Casa Cosme Palacio and Wine tourism
40 years ago, Wine Tourism was in its infancy, and was an activity reserved purely for those in the wine business, or wealthy enthusiasts with a thirst for vino. Cut to 2022 and wine tourism is suddenly on the casual traveller’s radar. More and more tourists and business travellers are finding themselves walking the fertile soils of some of Europe’s eldest vineyards.
Wine tasting is an activity which is now available to most at home. Most local hotels and restaurants will offer a wine tasting experience. Rioja, is a more recent addition to the opportunities of wine tourism. Known for its strong tannins and sweet fruity flavours, the wineries of Rioja are starting to attract a more mainstream influx of wine tourism which has been dominated by the Napa Valley and Bordeaux until recent decades.
Spain’s First Invite-Only winery-hotel
My visit was to the exclusive, invite only, Casa Cosme Palacio. In fact, it is currently the only ‘invitation only’ accommodation in the country, a bold move some would say, but it’s one that the owners Entrecanales Domecq e Hijos are hoping will pay off, allowing them to breakthrough into the luxury tourism sector. The concept follows the increasing trend of private tourism, where visitors get to enjoy accommodation on a purely exclusive basis, characterised by ultimate comfort and luxury, whilst being immersed in a full range of flavours, senses and experiences that the location has to offer.
The winery at Casa Cosme Palacio has been on the site since 1894. Bodegas Cosme Palacio, one of the precursors of Modern Rioja, was the first winery in Rioja Alavesa to open dedicated wine tourism facilities back in 1991, with a hotel that has now been converted into La Casa Cosme Palacio. After 7 years of renovation, the accommodation is ready for a new generation of visitor. The property features 13 stunning bedrooms, including 4 suites, and a full program of 5* services and experiences.
This is a hotel like no other I have ever stayed in, no, scratch that, this place is like no hotel I’ve ever even heard of. Frequent travellers will be used to the views of some of Spain’s most beautiful vineyards, but La Casa Cosme Palacio is in another league. It is situated just outside the historic town of Laguardia, a picture-perfect walled town founded in 1164 in the Basque region, 90 minutes drive south of Bilbao. It is a rich historical site of architectural and areological importance, looking incredibly impressive on the hill where it sits.
Surrounding Casa Cosme Palacio are the famous vineyards of the region stretching as far as the eye can see, offering the perfect view to enjoy our complimentary glass of champagne upon arrival, watching the sun set to the west, casting a beautiful “golden hour” glow over the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range on the northern edge of Rioja. The Ebro river meandering through the landscape in the distance.
We were met on arrival by the winery’s current CEO, and our host for the weekend, Gonzalo Entrecanales. Gonzalo explains “Our aim is to offer our guests a unique and very exclusive experience that is integrated into the local setting. This project contributes to ensuring that guests get an immersive experience in everything that the Rioja Alavesa and its surroundings have to offer: wine, food, culture and countryside.” Gonzalo also adds that, “Due to its links to family and the essence of our philosophy, La Casa Cosme Palacio offers a unique concept, a private guest house where we can make sure that our invitees can enjoy the company and environment as if they were at home.” – and homely, is exactly how this house feels.
The exterior feels beautifully unchanged, like a cross between a century old Spanish farmhouse and a palace. Stunning grounds, including a newly added pond, are expertly landscaped and maintained. There are a number of terraces, courtyards and walkways to enjoy, where you can sit and relax over a glass of.. well…pretty much anything you like.
As you enter, you feel as if you are entering a magical place. It seems to buzz with the rich history of wine production, whilst at the same time serving as a peaceful safe haven retreat from the stresses of the modern world.
The old production tanks line an incredible tiled walkway on the ground floor, flanked by the old cellars. The living areas and rooms are built on top of these tanks. We are literally walking in the footsteps of centuries old tradition and passion.
Everything is catered for here. Once you arrive and are shown to your room, your every whim and desire can be catered for 24/7, by the butler, chef and guest services manager, the wonderful Maria. The service team really are exemplary, attending to all guest with a quiet professionalism that exudes class, whilst managing to maintain a friendly and personality filled experience. You feel in safe hands from the moment you arrive, adding to the ‘family’ feel that the hosts are going for. Accommodation is luxurious and simple. Some of the most comfortable bedding I have ever slept in, with high ceilings and stylish minimalist furniture. The bathrooms are not only pleasant, they’re enjoyable. You will look forward to your morning shower with Aesop products.
