San Vicente de la Sonsierra: historical heritage linked to wine

Near the border with Alava, a small population of a little more than a thousand inhabitants lives closely linked to the culture of wine.

San Vicente de la Sonsierra tries to shelter from the winds at the foot of the Toloño mountain range, among a wild landscape in which the vineyards cover a large part of the land. It does not succeed, because the wind is constant and intense here, like the wines it produces, considered by many enologists to be among the best in Spain.

San Vicente de la Sonsierra is a village of deep-rooted historical traditions. The feeling for the old land and vineyards has been passed down from generation to generation, considering them part of the town’s heritage.

And it is that here heritage and wine go hand in hand, as I could see in the visit that took me to know the Carlos Moro Winery and its surroundings.

The Castle of San Vicente de la Sonsierra

That is why I was not surprised to see that next to the iconic castle of San Vicente de la Sonsierra old wine presses had been found in which it is believed that wine was produced some two thousand years ago. In addition, there were draughts (these of minor antiquity) to conserve the barrels of wine to the ideal temperature.

The visit to the castle of San Vicente was fun and innovative.

An uneasy September morning we find ourselves in the main square of a San Vicente de la Sonsierra in Maribel, the nice – and prepared – guide who would accompany us on our visit to the castle.

Slowly, as Maribel explained the origins of the village and some more historical anecdotes, we climbed up to the gentle summit on which the fortress stands. When we arrived in front of her, Maribel showed us some small red backpacks and from them she got a totally unexpected surprise: virtual reality glasses for everyone.

I must admit it was the first time I had tried one of those, but I had wanted to do it for a long time. I was very surprised and very positively valued this tourism initiative.

When I put on my glasses, the sky ceased to be grey to contemplate the Door of the Primicia, the main entrance to the first enclosure of the castle, cut out in front of a blue sky and without a trace of clouds. While I was trying to get used to virtual reality, our guide told us that this fortress had been erected – at the end of the 12th century and by order of King Sancho the Wise of Navarre – as part of the defensive line of Laguardia and Labastida, in an elevated position from which the Ebro was dominated.

With the virtual reality glasses I could see that part of the entrance as it had been in the 13th or 15th century. A faithful recreation by architects that also included small historical explanations when you looked both ways.

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In that guise – although we took off our glasses to go from one point of interest to another, because you can’t walk with them on, feeling that you’re doing it in the void – we still admire the courtyard, the towers of the homage and the clock, and the church of Santa María la Mayor, the temple, a jewel of late Gothic, which was built next to the castle in the 16th century.

From the top of the tower of homage the views, already without virtual glasses, were splendid. The Ebro ran down there, gentle, with the sufficiency of knowing itself to be the most plentiful river in Spain. Above it, lying, is the old Roman bridge. The mountains of Toloño, closer, and of La Demanda and Cantabria, farther away, give the mountainous touch to a landscape dominated by, as could not be otherwise, a carpet of vineyards that looked green and shiny to find us just a couple of weeks from the harvest.

As I used to do in historical monuments, I tried to imagine what the life of the castle was like in another era. In this case, moreover, I was lucky enough to have virtual reality glasses. An undeniable help.

The battle cries around the castle were extinguished between the beginning of the 16th century and the middle of the 19th century, when it would once again take centre stage in the Carlist Wars. Today, after several deep reforms, the fortress is open to the public 24 hours a day, but I advise you to take the guided tour to make the most of it. You can get more information about them on the official tourism website of San Vicente de la Sonsierra.

Hermitage of Santa María de la Piscina

Less than 4 kilometres from the centre of San Vicente de la Sonsierra is the best preserved and most complete example of Romanesque architecture in La Rioja.

The hermitage of Santa María de la Piscina stands on a hill guarded by two hills, next to extensive fields covered by vineyards.

Built in the 12th century, it was renovated in 1975 when it was in ruins. Just next to it, on a slope that descends gently towards the valley, is a necropolis of repopulation, with tombs dated between the tenth and fourteenth centuries. On that side there are 49, there are four more next to the east wall of the church, near the apse.

Descending even further down the slope that leads to the necropolis, there are older wine presses, highlighting once again the intimate communion that has existed in San Vicente between wine and life since time immemorial.

I visited this beautiful hermitage in a very original way: as part of a literary visit to some of the most beautiful places of San Vicente de la Sonsierra and its surroundings. It is in this area where the plot of the book ‘A Merced de un Dios Salvaje’ is developed, one of the works of the great writer from logroña, Andrés Pascual.

Literature, heritage, landscapes and wine… What more can one ask of a place?

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