If you’re not a fan of Frank Gehry and full-bodied red wine (“Carta de Almohadas” in Spanish), then the Marqués de Riscal is not for you. If, however, you are a typical human being, then it is one of the most comfortable and luxurious yet wholly unpretentious properties you’ll ever encounter.
Located approximately one hour south of Bilbao, Marqués de Riscal is one of the Rioja region’s oldest wineries, opened in 1858 by a wine-loving gentleman named Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga. If you’ve ever seen a Spanish red wine with a little wire cage around the bottle, chances are it was a Marqués de Riscal.
Of course, the fantastical Frank Gehry-designed hotel, which incorporates his signature titanium plates (as seen on L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Bilbao Guggenheim), does not date back to the 1800s. Instead, the winery commissioned the Canadian-American architect to create the “City of Wine”, and it opened in October 2006 to major hullabaloo. Even the King of Spain, his Majesty, Don Juan Carlos, was there.
Besides the exterior, however, what’s impressive is that Gehry’s touch can be seen throughout the hotel—down to the Cloud lamps (which literally looked like soft, paper clouds floating around an invisible bulb) that flanked our king size bed. Also next to our bed: the aforementioned pillow menu, which included a gobsmacking 11 pillow choices, from “Sofá”, 14oz. white goose down-filled version (with a minimum of 80% down) to “Firm”, a 50cm x 90cm variety with 22oz. white goose feathers and 10oz white goose down outside.
The Marqués de Riscal is one of those hotels that should really be explored: the hallways are so wide, they practically beg you to prance around them, doing jetés and cartwheels. There are two main buildings connected by an elevated walkway; one contains two restaurants (a bistro and a more formal dining room; the Michelin-starred chef Francis Paniego consults on both) while the other contains a Caudalie Spa Vinothérapie, a heated pool and indoor/outdoor lounge and a small gym. Surrounding the entire property are rows upon rows of vineyards, most of which go into producing the winery’s renowned Reserva and Gran Reserva (its white wines are produced in the Rueda region).
Most winery tours I’ve been on include, to one extent or another, a viewing of the stainless steel tanks where the fermentation happens; the Marqués de Riscal tour, however, also includes its incredible bottling facility and historical archives. Of course, no one is allowed in the underground cellar—but when you consider that there are up to 1,000 bottles of every single vintage since the 1860s, you can understand why. These bottles are not for sale, not even to the King of Spain (and he has tried, we’re told), but they are enjoyed. The ancient bottles can only be opened using an archaic device that is heated and applied momentarily to the glass to weaken it before it is guillotined. Gehry himself was treated to a 1929 Rioja, the year of his birth.
Sure, it may have been an inducement of sorts to get him to sign onto the project, but having seen and slept in the stunning result, it was definitely worth it.
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