Most discerning wine-drinking Americans know the charms and flavors of Spain’s seductive Rioja region, but true oenophiles are just as likely to dream about the full-bodied tempranillos of the lesser-known Ribera del Duero.
This spectacular wine area winds among rugged limestone cliffs along the picturesque Duero River, which slices a fertile valley through the vast central plateau of the Spanish heartland. It was partly this natural beauty that prompted The New York Times to select the Ribera del Duero as one of its 52 Places to Go in 2018.
Refectorio, a Michelin-starred restaurant at Abadia Retuerta Le Domaine, sources nearly all its ingredients from local suppliers.
It’s a bit off the beaten path — about two hours north of Madrid by car, or one hour on a high-speed train — but that means you’ll never have to jockey for tasting spots like at top wineries in California or France. In fact, travelers are often amazed at the lack of cars in a tranquil countryside that’s clustered with some of Spain’s best vineyards. The drivable, bikeable and sometimes even walkable winery circuit is known as the Golden Mile.
The premier jumping-off point for exploring the region is the Abadia Retuerta Le Domaine, a winery with a luxury hotel and spa housed in a former 12th-century monastery. Chosen in 2018 as the best hotel in Spain by Conde Nast Traveler and TripAdvisor, it was the only hotel mentioned in the Times’ write-up.
“When I come through the vineyard and see this monumental, beautiful abbey, I feel like, wow, how many things have happened here in the last nine centuries, and how many will happen in the next nine?” General Manager Enrique Valero Quintana ([email protected]retuerta.es; 011-34-610-585-870) tells Luxury Travel Advisor
Of the 27 rooms and three suites, the most requested accommodation is the 1,008-square-foot Master Suite, Room No. 208, which, like most of the rooms, is decorated in neutral tones, with contemporary yet cozy furnishings and preserved historical details such as wood beam ceilings and exposed stone walls in the bathroom. Families traveling together should request Room No. 108, a 1,076-square-foot suite that comes with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, both with double sinks and tubs. Advisors can book by contacting Ángeles Lara ([email protected]; 011-34-617-345-181), director of sales.
Abadia Retuerta has 27 rooms and three suites. Shown here is the Master Suite.
Because the abbey is situated in the middle of a 1,700-acre vineyard estate, all rooms come with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. When we visited, great swaths of wildflowers covered the landscape in purple, red and yellow blooms.
One of the hotel’s signature features is its status as the first hotel in Spain to offer butler service to all rooms. The team was trained by Robert Watson, the former personal assistant to Queen Elizabeth who started a London school called the Guild of Butlers. The abbey’s butlers get in touch with the guests prior to their stay to ask about dietary restrictions, special requests and any additional needs for the room.
Already in the room are a pillow menu, Nespresso machines, a complimentary bottle of the winery’s Special Selection vintage and a complimentary minibar stocked with local beer, mineral water and juice. The sumptuous bathrooms all include double-headed showers, soaking tubs and double sinks with Anne Semonin bath products.
With a maximum capacity of about 60 guests, Valero says the level of personal attention extends to an array of unique activities that are difficult to find anywhere else in the region. Being a functioning winery, Abadia Retuerta specializes in wine immersion experiences. For the most discerning guests, helicopter tours that leave from the private helipad offer bird’s eye views of the Ribera del Duero zone, followed by a 4x4 tour of the vineyards and barrel tastings of their most exclusive vintages. Other unique opportunities include falconry demonstrations, beekeeping experiences and guided electric-bike tours with routes that change with the seasons.
Vinoteca at Abadia Retuerta has a more casual atmosphere for sharable tapas plates and à la carte dining.
The 10,000-square-foot Santuario Wellness Center & Spa, which opened in an underground space in 2015, has ultra-luxurious facilities bathed in natural light from enormous skylights. Private men’s and women’s sections each include their own sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, aromatherapy shower and cool-water outdoor waterfall shower. A heated indoor pool joins the two sections and leads to the seasonal outdoor pool in the garden. Besides the four treatment rooms, a 250-square-foot spa suite offers an exclusive retreat for couples, complete with its own amenities and a view to a private garden.
Catia Fonseca ([email protected]; 011-34-617-390-247), the spa manager, recommends taking advantage of the distinctive Spa Sommelier experience, the only one of its kind in Spain. When you arrive in the spa, the esthetician leads a blind tasting of Abadia Retuerta wines paired with essential oils, and the treatments will utilize the scents and oils that most resonate with the guest.
At the stunning, Michelin-starred Refectorio restaurant, guests dine under the Gothic arches where monks gathered for communal meals for centuries. The 15-course tasting menu is the highlight, each menu personally tailored to guests by chef Marc Segarra, who sources nearly all his ingredients from local suppliers, including produce raised on the estate itself. Luxury travel advisors should book tables through Sandra Martinez ([email protected]; 011-34-617-352-982), sales executive. The Vinoteca wine bar and restaurant offers a more causal, but still posh, atmosphere for sharable tapas plates and à la carte dining. An outdoor, poolside grill cafe is also available in warmer months, and breakfast is served either in a tranquil garden courtyard of the cloisters or in the Refectorio dining room.