You are “invited” to stay at Casa Cosme Palacio on an exclusive basis. You will not be sharing any part of your experience with anyone outside your group. So if you are on a corporate trip of 24 delegates, or a couple celebrating a special occasion, you will receive the same level of service, scaled up or down depending on your needs.
This service, and every amenity and product are enjoyed on the house. Coffee? Fine. A request for housekeeping? Dealt with immediately. It’s all part of the exclusive, all-inclusive offering. There are multiple sitting room areas, with a stunning interior design by Cristina Arechabala. The combination of cosy and minimalist styling creates a beautiful and unique setting. History meets modern, with a cream colour scheme that allows the existing historical features of the building to be highlighted. The sitting rooms come complete with photography books showing the development of the site, log fires to lounge next to on cooler nights, and fully stocked help yourself bars, filled with all manner of high-end spirits and wines.
What you’ll be doing
You are of course welcome to plan and organise your own itinerary, or alternatively, leave it all up to the wonderful staff at Cosme Palacio, who will gladly arrange a full range of experiences and excursions: from tours of the modern-day winery, to E-bike rides through the vineyards, tasting sessions, BBQ’s and dinners, and even a gym to ensure you don’t miss leg day!
The E-bike tour was a fantastic way to take in the landscape after breakfast, with views stretching the length and breadth of the region. We also experienced an informative and pleasant trip to Laguardia, visiting the stunning Church of Santa María de los Reyes, an architectural and cultural marvel, the stand-out feature being the impressive polychrome portico that dates back to the 14th century.
Our tour of the modern winery was fascinating, as was the opportunity to experience the wines at the different stages of production. This really highlighted the decisions behind the company’s production methods. Many of the wines we tried over our visit were harvested in 2018, generally considered a poor year for other regions such as Bordeaux, however, given La Rioja’s naturally protected location, and it’s sheltered microclimate, Rioca has yielded some of the best wines of 2018 available worldwide.
My Food & Wine Experience
Three meals a day are provided, with some of the best service I have ever been lucky enough to experience, of course every dish is accompanied by a specially paired wine from the cellar. We enjoyed the tasting menu on the first evening. Highlights included the red pepper, sweet potato and egg yolk starter, and our bream fish course, which was accompanied by the vineyards own Cosme Palacio White Reserva 2018. This particular wine is aged in French oak barrels, and matured in the bottle for 24 months, giving it a gentle sweetness and great complexity in the final blend.
An afternoon was spent with a BBQ on the bright autumn afternoon, with a whole selection of fresh salad, fish, beef and Spanish cured meats. Of course this was accompanied by more of the vineyards stock, including the Cosme Palacio Red 2018, aged for 12 months in the bottle giving a deep red appearance, intense and complex aromas of smoky forest fruits on the nose with fine elegant tannins on the palate.
The Cosme Palacio Reserva 2016 Old Vines was a personal favourite. A fantastic year in the region, this wine boasts a deep cherry red appearance, with notes of vanilla, cinnamon and fennel. It leaves a spicy finish and, despite the presence of tannins, holds a pleasing sweetness, the whole thing is brilliantly balanced, showcasing the features of Laguardia – freshness, due to altitude, and red fruits as opposed to black. This exclusive wine has a low yield, with grapes being hand harvested from only the oldest vines. This, and the exacting care that is taken, means that this wine is only produced in very limited quantities.
We were given the opportunity to sample the majority of the vineyards portfolio – The stand out for me was the Cosme Palacio 1894 Red 2018 which will set you back about £50 if shopping online. Made from 70-85-year-old vines grown at an altitude of 600 metres, the wine has light floral notes and a strong aroma of red berries. It has a flavourful, strong character. It was by far my favourite as both a dinner accompaniment, and as an after dinner relaxation. Old vines are a feature of a number of the winery product lines, with the oldest vineyard in the collection dating from 1920.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 24 hour butler service, wines, expertly cooked meals, excursions and stunning accommodation in northern Spain doesn’t come cheap, and you will need to be invited by Casa Cosme Palacio if you want to find out the price for your planned trip.
What I can say, is that you would be hard pushed to find a more pleasing, luxurious and perfect tourism experience within this easy reach of the UK. The service is stellar, the food perfection, the wine complex and enjoyable. Most of all though, you really do feel like part of the family.
Visiting Casa Cosme Palacio is an intimate and valuable experience, where you are valued as a guest and member of the family for the duration of your stay. I left with a deeper connection to the region, the culture, and new found friends.
To discover more, visit: lacasacosmepalacio.com
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All imagery courtesy of Casa Cosme Palacio unless stated otherwise.