Gravel Riding in Rioja - Spain

The Rioja region in Northern Spain is best known for its wines - which have gained an international reputation in recent years. Similar to other major wine regions in Europe, such as Tuscany and Provence, it also has excellent cycling routes.

Gravel Riding in Rioja

There are loads of quiet country lanes running between the vineyards and alongside rivers with routes for cyclists of all levels. And we have looked at some of these in our guides to the Historic Sights and the Wineries of Rioja.

Here, we will be focusing on another aspect of cycling in Rioja - gravel riding. Alongside the Province of Girona in the far north-east of Spain, Rioja is the best part of Spain for riding gravel roads and trails.

There is a huge variety of high quality off road routes, ranging from flat cycleways to high mountain climbs. In this guide to gravel biking in Rioja we will introduce the region, and share examples of some of our favourite rides.

The Rioja Region

Rioja occupies a fairly small inland area in Northern Spain. To the north it is bordered by the large Ebro River, which separates it from the Basque country, and to the south it is bordered by the high peaks of the Sierra de la Demanda mountains. The area in between is a mixture of hills and flatter plains, most of which are covered in vineyards and are home to picturesque historic villages.

Almost the entire Rioja province is great for gravel riding, although different parts are better than others depending on the kind of riding you prefer. Below we take a look at a few of the main areas.

Rivers of Rioja (Easier Routes)

If you enjoy riding flatter gravel trails, then you can find excellent routes alongside the main rivers of the Rioja region. The largest is the River Ebro, which generally has gravel trails or narrow paved roads running alongside it throughout its course, including through the center of the regional capital - Logroño. Most of these are gently rolling and are in very good condition and are enjoyable for riding.

You can also follow the GR-99 hiking route, which is well signed and mostly runs parallel to the river. At times this becomes a bit too technical for gravel bikes, but there are always other trails nearby that you can use as a diversion for those sections.

Cycle Route alongside the River Iregua

Cycle Route alongside the River Iregua

The River Iregua also has a beautiful gravel cycle route running alongside it which starts in Logroño and continues to the historic village of Viguera. This is a beautiful trail which loosely follow the old Roman road through the region - although there is almost nothing that remains of the original ancient path. This is largely flat and non-technical making it a good choice for riders of all levels, and we have included part of this in the 'easier route' below.

Another cycling route or Via Verde runs loosely parallel the River Oja. Again, this is a largely flat or gentle route which is mostly gravel, with a few paved stretches. The most enjoyable sections are between Cihuri and Casalarreina, and between Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Ezcaray.

Another relatively easy ride through the Rioja region is the Camino de Santiago route. This follows a mixture of paved roads and gravel trails which are mostly gently rolling and in good condition. It crosses from Logroño to Santo Domingo de la Calzada and is a good option to include as part of a longer gravel ride through the region.

The ride below starts and finishes in Logroño and combines a short section of the Camino de Santiago, along with sections on the cycle routes alongside the Ebro and Iregua rivers. It passes through picturesque vineyards and can easily be extended to visit beautiful towns such as Navarrete and Viguera.
Camino de Santiago in Rioja

The Camino de Santiago follows a mixture of road and gravel trails

Rolling Vineyards & Historic Villages (Medium)

Rioja is best known for its vineyards and there are plenty of gravel roads and trails which run between them. These are generally rolling, with the occasional short and sharp hill, but with no really serious climbing. The trails are mostly in very good condition and don't require a very high level of bike handling. These can also be combined with some of the flatter routes alongside the rivers to make for enjoyable longer rides.

Vineyards can be found throughout Rioja, but are most densely clustered around the towns of Haro, Cenicero and Logroño. Most trails that you see on a map have public access, with only a few private roads scattered around. And so the area is great for exploring and visiting some of the excellent wineries here.

On the routes between the wineries, the road surfaces frequently change from paved to gravel, which makes for some nice variety, and also means you can customize your route depending on your skillset. For example, you may prefer climbing on gravel and descending on paved roads.

