Spain Off Track - Page 2
Once the frontier between Moor and Christians, La Rioja derives its name from Río Oja, which flows into the Tirón and then into the Ebro, the main source of water for the region's vineyards. We decided to bypass Logroño, the region's provincial capital, and head up to the small village of Clavijo. Spanish for "the Nail," we reached Clavijo via a switch-backed ascent from Logroño, the narrow road lined with walled houses and fields. Still mostly depopulated as a result of Spain’s rural exodus, Clavijo was refreshingly silent when we arrived in the early afternoon.
The hills around Clavijo were the site of one of the most famous moments in Spanish legend: the 811 battle where Santiago Matamoros arrived to help the King Ramiro defeat the Moors and free them from paying tribute of 100 Christian women each year. It may be just legend, but when I climbed the little hillock opposite the cliff-top 8th-century Moorish castle the next morning to watch the sunrise, the gale-force wind that whipped the moonlit clouds helter-skelter seemed propelled by battle-weary ghosts, still gasping from centuries of assertion.
But tucked away and safe in our room in Casa Tila Hotel, all thougths of struggle were abated. We were treated like family by our young hosts, Iñaki and Cruz. Transplants to Rioja themselves, Iñaki and Cruz's refurbished ancient farmhouse is clean, warm, and unassuming. Casas or alojamientos rurales like theirs dot the Riojan hills, although Casa Tila is the only one in Clavijo itself. Meals are hearty variations on traditional cuisine, all washed down with generous portions of Riojan wine. A typical dinner consisted of salad, lamb chops with potatoes, chocolate torta, and coffee, washed down with a shot of pacharán, the traditional sweet after-dinner liquor, usually homegrown, sometimes with the fruit still fermenting in the glass.