The Romanesque Route (II): the course of the river Oja

In this second part, we look towards the south and go to the Sierra de la Demanda following the course of the river Oja. The Oja is the most emblematic river in the area and is possibly what gave the region its name.

In the previous Romenesque Route we suggested a trip through several towns visiting Romanesque monuments close to the banks of the river Tirón and the Obarenes Mountains. In this second part, we look towards the south and go to the Sierra de la Demanda following the course of the river Oja. The Oja is the most emblematic river in the area and is possibly what gave the region its name. It starts in the Iberian mountain range, in the Sierra de la Demanda, and it continues towards the northeast in pursuit of the river Tirón, which subsequently flows into the river Ebro. The first few kilometres of the river Oja are of great scenic but also monumental interest. We start in Ezcaray, a touristy village with a wide offering in terms of accommodation and gastronomy, even having a two-star Michelín restaurant, el Portal del Echaurren, managed by the Paniego family.

We go from south to north although the route could also be done in the opposite direction. Valgañón is located just a few kilometres away and the church of Our Lady of the Three Fountains is one of the Rioja region’s Romanesque jewels. Alongside a beautiful apse we will find some wonderful arched windows and some capitals with several battle scenes featuring either animals or Moors and Christians. Our Lady of the Three Fountains still has two baptismal fonts and two very important Romanesque carvings: the Christ of Bañares, from the thirteenth century, and the Virgin of Three Fountains.

Close by is Zorraquín, where we will find a small church that was originally Romanesque, but which has gradually been altered over the centuries. The most interesting feature is the doorway in the south wall. We walk through Ezcaray and we come to Ojacastro, where the church contains some Romanesque remains, but what we recommend is a visit to the chapel of the Ascension in San Asensio de Los Cantos, a true wonder set in a woodland environment reached by a short track from the road. From San Asensio we head to Santo Domingo de la Calzada one of the main stops on the French Pilgrim Route to Santiago. Despite the fact that the entire historic centre is worth a thorough visit, we are going to focus upon the cathedral, the construction of which began in 1158, and of which most of the old structure remains. Subsequently, in the sixteenth century, the right side of the transept was raised in order to house the tomb of Saint Dominic. On the exterior of this building, built in the style of a pilgrimage church, along with its two doorways, the Romanesque apse, decorated with beautiful modillions and its stained-glass windows also stand out, as does the baroque style tower, whilst inside, the Romanesque header, choir stalls, oratory, Gothic style henhouse and, particularly, the Renaissance altarpiece are worth special mention.

Just a few kilometres away, we can also visit the parish church of Villalobar de Rioja and/or Santa María de la Antigua in Bañares. The church of Santa Cruz, also known as the Antigua, formed part of the monastery of Santa Maria in Bañares. Between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a new Gothic style church was built and the old Romanesque church remained incorporated in the new building until 1975, when due to the roof collapsing, it was decided to dismantle it stone by stone and relocate it to a nearby plot.

From there we head to Baños de Rioja, Bañitos, a small town which is on the outer limit of the vineyards for the denomination of origin and where we find the first winery: Finca La Emperatriz, a historic vineyard which belonged to the Empress Eugenia de Montijo in the nineteenth century. In this small village it is worth visiting the Romanesque triumphal arch of La Magdalena.

Once again, we are in Casalarreina, one of the points on Romanesque Route 1, from where you can visit several Bodegas Familiares de Rioja wineries.

Bodegas Familiares de Rioja wineries along the route:

  1. Bohedal Bodega Boutique (Cuzcurrita): Specialised in enotourism, with numerous offers, Bohedal Experiences, for families (including children). The Baños Bezares family personally takes care of all visits.
  2. Bodegas Tobía (Cuzcurrita): Runs winery and vineyard visits and wine tasting courses booked in advance. Open from Monday to Saturday. Enquire about Sundays and public holidays.
  3. Hacienda El Ternero (Miranda de Ebro): a Burgos enclave in La Rioja territory. Impressive vineyards in the Obarenes Mountains. Wild nature in one of the most spectacular landscapes of La Rioja with winery and vineyard visits (even on a Segway).
  4. Castillo de Sajazarra (Sajazarra): Winery at the foot of the impressive castle owned by the Líbano family. The castle cannot be visited, but you can visit the winery set in idyllic gardens by the river Ea, by booking in advance, from Monday to Friday.
  5. Finca la Emperatriz (Baños de Rioja): at the south of this route, by the river Oja, in the small village of Baños de Rioja, we find Bodegas Finca la Emperatriz. A beautiful and historic vineyard which belonged to the Empress Eugenia de Montijo and features a comprehensive enotourism offering.