One of the jewels in the Rioja Wine region's crown is this lovely walled, hilltop town in Alava at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria escarpment. Laguardia's narrow pedestrianised streets, so cool and peaceful on a hot summer day, leap into life in early evening as the townsfolk indulge in their family strolls, calling at the scattered Tapas Bars, or patrolling the gardens along the walls under the glowering face of the mountain. On mild evenings they converge on the 'Balcon', a prominent viewing point on the west side of the town, to watch the sun go down.

Founded by King Sancho Abarca in 1164 it was given its name (Guardia) because of its strategic importance to the then Kingdom of Navarra. Subsequently it became part of Castile and then the Basque Country. However it is located in an important part of the Rioja wine region, that of Alavesa, and boasts some superb Bodegas on the town's outskirts, while within the walls are ancient cellars, of which some are still in use, the occasional impressive mansion and, above all a lovely church.

This is a popular place for visiting Madrileños and Bilbainans who stay at one of the high class, boutique hotels and indulge in the excellent cocina of their dining rooms. During the day they might choose to visit any of the dozen or so exclusive Bodegas here and at nearby towns like Elciego and Paganos. Laguardia is littered with charming shops, many selling superb selections of Rioja wines, peppers, asparagus, olives, olive oil and other delicacies in tins or jars, aswell as relative wine artifacts.

This town has led the way in stimulating a drive towards attracting more tourism all over the region, so if you cannot get a hotel room here, don't despair there are others in the vicinity and you can still enjoy a visit to Laguardia.