Gravel route between Haro and Sajazarra

Gravel route between Haro and Sajazarra

The gravel routes through the vineyards don't only connect various wineries in the region; they can also be used to ride between some of the beautiful historic towns. We have looked at the history of Rioja elsewhere, and nearly all of the towns and villages can be reached by gravel routes and quiet country lanes.

Some of the Medieval villages, such as Clavijo and San Vicente de la Sonsierra are situated on top of quite prominent hills and so can make for a reasonably challenging ride. Others, like Sajazarra, Casalarreina and San Millán de la Cogolla are located closer to rivers and are reached by gently rolling routes. Many of them have well preserved castles, monasteries and beautiful historic centers that are a lot of fun to explore or to stop for a coffee and soak up the atmosphere.

Sajazarra Castle

Sajazarra Castle

The circular route below starts and finishes in Haro - the wine capital of the Rioja region. It follows gravel trails through vineyards to the historic villages of Sajazarra, Cihuri and Casalarreina, before riding briefly alongside the River Oja. On the way back to Haro it crosses through the vineyards close to the River Ebro and visits the castle of San Vicente.

This ride follows gravel trails for about 75% of the route, with the remainder on quiet paved roads.

Mountainous Gravel Routes (Hard)

Rioja is not just about wine, vineyards and historic towns - it also has plenty of mountains with excellent gravel trails. The best option for gravel riding is the Sierra de la Demanda range, situated to the south of the towns of Ezcaray and San Millán de la Cogolla.

The mountains are home to famous road bike rides, including Valdezcaray, Cruz de la Demanda and Lagunas de Neila, but the gravel roads here are even better. Some of them climb to over 2,000m altitude and there is a fantastic variety of different gradients and technical levels, to suit all gravel riders who love to climb.

Sierra de la Demanda Mountains

Gravel Riding in the Sierra de la Demanda Mountains

The example route below is a challenging circular ride beginning from the UNESCO World Heritage listed Yuso monastery in San Millán de la Cogolla. It begins on a rolling narrow paved road, before a long climb on a beautiful gravel trail through forests and open mountain scenery to the Collado de Tres Cruces, situated high above the Valdezcaray ski station.

From here, the route descends to the town of Ezcaray, partly on gravel trails and partly on road; although you can also continue along the mountain tops to Cruz de la Demanda. The return to San Millán is mostly on gravel trails and is generally easy going, although there is one technical section, which follows a single track downhill for half a kilometer.

Rioja Gravel Trail

This ride is about 60% on gravel trails and 40% on paved roads, which we feel is a nice balance given the amount of distance and climbing. And the paved descent down from the Valdezcaray ski station is a lot of fun! However, it is also possible to do a similar ride with over 90% on gravel.

Gravel Cycling Holidays in Rioja

The routes above are just a few of the many excellent possibilities for gravel riding in Rioja. There are many thousands of kilometres of gravel roads in the region, making Rioja a great choice for a longer cycling holiday.

If you would be interested in doing a longer gravel tour in the region, we would be happy to organize a holiday for you. This could be adapted from our Rioja road cycling tour, or we could arrange something completely different if you would like to do much longer distances, or more mountainous rides. Please don't hesitate to contact us to discuss the options.

You may also be interested in our Girona & Costa Brava cycling holiday, which has both gravel and road route options. You can check out details of these and some of the other tours that we run in the region below.
Rioja Vineyards
Basque Flag Spanish FlagSpain

Self-Guided Cycling Holiday
Length: 7 Days
Level: Difficulty Easy to Medium
Price: from €1,390 EUR
*Bike Hire Included

Girona & Costa Brava
Catalan Flag Spanish FlagSpain

Self-Guided Cycling Holiday
Length: 8 Days
Level: Difficulty Medium to Challenging
Price: from €1,530 EUR
*Bike Hire Included

Rioja Vineyards
Basque Flag Spanish FlagSpain

Guided Cycling Holiday
Length: 7 Days
Level: Difficulty Easy to Medium
Price: €1,540 EUR
*Bike Hire Included