We got up early enough but it took us both ages to creak into action. Lou repaired her inner tube and we set off. After three miles uphill out of town Lou said we were doing well, I got concerned that we hadn’t reached the wine fountain that was supposed to be 3km out of town – we’d missed it! We turned around and whizzed back down those hard won miles. We went to the petrol station where we’d fixed Lou’s bike the night before only to be told to carry on going back, almost to our hotel, where I’d originally made a wrong turn that would have taken us there! Double Drat!
Back uphill through Aygui to Monasterio de Irache, which had been bypassed since our guidebook was written. It wasn’t clearly marked and was off the main road. You can get the wine – Bodegas Irache – in stores, and you can see the fountain web cam live. We met some ‘interesting’ folk at the fountain including a couple who set off from Switzerland on 23 May and a chap who left France about a month ago. He was making bizarre incantations from a book that roughly translated as “great ancient secrets” which seemed largely Catholic. He blessed the wine fountain before indulging. They all smelled really, really badly. The guys had straggly beards and one had straggly hair. The girl had pigtail dreadlocks – not a good look. The Swiss couple didn’t know when they planned to arrive and didn’t know what they would do when they got there.
We carried on up a dirt track to the road. There were plenty of little climbs and dips, but mostly a great downhill ride all the way to Los Arcos. Here we ate lunch. I had a tortilla Espanol sandwich, Lou just had a dessert, and we got a stamp at the bar. There were lots of cyclists there, all gussied up in Tour de France type gear. There was also a market where we picked up some peaches and apricots which later turned out to be the best fruit in the world. There was a municipal pool, but the effort of scouting through our bags for togs was too much.
On the hillside we saw Bodegas Valcarlos – I’m sure I’ve had some of that at home. Onwards and upwards, and indeed downwards for a short while, then a long steep hot climb. Lou spotted Torres del Rio which, despite a short climb up a cobbled road earned us a very pretty sellos at a fabulous Templar chruch. Up more hills, taking every opportunity to hide in the shade. My thermometer maxed out at 120°F. The climb out of Torres was vicious with lots of hairpins through vines and olive groves. We met up with the cyclists from Los Arcos and I lost Lou among them on the road. When I stopped to chat it turned out they were Italian and had cycled all the way from Milan.
The descent was great fun. It was a lot like when we were kids and set up the red car track, if you got enough speed up you could make it up the little bumps fast without too much pedaling. On through Viana to Logrono where the cycling got scary as we found ourselves on something like a motorway. Lou careered across the path of an oncoming truck and we took the first available exit, not sure of where it led. We found a route into town and even at 5pm the temperature was 37°C – it was one hot day.
We searched the town for hotels without much luck. In the end we found an alburgue where we picked up a sellos, scoffed peaches and grabbed a map. Lou wanted to stay at the Ritz Carlton, but I managed to scale back her expectations. Our first choice was closed and appeared to be in the process of being demolished. Choice number two was great with a really helpful receptionist and a large, comfortable room. We managed to get to a cycle store to sort out Lou’s pedals and brakes and to pick up inner tubes and fast inflation CO2 canisters.
We had a couple of Mahou beers in a nearby café while we waited. The waiter was really slow but brought us crisps. I was concerned at the poor quality of print on the Mahou tables and chairs and the slapdash way in which Kronenburg umbrellas featured above Heineken tables.
We strolled out to get dinner but could find nowhere good. We wound up at “The Drunken Duck”, an English bar with no English people, beer or food in it. I had calamares, obviously, and ‘bocadillo con queso y tomate solo’ which came back as a vegetal (veggie) sandwich, with a slice of ham in! I consolled myself with a glass of wine as we were in the heart of Rioja. Lou had steak and chips and pointed at the picture on the menu to specify ‘none of that stuff’ to avoid peppers in her meal.
Back at the hotel we raided the ‘honesty fridge’ downstairs for two beers. You just needed to remember to tell the receptionist in the morning what you had had, which was easy enough on two beers, but could have been tricky if we’d opted to drink the evening away.
I’ve drunk loads of water today and having filled up a small cycle water bottle with wine from the fountain I tipped that wine into a smaller retail water bottle and filled my cycle bottle with water. The taste of wine still lingered and tasted wonderful. I decided to keep my wine and add a smidge to my water bottle each day. The lingering Catholic in me would put it down to a communion ritual. I like to think it’s more like the kindness of the monks and the determination of all the pilgrims that have drunk the wine before and will do in the future that gives me the strength to keep going. Very odd.
I’m worn out and I’ve got a ridiculous looking burn around my watch strap and my ankle is so burned it is swelling up where I missed a bit. I must be more careful with my sun cream.