Speaking Frankly: A Hotel Where Even The Grapes Get In On The Act In The Spa
18th December 2017
The first sight of Frank Gehry’s 2006 Hotel Marqués de Riscal in Northen Spain’s Basque country is perhaps the best. We took the locals route, a bumpy bus towards the medieval walled town of Elciego, around an hours drive from Bilbao. For a long time you pass endless vineyards, grapes, soil, more grapes, ancient churches and even more grapes and of course the business end of wine country, all draped across the land. You simply don’t see Gerhy’s hotel until you are almost upon it because of the curves of Rioja wine country and then suddenly, there is a glint. Unfolding before you, wrapped in a series of titanium waves – like hair swishing in the wind or maybe wine pouring from a bottle, is a hotel. It’s honestly spectacular. Gehry explains that the ribbons and facade speak to the heart of the project. The pale wine colour is the Rioja, the silver is the foil that covers the cork and the golden glint is the mesh that the bottles of Marqués de Riscal are sold in. The treat, of course, is that you still get all the stuff that Gehry groupies adore, the shapes, the angles, the scale and the sort of avant-garde wildness of it all. Nothing is as you imagine it, inside or out. Nevertheless, it flows beautifully from one area to the next in an utterly soothing fashion like a glass of fine wine at the end of a tough day. After the Guggenheim Art Museum, you figure well that’s hard to top and then you get to Marqués de Riscal and ….Boom!! The hotel interior is equally fascinating, leather and maple wood enhanced by Gehry designed fixtures and fittings in the bedrooms. It would fit just fine downtown in a sophisticated city which is in truth why the whole project has such a wow factor because whilst you are oh so far from the metropolis, what goes on here in the valleys is what oils the wheels of business in the big city – wine. The La Rioja region produces 250 million litres annually.
Conquistador Juan Ramirez de Velazco founded the city of La Rioja in the province of the same name in the foothills of the Andes, Argentina in 1591 as a nod to his birthplace. The Spanish settlers introduced vineyards locally naming the wine La Rioja. However, in 1999, it all turned a tad nasty when the Regulatory Council for the La Rioja Denomination of Origin in Spain brought this issue to court claiming only they should use the name ‘La Rioja’. Seems that the wine is made of entirely different grapes. The case was rejected in Argentina with the Judge stating that as long as one said La Rioja Argentina that would be more than sufficient to bring clarity for any potentially confused consumer. The Minister of Production for La Rioja Argentina rather pithily commented; “If we look at history, the mess is the fault of the Spaniards, who took the name to the province, and it was they who brought us the wine tradition.”
There’s a cracking little tale of a woman in Argentina who hung on to a sprig from an olive branch back in 1770. The colonial Spanish ordered all olive vines to be destroyed as they were proving too much competition for the ones back in the old country. So the story goes, all but the sprig was wiped out, that sprig went on to produce the Arauco Olives we know today. The Marqués de Riscal hotel is bolted onto a very sophisticated wine business, now the self-styled City of Wine. The winery was founded in 1858 in a region where wine has been made since the 9th Century, so even a day visitor gets to see things at the coal face too. The locale is intriguing, home to more than 150 vineyards, with lots of drop-in tasting options. Of course, even the Caudalie spa gets in on the act with Vinothérapie, offering the opportunity to lie prone in a grape barrel soaking up a ‘bubbly mix of grape pomace.’ Can’t think of a more full-bodied, fruit forward experience than having a velvety soak in a wine barrel then propelling oneself towards a Frank Gehry designed bar … that’s what I’d call a ‘smooth finish’
Photo Credits: Image: Howard Morris Image by Nicola CC BY SA 3.0 Image of Elciego by Imamon