The Toro and Arribes wine routes seem to have been Spain’s best-kept secrets so far.
Nestled in the Castile and Leon region about two hours from Madrid and on the Portuguese border, these unspoilt little towns have plenty to offer those who prefer to get off the beaten track.
Rich in history and culture, the town of Toro was our first stop with a visit to the Pagos Del Ray Wine Museum which offered an interactive dive into the history of wine in Toro.
A self-guided tour with wine and traditional food tasting will only cost you five cents while a guided tour with tasting will cost €8 and it’s definitely worth it.
It’s possible to buy tasting favorite wines for less, because you’re getting them straight from the source rather than from the supermarket.
The food in Spain was muy delicioso with Bodega Latarce standing out as my favorite in Toro.
Although there was very little English spoken, the staff’s recommendations were a treat as a suckling pig and rack of lamb appeared on the table along with potatoes.
The meat was soft and tender but not to order if you are particularly sensitive to cooking animals.
Had duck stuffed ravioli and croquettes that just melted in your mouth.
The town of Toro itself was beautiful and decorated with medieval flags in time for their annual festival.
The cobblestones and original buildings of the 13and century, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
History and religion buffs will appreciate the Collegiate Church of Santa María la Mayor which was built in stages at the end of the 12and century.
Its design makes the transition between the Romanesque and the Gothic style, but deserves a mention is its “Porte de la Majesté”, from the 13and century which retains its original polychromy, one of the oldest in Europe.
They say the devil is in the details and it rings true with this exquisite sculpture where it is said to show the very first depiction of purgatory.
The digital images simply don’t do it justice as the painting tells a story of heaven and, especially gruesome, hell.
Elsewhere, cheese lovers will find their own slice of heaven at the Chillion museum de queso. A family business for generations and still a factory today.
Another interactive tour that I think even kids will enjoy as it explains how cheese making methods have changed over the years.
One of the biggest finds was the hotel – at Hotel Castillo Monte La Reina – which is as much a castle as it is a hotel.
The view of the vineyards from the second floor bedroom was just amazing. Rooms are comfortable and fit for royalty.
The food was outstanding with the salt steak a particular favourite.
It’s also accessible with rooms from €150 a night or you can rent the eight-bedroom chateau for just €750.
It could be ideal for a bachelorette party full of wine lovers or even a quaint wedding abroad in a lesser-known location.
From Toro we headed to the small village of Fermoselle, another well-preserved part of history, with spectacular views over the Duoro River, with Portugal almost visible in the distance.
Be careful here though, as Portugal and Spain are in different time zones and your clocks may get confused.
While Fermoselle has many wineries and wineries around town, a must visit in my book is a visit to Lilianna and Jose’s vineyard, El Hato y el Garabato.
The married couple have been in the wine business for a long time after working in California and Australia, are super friendly and have excellent English.
They now offer tours, not only of their vineyard but also of their bodega, where their wine is produced, and it will only cost you €15.
Meeting the clan, including their two daughters, and the pet dogs after crushing the grapes myself with my hands is not an experience I will soon forget.
And although Fermoselle is small, there is no shortage of things to do in the picturesque town which was declared a Historic-Artistic Complex in 1974.
Go back in time with a guided tour of the village as well as an underground visit through the traditional cellars.
Local producers such as Teresa at Mermeladería Oh Saúco will offer a tasting of their homemade marmalades, chutneys and jams while Nina at Numa ceramica will give a pottery workshop using materials and inspiration drawn from nature such as lavender, leaves and flowers. cones.
Nature lovers can hike in the Arribes del Duero Natural Park, where you can admire breathtaking landscapes for miles around.
It’s not too difficult to do either and would make an ideal setting for a family picnic.
My favorite hotel of the trip was the Hacienda Zorita nature reserve, consisting of two villas with five bedrooms each and a communal tower overlooking the vineyards.
The place reminded me of the Love Island villa and I could immediately see the appeal of a large group renting the whole thing out for a great wine tasting weekend.
However, a couple can rent a room for €200 a night in high season and share a glass of wine from the top of the tower.
The restaurant food served cured meats and cheeses which quickly became a staple during the trip.
A stacked meat dish was incredibly tender accompanied by wine from the villa’s vineyard.
The gardens are really beautiful and for a quick stay I couldn’t recommend it highly enough as everything you could possibly need or want is on site.
Another highlight was the boat ride along the Douro River which offered incredible views, and although our tour was conducted in Spanish and Portuguese we were assured there were plans in place to introduce also English.
There are many eco-friendly projects along the river, including a man-made island that floats in the middle of the river. This allows wildlife to have consistent habitat as water levels change throughout the year.
There’s another heart-warming project that sees children with special needs undergo animal therapy with ducks and otters.
In terms of food and ambiance along the Arribes trail, La Enoteca del Marqués is a winner.
The family-run bar and restaurant has a lovely outdoor dining area decorated with lights and plants.
The bartender Christian speaks very good English and is ready to explain the history of the place in his original wine cellar.
And they make their own drinks including a very Instagrammable ‘magic gin’ that turns from blue to pink.
Having Hotel Doña Urraca practically next door and within walking distance of the town square is a great location and the rustic rooms are reasonably priced at €160 a night.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
The hotel itself has a terrace that feels romantic, especially watching the sun set over the landscape with a glass of wine in hand.
Overall on these two trails I think there really is something for everyone, the younger ones can enjoy the Toro atmosphere and wine.
Couples can book a romantic getaway and get lost in the beautiful surroundings while families don’t have to worry about keeping the kids busy with boat rentals, pottery workshops, picnics in the park and museums. interactive offering endless fun.
A car to get around is recommended or a bus rental would be a wise investment so the whole group can enjoy the local wines.
The only downside I can find is that a few words of Spanish would help, but Google can provide basic phrases and locals appreciate the effort.
And the authenticity of the place is what makes it so special and worth living.
All in all, the region of Castile and Leon is a must for wine connoisseurs and foodies, now a not-so-hidden gem in northwestern Spain.