Abadia Retuerta has an outdoor pool set among vineyards. Guests can opt for an informal lunch outdoors, next to the pool, in the Pool Bar.
Abundant dining options, however, are only about 30 minutes away in historic Valladolid, the capital of the Castilla-Leon region and onetime home to the Spanish Royal Court. Guests often combine a day of wandering among its tangled alleys with a visit to the National Sculpture Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of wooden religious carvings dating to the 15th century. Insider Tip: Make sure to book the inventive tasting menu at Valladolid’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, the tiny Trigo, located just off the spectacular Plaza Mayor. For something more traditional, La Parrilla de San Lorenzo serves one of the city’s best examples of lechazo, an unimaginably juicy leg of milk-fed lamb that’s roasted in a wood-fired brick oven.
For a light bite at lunchtime, enjoy traditional tapas at the Pantaleón Muñoz stand in the Mercado de Val, the city’s historic central market that was renovated in 2016. The market often has live music late into the night, and the area between it and the monumental cathedral has some of the city’s coolest spots for a drink (we suggest Berlin Bar for those who want to stick around until late night).
If relaxing in the countryside is at the top of the agenda, guests might opt for the luxurious Castilla Termal Monasterio de Valbuena. It opened in 2015 in another converted monastery about a half-hour drive past the Abadia Retuerta in the heart of the Ribera wine zone.
Although part of Spain’s five-hotel Castilla Termal group, Valbuena still belongs to the archdiocese of Valladolid, and its Gothic chapel holds limited religious services such as weddings and christenings. The national historic monument showcases numerous original frescoes and detailed stone carvings, making it one of the best-preserved Cistercian monasteries of the 12th century in Europe.
“To us it’s very important to conserve everything in this monastery,” Assistant Manager Javier Vega ([email protected]; 011-34-628-407-732) told us in the spectacular central cloister. “Because it’s not only good for business, but it’s important for our own cultural heritage.”
Its 79 rooms have modern decorations mixed with antiques, many of them situated around the cloister. Our favorite accommodation was the loft-like, 764-square-foot Mirador Suite. The stone-walled room is one of the few with a balcony and has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Duero River (which becomes the Duoro once it crosses the border into Portugal 120 miles to the west).
The larger Tesoro Suite, at 1,151 square feet, has a distinctly different feel, located under a pitched wooden ceiling studded with skylights. One particularly unique feature is a sunken reading nook with a small glass rose window that peeks down into a chapel of the main church.
Castilla Termal Monasterio de Valbuena’s 764-square-foot Mirador Suite has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Duero River.
Travelers in large groups can book the Count’s House, a collection of four junior suites and a private sauna arranged around an expansive common room. Rooms connected for families are 153 and 154, 010 and 011, 012 and 013; book through Yaiza Fidalgo ([email protected]; 011-34-983-600-816), sales manager. All rooms come with a minibar, pillow menu, spacious bathrooms with bathtubs, and a house blend of bath products made with mineral water from the natural spring of another Castilla Termal hotel and spa in the village of Olmedo.
The restaurant El Converso, which means “convert,” offers tasting menus from six to 10 courses of classic dishes that are updated with modern presentation and unique techniques. An á la carte menu is also available, served under the stone arches of the monks’ former dining room. A more casual option is the Cafeteria La Cilla, which also has an attractive outdoor terrace.
The signature element of the Valbuena is the 2,000-square-foot spa, which has 16 treatment rooms and a secluded three-pool therapeutic circuit in the Treasury Chapel. The circuit, which can be booked privately, is designed to model the St. Peter’s chapel in the main church, but instead has plunge pools of different temperatures. Vega recommends the Contrast Circuit, which includes two hours of private access to the pools, treatments, sauna and thermal showers. An added bonus: The spa sets aside special family hours for the indoor and outdoor pools.
Outside the hotel, the Ribera del Duero beckons with world-class wineries and charming villages, like nearby Peñafiel, whose medieval castle overlooks the fertile valley from a dramatic outcropping. In the countryside and in Valladolid, Vega says, is where travelers find the most traditional heart of Spain, much different from the tourist beaches on the coast and the main cities.
“Here in the center it’s a good life — all about good food and good wine, everything of good quality,” Vega says. “Our daily life is different from the coast, and you can see all these charming villages without a lot of tourists. People appreciate that.”
Castilla Termal Monasterio de Valbuena has 79 rooms, with many of them situated around the central cloister.
If You Go
The Ribera del Duero region is most accessible from the Valladolid airport, which serves private jets and is about 45 minutes by car at the closest point. Guests can also fly into Madrid, which is about two hours to the south by car or a one-hour high-speed train ride to Valladolid’s main station, about half an hour away. There is a private helipad at Abadia Retuerta.