Arriving at the new Hotel Marqués
de Riscal, perched atop the Riojan winery’s cavernous aging cellars at the edge
of the medieval village of Elciego, Spain, recalls the scene from Steven
Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind in which Richard Dreyfuss
tentatively approaches a pulsating UFO on a remote mountaintop. Gleaming, fixed
titanium ribbons in rose, silver, and gold swirl about the Frank Gehry–designed
hotel’s central core like an extraterrestrial mother ship about to discharge its
Fortunately, there are no trapdoors, unearthly lights, or
aliens—just the attentive staff of the 43-room boutique hotel, managed as part
of Starwood’s Luxury Collection. Officially opened last October with a visit by
King Juan Carlos, Riscal certainly qualifies as one of the world’s most
distinctively designed hotels and may someday even be classified as one of the
According to Francis Hurtado, a descendant of the founder of
the 148-year-old winery, the company decided during the 1990s to broaden its
outreach by creating a City of Wine, a hospitality complex that would include
new winery buildings and a world-class hotel. Gehry, who was at the time just
completing the Bilbao Guggenheim about 80 minutes to the north by autoroute, was
an obvious candidate for the project’s architect. But while the choice of Gehry
was obvious, the best method for securing his services was not. Riscal’s
elaborate courtship, however, finally succeeded when the winery lured Gehry into
the estate’s dusty wine library, located in the oldest part of its cellars, and
served him a Marqués de Riscal 1929, the Canadian’s birth year.
Unlike the Guggenheim, where Gehry’s architectural flourishes
are integral to the building’s function, the Riscal’s flowing canopies are
largely decorative—though they do serve as shade awnings and frame the hotel’s
countryside views. The main building contains 14 rooms and suites, while the
adjacent spa annex offers an additional 29 rooms. The hotel is physically joined
to the bottle-aging cellar, selections from which are served at the hotel’s
elegant bar just off the lobby.
Guest rooms in the main building are angular with high
ceilings, large beds, and enormous Bang & Olufsen BeoVision flat-panel
screens mounted to their walls. Floors are blond wood, and the bathrooms have
separate showers and tubs of green marble. Each room is dominated by a large,
modern bay window with tilted glass that wraps around wood-and-leather benches.
Number 8, the Gehry Suite, looks across a narrow ravine to
Elciego (a five-minute walk away) and its 16th-century Iglesia San Andres. Bed
linens are by Rivolta Carmignani, tables and chairs by Alvar Aalto. “Gehry
designed or specified much of the furniture,” says Starwood’s Vanessa Ferrer.
On the top level of the hotel is a guest lounge and library
leading to a rooftop patio. “Our goal is to have around 1,000 books related to
luxury in the library—gastronomy, architecture, cigars—all signed by their
authors,” Ferrer adds. Less-literary guests may prefer to stroll a few steps
from the hotel proper, across a short footbridge, to the newest Caudalie
Vinothérapie Spa, where they can be misted with grape-seed extract and
invigorated by scrubs and wraps made of grape skins and honey.
Francis Paniego, the first Riojan chef to receive a Michelin
star, runs the hotel’s Marqués de Riscal Restaurant. He serves a blend of Basque
and Riojan dishes—some traditional, some modern. His tomato tartare, for
example, was inspired by a trip to Morocco. “I blended dates for sweetness with
local tomatoes,” Paniego says. “Travel is important, but you can always find new
things next door.”
It is fitting that this project, which began with a glass of
wine shared by architect and winemaker in the cellar, should also culminate with
wine: the limited-production Riscal Gehry red wine cuvée that was released
during the king’s visit. Virtually unavailable except at Marqués de Riscal’s
City of Wine, this exceptional red provides ample excuse for a repeat visit.
Hotel Marqués de Riscal, +34.945.180.880, www.luxurycollection.com ($400–$1,830)
Location: Elciego is in the legendary Rioja Alavesa wine
region, within the Basque territory, 80 minutes from Bilbao International
Forty-three rooms and suites, including the Gehry Suite, which was decorated
according to the architect’s specifications. Rates include daily breakfast.
may dine at the casual 1860 Restaurant or at the more opulent Marqués de Riscal
Restaurant, the creation of Michelin-starred chef Francis Paniego. Both
establishments offer blends of international and local cuisine. The wine bar
Vinoteca serves lighter fare.
Wine: In addition to touring the winemaking facility and
ancient cellars at Marqués de Riscal’s Rueda and Elciego wineries, oenophiles
can visit nearby wineries designed by Santiago Calatrava (Bodegas Ysios), Zaha
Hadid (tasting room at López de Heredia), Iñaki Aspiaza (Bodegas Baigorri), and
Philippe Mazieres (Viña Real).