San Mateo, Logroño (La Rioja), Spain
When I found out I was coming back to Spain in late-August/early-September this year, I knew I wanted to go to Logroño for San Mateo. One of my friends from Logroño, L, had shown me around the city when I was in Spain during college and I thought it was really charming. So, naturally, I was curious to see how Logroño would be during one of its biggest festivals, San Mateo.
WHERE/WHAT IS LOGROÑO?
Logroño is the capital of the Spanish Comunidad Autónoma, La Rioja. As you can see on this Google map, it is so small that it doesn’t even get its own spot unless you zoom in a lot. It’s about 3.5-4 hours from Madrid on the bus and is very close to Pamplona (Navarra) and Bilbao (País Vasco). The best way to get to Logroño from Madrid is to either take the ALSA bus or the PLM bus, both of which leave from Avenida de América. They are about €30,00- €70,00 round trip. ALSA passes through Soria, Spain and follows a more “scenic route” which includes some hairpin curves that could make anyone lose their dinner. I have never taken PLM but apparently it passes through Burgos, Spain and is a much smoother ride.
Logroño, and the entire Comunidad of La Rioja, is best known for its production of Rioja wine, which is usually tinto, or red wine. However, they also produce very good blanco (white wine) and rosado (or rosé). If you go to Logroño, you can tour a bodega, or wine cellar, and sample some of the best red wines-or at least some of the best I have ever tasted.
When I went in 2012, I toured the Franco-Españolas bodega, and was very impressed. I learned how wine was made and processed and even got to sample some at the end of the tour. I also ended up buying some for my family. There are many other bodegas you can tour in the region, too. Some are very famous and there is even one that has a museum.
Camino de Santiago
(The shell is a symbol of the Camino)
Logroño is also famous because it is a stop along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. It is a path that starts in Southern France and ends in Santiago de Compostela in the Comunidad Autonóma, Galicia, Spain. Many people do this in honor of Santiago, or Saint James, or just for exercise. The entire Camino would take about 40 days to walk. I am determined to do this one day in the future! Would anyone like to join?
WHAT IS SAN MATEO?
San Mateo goes back to the 12th century when Logroño, which was a little village at the time, was allowed to celebrate a yearly festival. Over time, the festival became more popular and wine, which was a main product in the region, started to be sold in the medieval markets. The most important festival took place in September on Logroño’s Day of Thanksgiving, which celebrates the wine harvest. The festival was set to take place during the third week of September, including September 21st, which is San Mateo, or Saint Matthew’s Day. Ever since 1956, San Mateo has also been known as La Fiesta de la Vendimia Riojana, or the The Wine Harvest Festival of La Rioja. (A special thanks to the website of the Ayuntamiento de Logroño for teaching me some historical background!).
This year, the festival was from September 20th-September 25th. My friends said it is usually longer, but due to the economic crisis, they had to cut back on the celebration a bit. However, there were still a ton of people enjoying the festivities all day and all night.
Like most Spanish festivals, San Mateo also has a pañuelo, or kerchief, that you can buy and wear around during the duration of the festival. Some are well-made and expensive and others are simple and inexpensive. They can range in price from €1,50 – €10,00 or more. They usually include either a symbol of the festival or, like the one I bought, the escudo, or coat-of-arms, of the city.
You Have Your Pañuelo… Now What?
When you pick up a guide, you will see that each day of San Mateo is jam-packed with events and activities. It is very hard to choose which events to attend and impossible to go to all of them. One of the main events, which I missed, is the pisado de la uva, or grape stomping. This is important because the first mosto, the resulting grape juice, is given to the Virgen de Valvanera, la patrona or one of the patron saints, as an offering. I guess I will have to go back some other time to see this. I did, however, go to a lot of other events.
I arrived in the evening on Friday the 20th and started to take part in the festivities by going to see a play called, Hermanas (Sisters), with some friends. It is a comedy about three sisters (Inés, Irene, Ivonne) and their mother. At the beginning of the play, the sisters and their mother are dealing with their father´s death. They decide to throw a party. Throughout the play, the girls manage to get themselves into many líos, or messes, and their true colors emerge. The play was hilarious and I believe it is on tour around Spain, so I recommend seeing it if you can.
The rest of the weekend, my friends and I took it easy. On Saturday, we had breakfast and walked around the city all day. The weather was beautiful. We stumbled upon many small parades put on by the peñas, which are small groups or clubs from Logroño. Each peña has a specific uniform and an escudo, or coat-of-arms.
Some of the escudos of Logroño’s peñas.
Most of the mini-parades were made up of members of the peñas. They wore their uniforms and some of them played music. In one parades, I even saw people dressed up as giants!
(Please ignore the guy in the front. They were moving so fast, it was hard to get a picture!)
Another fun thing to check out is the Feria Nacional de Cerámica y Alfarería, or the Spanish National Ceramics and Pottery Fair. There were beautiful pieces from all over Spain that I was very tempted to buy, like the piggy banks. A pig in a beret is a perfect combination. However, since I am sort of living out of a suitcase, I figured I didn’t have anywhere to put it.
Some Evening and Nighttime Activities
In addition to all of the events downtown during the day, there are also fun options to check out in the evening, such as the fair. This is a great place to go, especially if you are traveling with children. Since my friends and I are a bit older we didn’t go on any of the rides; we just walked around and checked it out. The entrance area was a huge outdoor market where you could buy handbags, scarves, clothing, soccer apparel and all sorts of souvenirs. You could easily spend hours just looking around at the things they sold.
We entered the carnival part of the fair and it reminded me of the little carnivals we set up at home during 4th of July. There were food stands, places to buy alcoholic drinks and all kinds of rides and attractions.
Because this carnival took place in Spain, there was also a place to buy jamón, ham.
Fireworks and a FREE Concert!
Every night of the weekend, there was a fireworks show and free concert. Each night, the fireworks shows were put on by groups from different parts of Spain and one group from France. The show that I saw, courtesy of Pirotecnia Vulcano from Madrid, was excellent! It was probably one of the best fireworks displays I have seen in years.
The free concerts took place at the Ayuntamiento de Logroño, or Logroño City Hall. They put up a stage and the whole area was crowded with people. My friends and I were among some of the lucky few that were able to find a seat on the bleachers near the street.
Auyrn performed in the concert I went to. They are a Spanish boy band that sings mainly in English. They reminded me of One Direction… I wasn’t very impressed. However, it was a free concert and I had a nice time, so I can’t complain.
What Else is There to Do?
Because I work during the week and San Mateo is not celebrated in Madrid, I did not have extra time off and was only able to enjoy the festivities for a few days. I would love to go back to see the grape stomping and some of the other events. There were wine tastings, food tastings, regional dance performances, handball tournaments and even a disco show!
I highly recommend going to San Mateo and Logroño if you have the chance. The city is small but charming, and has a rich history. If you are a wine lover like me, you will love it.