Why I Chose La Rioja, or Why La Rioja Chose Me

Rioja Quote

Over the past year I think I have hinted here and there about why I chose to live in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain. Of all the cities on the Iberian Peninsula, why on earth did I pick the one that nobody has ever heard from? Just to be a pain in the ass? With the exception of Murcia, Asturias, and Extremadura, I have been to every region in Spain, and I have been lucky enough to call Salamanca, Madrid, Córdoba, and Málaga home at one time or another. Why wasn’t I happy to stay in one of those places? Why did I need to move to the middle of nowhere? What more could I want?

La Rioja has held a fairytale-like appeal to me since I first moved to Spain in 2007. We had a 4 day weekend around Halloween, and I decided to take a last minute trip out to Zaragoza. I caught a ungodly early train, and being the brilliant college student I was, I decided it would just be easier to stay out all night partying and head straight to the station from the discotecas. Oh to be 19 again. And being Halloween weekend, it added the extra embarrassment of showing up at the train station with no coat, my face still covered in glitter and wearing fairy wings. Did I mention no one in Spain celebrates Halloween except for the Americans? Fabulous. At least I remembered my backpack. 

Map route from Salamanca

I promptly passed out across two seats like a crazy person with my backpack as a pillow; lord knows what I must have smelled like. I dozed for a few hours, waking up with leg cramps and with my face pressed against the window, probably drooling with the painfully early morning sun shining in my eyes. And I can’t believe I didn’t have a Spanish boyfriend at this point. Shocking! As I rubbed the make-up and sleep from my eyes, I looked out the window onto one of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen! Did I fall asleep and wake up in Neverland?

With my nose shoved up against the glass, I began to take it all in. Beautiful green trees followed by tiny hilltop towns set against a backdrop of stone gray mountains, surrounded by vineyard after vineyard, fields and fields of grape vines all awash in oranges, yellows, golds and reds signaling that fall has finally arrived in northern Spain. Where was I? I could see castles in the distance, encircled by fields of flowers, and the burnt terracotta red roofs of medieval villages. I had just enough sense in me to quickly grab my notebook and jot down the names of the next two stops: Haro and Logroño and snap some pics that don’t do it justice. One day I would come back here.

La Rioja

I’m a squirrel; I keep everything, including that notebook and my memory of that morning. Since that day I have had La Rioja in the back of my mind, probably building it up with unrealistic expectations of being an undiscovered magical land filled with enchanted forests and castles, and princes, and adventures. Who says you ever have to grow up? After that I moved to different cities around central and southern Spain, but I wasn’t happy. None of them gave me that feeling I experienced that Friday morning on the way to Zaragoza. How do I even begin to describe it? It wasn’t even dissatisfaction for where I was living; I loved Córdoba and the south, rather if was a wistful feeling of possibility; I had had a taste of something different and arresting, and I wanted more. Since that day on the train, I was drawn to the north; I wished to experience a utterly different Spain that what I was used to. I kept saying to myself, soon I will go back, and see La Rioja again. At the risk of exposing myself as a complete and total dork, it reminds of a quote from C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia, when a little orphan boy Sasha says, “I’ve been longing to go to the North all my life.” (10 points if you know what book it’s from).

When I had the chance last year to pick my top region to live in Spain, I clicked on La Rioja on a whim. What the hell, why not? I had never actually been there before. I didn’t even get off the train in La Rioja that day. I based a whole year of my life off of a feeling, on a hope, on a chance. I had an inkling that I would love living in La Rioja, and I acted on it. And guess what? I wasn’t wrong. Living in La Rioja has far exceded my expectations. In this small city that almost no one outside of Spain has heard of and people within Spain can’t find on a map, I finally feel like I am at home.

So I don’t know what the point of this long ramble was. Maybe I just need to share. Maybe to justify in print why I chose to live here. Maybe just to tell you to follow your heart and take a chance, dreams do come true blah blah blah. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I took a chance on a place that I only saw from the window of a train with a fuzzy brain from lack of sleep and too many calimochos from eyes full of glitter. And you know what? I don’t regret a thing and I couldn’t be happier here.

Have you ever acted on a whim like this? Chosen a place from a feeling? Has a small memory every encouraged you to make a big decision? How did it work out for you?

Countryside in La Rioja

Fields in La Rioja

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La Rioja Countryside

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18 Comments on “Why I Chose La Rioja, or Why La Rioja Chose Me

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  1. Not really. But I chose my study abroad destination based on Facebook pictures from my friend who had lived there. (Toledo) It worked out wonderfully!

    I’ve been inspired to visit Logroño from you! You do make it sound utterly wonderful, and I’ve always been partial to the north of Spain, including — of course — our dear Salamanca.

    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying Logroño. My second last name is Logroño so I’ve always had a soft spot for it. I’ve never been there before but it’s definitely on top of my travel list and according to all your posts, the wait will be worth it.

  2. I love this story. I’m in Granada this year and I love the city, but if I were doing a second year, I would elect to go somewhere up north based on all of the amazing things I have read/heard about it. After reading this, I think that La Rioja would probably be my first or second pick! It would be a hard choice between that or Pais Vasco….:)

  3. I am hoping to be an auxiliar next year and Spain…I’m really hoping to be near Sevilla or Granada because those regions first attracted me to Spain…but after following your blog for so long (your love of La Rioja being quite contagious) I chose La Rioja as my second choice!…so…yeah…thanks for that lol

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