then cut through the Basque Country to Bilbao; head east from Bilbao into the Aragonese Pyrenees; and then give the southern section of Spain all the time we had leftÂ… What will be will be.

Turns out we didn't have to go very far. A few hours into the drive, our appetites demanded we stop. El Espinar, a small town with funky spires creating a funland horizon, was just right to remind us that Spain isn’t all flamenco and cerveza. A quick bite (chorizo and coffee, despite the stomach-clenching ay Díos grimace of the proprietor) strengthened our road-weary resolve to make it into the heart of La Rioja.

Published: 26 Feb 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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