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John Steinbeck nailed it when he said, “People don’t take trips, trips take people.”

 That’s how I felt as I stood on the side of the A-3210 highway in the heart of Basque country in northern Spain on a hot September afternoon – headed to a place I knew very little about.

On top of that, my side visit was prompted only by a stranger’s crinkled photograph of Hotel Marqués de Riscal, an otherworldly hotel that had no resemblance to the Spain I’d been exploring by foot for the previous two weeks.


The winding road to Elciego

Hotel Marqués de RiscalHotel Marqués de Riscal

I waved down a farmer as I passed through the village of Laguardia to double-check I wasn’t lost: “Elciego? Seis kilometros.” 

What was another six kilometres to reach Elciego when I was planning to a walk a total of 800?

Let me explain: I was fulfilling a life-long dream of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain.  I stopped for a rest in Logrono – a city devoted to Rioja wine-making – where I met a couple of peregrinos (the Spanish term for the modern day pilgrims) from Kelowna, British Columbia, who explained that they were interrupting their Camino to, in their words, “spend two days in the lap of luxury drinking wine – in a luxury hotel designed by a Canadian.”

My interest was piqued...

Romantic Elciego

Hotel Marqués de RiscalHotel Marqués de Riscal

That’s how I first heard about Hotel Marqués de Riscal, part of Starwood Hotel’s Luxury Collection, designed by award-winning Canadian architect Frank Gehry, the visual genius behind the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The Kelowna couple handed me a well-worn photograph of the hotel and I was smitten.

It was this very photo that I clutched in my hands as I stood along the side of the road outside Elciego and surveyed my surroundings: lush vineyards hugging the side of the road (we were, after all, in the world-famous Rioja wine-producing region of Spain), the rolling Sierra de Cantabria mountains in the background, church bells ringing in the distance, tiled roofs of centuries-old homes baking under the mid-day sun… I tried to imagine how Gehry’s flamboyant architectural wonder fit with all of this.

It was late in the day when I arrived in the medieval Basque town of Elciego. A fountain burbled away in the town square. A few locals chatted under the porticos at the entrance to the town hall. Muted singing (or perhaps praying?) drifted from the Chapel of the Virgin de la Plaza. Looking up, I caught sight of the San Andrés Parish Church,  a novel mix of Gothic and neoclassical architecture.


Spanish in spirit, Canadian by design

Hotel Marqués de RiscalHotel Marqués de Riscal

Then I turned onto Calle Torrea Kalea and there it stood: the cutting-edge Hotel Marqués de Riscal (which the King of Spain, his Majesty Don Juan Carlos helped to open in 2006) on the site of site of the namesake winery, which dates back to 1858.

The hotel’s roof of curving sheets of gold-, silver- and purple-tinted titanium seemed to float about the curvy asymmetrical walls.  It was mesmerizing.

Hotel Marqués de RiscalHotel Marqués de Riscal

Collectively, the luxury hotel, the winery (the oldest in the Rioja region), sprawling wine cellar, high-end spa and onsite Michelin-worthy restaurant are referred to as Ciudad de Vino (City of Wines) – reflecting (and connecting with) the surrounding landscape and history of Elciego and La Rioja.

Hotel Marqués de RiscalHotel Marqués de Riscal

The hotel's 43 guest rooms (13 in the Gehry Wing and 20 in the Spa Wing) are connected by a glass bridge, through which the mountains and medieval village are ever-present. And inside? The blond-wood, white-walled designer rooms are equipped with Bang & Olufsen TVs, Gehry cloud lampshades, espresso machines and Italian marble bathrooms. The dreamiest room? Definitely the Gehry Suite, which has its own private terrace – not to mention multi-angled windows looking out over the majestic Cantabria Mountains.

Hotel Marqués de RiscalHotel Marqués de Riscal

The cuisine at Marqués de Riscal reflects the food of the region.

The hotel’s main restaurant, 1860 Tradición, offers modern twists on traditional Spanish foods, such as Iberian bellota ham, Riojan chorizo from nearby Ezcaray, and pig’s trotters with pears from neighbouring Rincan de Soto.

That same fidelity to local cuisine is reflected in the mains, appetizers and snacks served in Restaurante Marqués De Riscal, the Wine Bar down in the cellar, and the well-appointed Rooftop Lounge & Library.

Hotel Marqués de RiscalHotel Marqués de Riscal

Even the treatments offered in the spacious cedar-and-teak rooms at the Vinothérapie SPA Caudalie Marqués de Riscal remind guests that they’re in wine country. Tired travelers (or pilgrims, for that matter) can absorb the healing properties of red vine leaf extracts during a Crush Cabernet Scrub or book a Pulp Friction Massage with Fresh Grapes.

Hotel Marqués de Riscal is definitely worth the trip to Elciego – however you get there.



Hotel Marqués de Riscal sounds like a fantasy,  
but it doesn't have to be just a day dream...

With over 1,300 Starwood hotels and resorts across the globe to choose from, there’s a property to suit every passion. By using the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you can earn Starpoints faster and redeem for free nights at eleven distinct brands including Hotel Marqués de Riscal, part of The Luxury Collection. You can also earn a limited time welcome bonus of 25,000 Starpoints. Offer ends October 18th, 2017.