Ribera del Duero Travel Guide is part of the Punxsutawney TPOL Trip Report.
TPOL’s Guns & Butter Travel Guide is the best way to see as much as you can in as little time as possible. Here’s how it works – A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy. The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa. The guide includes inefficient activities i.e., tourist traps that should be avoided and aspirational activities that are worth doing but may be impossible to see given the constraints of time and resources.
Rental vs. Bus
Before arriving in Madrid, I asked those who had visited the Ribera region if I should rent a car or use public transport. I was told to take the train and rent a car from there. My research told me otherwise. From what I read, there was no train near where I was going and there was no place to rent a car from there. I called one of the hotels in the area and was told that renting a car would be the best option.
For $100 for 3 days, I rented this beauty. For $20 I could have taken the bus to del Duero. From there, I would have had to take an expensive taxi to go to Penafiel, located miles away. Add in the convenience of being able to explore the surrounding areas and leave early enough to catch my flight to Copenhagen, and I say that renting a car is the way to go.
The Gimmicky Castle Hotel
I did it for the blog. That’s the way I rationalized paying $100/night to stay at Hotel Castillo de Curiel. Located in the small town of Valladolid, it’s a short drive to Peñafiel, the town where I spent most of my time.
TPOL’s TIP: Novelty aside, it’s not because the Wi-Fi is from the Middle Ages that you shouldn’t stay here, but rather it’s the hassle of driving.
Wine Tasting: Day 1: The Pop In
In Mendoza, Argentina and Blenheim, New Zealand, no reservations were required. We peddled from one vineyard to another (see Wine Tours by Bike NZ: A Must for Wine Enthusiasts). In Santiago, Chile, they were a bit confused that we showed up with a reservation but were nevertheless accommodating. In Ribera del Duero, the pop-in is not the norm. Our first stop was Boedegas Comenge, right across from the castle. We were able to sample one glass, and then we were sent on our way.
The second stop was Emilio. This was more like a store than a wine tasting stop.
After being denied entry to the third vineyard due to the pandemic, we went back to the castle to regroup for day 2.
TPOL’s Tip: Don’t go to the region on a Monday. Virtually everything is closed.
Peñafiel is a small, but beautiful town to explore.
Hotel Convento las Claras
Walking distance to the most famous vineyard in Peñafiel, Protos, and walking distance to bars, restaurants, and shops is Hotel Conventos las Claras. For $100 a night, it was a quality hotel.
Wine Tasting: Day 2: The Wine Zone
The reception at the convent hotel told us that most vineyards were closed due to the pandemic and those that were open operated by appointment only. She also said that Protos, the most famous vineyard, required a one-hour tour and that tasting was limited to two glasses. Appointments and tours are not my idea of a good wine time. Nevertheless, for the blog, I booked it for day 3.
For day 2, she recommended a wine store, Vinoteca y Artesanía Zaguán, in Plaza España and Anagora Wine Zone, a tasting room to sample wines and eat tapas.
I stopped by Zaguán and was greeted by an overzealous shopkeeper. She interrogated me in Spanish at 100mph. “What are you looking for? White wine? Red wine? Crianza? Reserva?” Unable to enter the store to browse, I said Reserva. And on she went from there to show and describe in Spanish each wine she had. Understanding some of what she was saying, I decided to go with the San Cristobal for $50.
Bottle in hand, I made my way to Anagora. There, the shopkeeper was much more peaceful. I scanned the menu and decided to start with the best wine they offered, Vega Sicilia’s famous Unico. 30 euros for 60ml is not the worst deal considering the bottle goes for 425 euros.
I moved on to Vega Sicilia’s ‘lower end’ wine called Pintia. That one was certainly not Unico.
I jumped up to Alion. For 11 euros a glass, it was my favorite. After two glasses, I decided to taste the cheapest wine on the list. Appropriately it was called Vina Desgracia. The name does not give it the respect it deserves. It was quite good.
The bill for this afternoon of splurge was $125. It included meats and cheeses.
Wine Tasting: Day 3: Protos, the Never-ending Tour.
To make this a legitimate wine tasting trip, I forced myself to go on a two hour wine tour. All of it was in Spanish which made it easier to tune out. We descended from one room to another, and all the while I kept checking my watch to see if I had put in the time to get to the tasting. I was impressed with the giant operation and how this company has been around since 1927. However, like temples in Thailand – seen one, seen them all.
The tasting was actually disappointing as they only served one white and the standard red which is poured at every bar all over town.
Looking to experience the breadth and depth of Protos, I made my first critical mistake of the trip (see Travel Lesson: Last Stop for Wine). I bought two bottles of Gran Reserva. I stupidly did not think of what I would do with the bottles since I had many stops left on my trip and I didn’t have a checked baggage allowance.
Sometimes, I want to drink wine without the details of how it was made. The go-to spot for this was Metro. A glass of Protos was 2 euros. It includes daily tapas like green olives.
Another place was Asa dos Alonso. Nothing like getting hammered mid-afternoon and watching Spanish Wheel of Fortune.
Surprisingly, food was an issue. I assume it was because of Covid, but we could not find restaurants open post siesta time. The one we did find, Chicopa, was fantastic on the first night.
The second night we tried to go elsewhere, but this was the only option. Unfortunately, the aforementioned San Crisotbal was not enjoyed with a juicy steak. We settled for a disappointing pizza.
The third night’s food consisted of meats and cheeses since, once again, no restaurant was open. I opened the Protos Gran Reserva and can say that I prefer the standard red.
Starving, we ended up at the best food spot in town – doner kebab. The messier the kebab, the better.
Since there are so many wine regions throughout the world, I doubt I will return to Ribera del Duero. If I do, I assume the wine tasting, restaurants, and bars will be more lively.
Ribera del Duero, specifically Peñafiel was a great experience. Covid put a damper on the food options available and is probably why the place was a ghost town.