Michelin-starred restaurants and monasteries-turned-boutique hotels are only the beggings of a trip through the stunning wine regions of Ribera del Duero and Rueda, just a few hours drive from Madrid. If you think Napa and Sonoma are gorgeous, wait until you see what Spain's sister wine regions have to offer. Hint: Cinderella-style castles are involved. Here are the spots not to be missed while planning your wine-centric Spanish honeymoon.
How to Get There
Ribera del Duero and Rueda lie just two hours north of Madrid in the Castilla y LГ©on region, also known as the land of medieval towns and castles. We suggest making the town of Valladolid your home base during your honeymoon. Seen as the gateway to the wine regions, you can get there from Madrid in a little under an hour on the high-speed AVE train. Once you arrive, wineries such as the historic Dehesa de los Canonigos in Ribera del Duero can help you plan a customized wine tasting itinerary, arranging everything from the tasting times to the transport.
What to Do
One good reason to wake up early on your honeymoon? To catch the sunrise over Ribera del Duero's vineyards from a hot air balloon. While Ribera del Duero has been producing wine for nearly 150 years and is home to 270 wineries, it's still considered one of Spain's newer wine regions. If you like your reds full-bodied (think Cabernet Sauvignon), you'll love sampling Ribera del Duero's Tempranillo wines. For lunch, take a seat on the terrace at Pago de Carraovejas, a winery overlooking the 10th-century PeГ±afiel Castle, where you can taste some of the area's best reds. The winery was started by the same man behind the infamous Restaurante JosГ© MarГa in Segovia, known for the ceremonial serving of roast suckling pig that's so tender it can be sliced open with ceramic plates. Expect lunch to be just as lively here, with spruced-up versions of regional favorites like red-wine-stewed chicken and poached egg with peas.
Don't worry if you're not a red wine fan. The white-wine region of Rueda just next door has 69 wineries to choose from. Over the past 30 years, the region has reinvented itself, producing crisp, vibrant whites from its Verdejo grapes. These wines are one of Spain's best-kept secrets. While they're the most consumed white wines in the country, they're little more than a whisper throughout the rest of the world. And since you won't be able to find all of these wines back home, the tasting experience is even more special. One standout worth a visit is Garcia and ArГ©valo, founded by two families in 1991. Spend the afternoon at the family home sipping wines from 150-year-old vines and cooking vine-roasted milk-fed lamb alongside the vineyard's founders.
About an hour from Valladolid by car (and just 40 minutes by train), the town of Segovia is worth the visit just for specialties like suckling pig alone. Make this an afternoon outing, taking the time to stroll past the towering 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct and admiring one of Spain's most famous castles, the 12th-century medieval fortress of AlcГЎzar, rumored to be the inspiration behind Cinderella's Castle.
Where to Eat
Valladolid had a brief five-year history as Spain's capital in the early 17th century, but now the city is becoming known as the capital of tapas thanks to the annual international competition. Around the main square, Plaza Mayor, you'll find a number of tapas bars making it easy to eat your way around town on a tapas crawl. One don't-miss spot, however, is the award-winning Los Zagales. While the tavern is as traditional as you can get, with stone-covered walls and stained-glass windows, tapas here are anything but.
You may associate the foraging trend with Nordic cuisine, but this part of Spain has also started weaving in fresh-from-the-forest ingredients like pine. In Rueda, the more formal Michelin-starred La Botica de Matapozuelos is the perfect example. This romantic eatery, housed in an old farmhouse, picks pine cones and pine nuts from the surrounding forests and crafts them into its cuisine. Choose from a list of over 150 wines sourced across from Rueda and Ribera del Duero while sampling classic fare like wood-roasted lamb, served alongside more artistic culinary creations like ravioli of rooster with toasted pine nuts.
Where to Stay
There's no lack of historic spots to stay, but one of the most romantic (and relaxing) sits in Ribera del Duero is a revamped 12th-century Cistercian abbey. The five-star thermal spa and hotel, Castilla Termal Monasterio de Valbuena, still draws mineral medicinal water from a 1,200-foot-deep aquifer that the monks once used to irrigate the vineyards. In between winery visits, soak up the healing powers of the thermal pools with a water ritual for two, complete with wine body wraps and grape-infused exfoliation for a detoxifying way to indulge in the region's wine.
When to Go
The best time to visit the wineries is during the shoulder seasons from May to June or September to October, around harvest time. While you can visit the regions any time of the year on a quick day trip from Madrid, the weather can be quite cold in the winter and the vineyards won't start to get green until May.