Living in La Rioja, northern Spain for a year was one of the best experiences of my life. La Rioja has everything you want when coming to Europe, a beautiful, diverse landscape, great food, even better wine and some of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet. Even after 365 days in this little region, I didn’t get to see all there was to see.
One of my favorite things about Spain is the easygoing, relaxed atmosphere combined with incredible history completely accessible to anyone. In Europe and especially Spain, history is everywhere. It’s alive. You can literally touch it. That is one thing I miss so much when I am back home in the US, being able to walk or drive somewhere 100o years old, explore roman ruins or visit a medieval church. It’s incredible. This is definitely true for La Rioja. Well off the beaten tourist trail, there are many undiscovered sites and hidden places to explore in this small region.
This summer when I had some free time, I decided to knock a few places off of my Rioja bucket list and what a better place to start than visiting the place where the Spanish language was born: the famous Yuso and Suso Monasteries.
Tucked away in among golden wheat fields and at the foothills of blue green mountains, these two monasteries couldn’t be more picturesque and beautiful. The closest town is San Milán de la Cogalla, and being only an hour from Logroño. It makes for a perfect day trip in La Rioja. Why did I wait so long to go?
The Yuso and Suso are not your ordinary European monasteries. Apart from being very, very old, founded in the 6th century, for Spain, they hold a very important role, the Yuso and Suso Monasteries were where the Spanish language was born, along with Basque. That’s right, folks! La Rioja is where the first words in Castilian Spanish were ever written down. Win.
According to the UNESCO site:
“The Codex AEmilianensis 60 was written in the Suso scriptorium in the 9th and 10th centuries. One of the monks added marginal notes in Castilian and Basque, along with a prayer in Castilian, to clarify passages in the Latin text. This is the first known example of written Spanish.”
If you love history and language and art, or even if you just love Spain, visiting these monasteries is a must. If you love off the beaten track tourism and want to see a side of Spain unknown to most foreigners, get yourself over to San Millán. San Millán is the perfect day trip in la Rioja.
Yuso is the bigger, “newer” monastery whereas Suso is the smaller original 6th century monastery founded by St. Millán. Suso is tucked away up the mountain and is only accesible by a special bus. It is definitely worth going to both, but you’ll have to plan a bit in advance and book each separately.
These monasteries are popular with Spanish tourists but not with foreigners, making it feel like you are getting a true, local and unique experience. This is the kind of place that Spanish kids are forced to visit in elementary school on a field trip.
The Yuso Monastery
The Suso Monastery
We first went on a tour around the big Yuso monastery, oggling at the vaulted ceilings and pretending to be medieval princesses hidden away from evil queens, protected by the nuns and priests claiming sanctuary (as my medieval studies degree and level of nerdiness become painfully obvious to all).
After we popped over to a little cafe across the road to sip a quick espresso from the most stereotypical grumpy old Spanish barman before hopping on the little tour bus up to the Suso monastery in the mountains. A beautiful little monastery built into the caves, Suso is a treasure and just oozes history. After being soundly chastised (twice) for trying to sneak pictures of the tombs, we tried to imagine what life must have been like up there 1500 years ago. No heaters and no toilets. I couldn’t do it. Could you?
You can spend the morning visiting one or both of the monasteries, then around 2 head over to one of the local taverns or restaurants for an authentic Riojano lunch accompanied by cheap but exquisite red wine before settling yourself out for a siesta or break at on a terrace or in a park or go for a walk in the surrounding hills. This is the kind of place where locals come by and set up a little table to sell their homemade honey or chorizo and you can end up chatting with them for an hour without a care in the world. Does it get much better than that? I don’t think so.
So if you haven’t already planned a trip to beautiful little La Rioja, Spain, put it on your list and make a mental note to check out these two quaint and historical monasteries.
Are you a fan of visiting historical places while traveling, especially places most tourists are unaware of? Have you ever heard of the Yuso and Suso Monasteries? Have you ever been?
The only way to really visit these monasteries is by car, so it’s best to either rent one and split it with friends or even just bug a friend into going with you, which is what I did. Parking is free. Any season would be good to visit. The summer is bright and green and warm, then with the changing leaves in autumn and in the winter the mountains are covered in snow, making it picture perfect before melting away into a flowery spring.
Yuso doesn’t require an advance reservation but the only way you can view the monastery complex is on a guided tour. You can usually just show up and then join the next tour, they are pretty frequent. You can check out all the details on their website.
Suso you have to make a reservation in advance because they only allow a certain number of people up there per day and you have to ride in the little bus up to the church itself from the Yuso parking lot on a little tour. You can see everything here. Once you make the reservation you can pick up your tickets down at Yuso.