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Sample Meeting and Event Itinerary for Wine Country

Five Days in Rioja, Spain

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Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is stunning and unique venue for receptions and special events. The Guggenheim is perhaps one of Bilbao's most iconomic landmarks and a must see prior to wine country meetings in Rioja.

Courtesy of Bilbbao Turismo

Those who plan incentive meetings and other events in Spain’s La Rioja region often establish a four or five day itinerary that includes a combination of city and wine country experiences.

One popular business events destination in this northern Spain area is Bilbao, a city of one million people and an incredible mix of architecture. A definite stop on any business meetings itinerary would be the Guggenheim Museum, one of Bilbao’s most famous venues for special events and receptions, designed by famous architect Frank O. Gehry.

Bilbao is a business city where more than 500 professional conferences and conventions are held each year, according to Bilbao Turismo. Bilbao is surrounded by forests, mountains and beaches, making it an excellent gateway to a wine tasting experience.

Most international incentive programs that are held in the Rioja region will spend at least one night in Bilbao prior to heading for wine country. Rioja is a large region in Spain, and many small towns and villages are found here. Other popular destinations for meetings and events for wine country include Vitoria and San Sebastian – both being neaby Bilbao within two hours.

The following sample itinerary will help any international event planner begin to consider some of the possibilities for their programs and events in Rioja, Spain:

Day 1

Arrivals: Transcontinental departures typically leave the prior night. U.S. flights usually connect through Madrid’s Barajas Airport to Bilbao Airport in Spain’s Basque Country, designed by famous contemporary Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Guests should arrive mid-day.

Hotel Check-In and Afternoon at Leisure: 32 hotel choices are available in Bilbao with 14 hotels that fall into the four and five star. Three suggestions for business events hotels in Bilbao include Sheraton Bilbao Hotel (5 star), Hotel Carlton (5 star) and Hotel Miró (4 stars), among others.

Reception and Guided Tour: 6 p.m. Dinner in Spain usually does not begin until 9 p.m., so it’s encouraged to offer your guests a late afternoon welcome reception with tapas and other Spanish region food hosted at your hotel. Guided tour may be via shuttle bus or walking tour of city center where the Guggenheim is located.

Dinner: 9 p.m. Host dinner at one of Bilbao’s 800 restaurants with a welcoming Spanish meal. Incorporate suggestions such as Iberian ham, seafood paella, stews, cheeses, potato dishes and custard (see, Sample Spanish reception menu).

Day 2

Morning at Leisure. Breakfast at the hotel and free time for guests to explore the city of Bilbao prior to leaving for the Rioja wine country. Some famous Bilbao sites and activities include De la Merced Bridge, Riverside Market, walking through the old city and enjoying the riverside walk along the Nervión, among others.

Hotel Check-Out and New Hotel Check-In: Depart Bilbao at Noon, and head to the Rioja Alavesa region and the town of Elciego to stay at Marques de Riscal, A Luxury Collection Hotel (Starwood), just one hour outside Bilbao. This hotel is popular with the Spanish, as well as those from the UK, France, Portugal, USA and Germany.

Wine Tasting and Lunch: 1 p.m. Host welcome wine tasting at the Marques de Riscal winery and luncheon at Bistro 1860 on property.

Late Afternoon/Early Evening at Leisure: Allow guests to relax and explore the hotel property, facilities and town.

Tapas Dinner: 9 p.m. Suggestions include tapas dinner in the Marques de Riscal modern and informal wine bar or private outdoor dinner reception with Spanish guitar music in the background.

Day 3

1/2 Conference Day: 8 a.m. Breakfast, business meeting and early lunch held at hotel.

Teambuilding Activities: 1 p.m. Suggestions include area winery tours, Spanish cooking workshops, guided medieval village tours, Marques de Riscal wine tasting events, spa and golf. Winery suggestions include Bodega Ysios and Lopez de Heredia Winery.

Dinner: 9 p.m. Off-site dinner location TBD. Suggest working with a local destination management company or Marques de Riscal for options, including Spanish entertainment.

Day 4

1/2 Conference Day: 8 a.m. Breakfast, business meeting and early lunch held at hotel.

Teambuilding Activities: 1 p.m. Suggestions include area winery tours, Spanish cooking workshops, guided medieval village tours, Marques de Riscal wine tasting events, spa and golf. Winery suggestions include Bodega Ysios and Lopez de Heredia Winery.

Dinner: Closing event dinner at Restaurante Gastronomico. Dessert event on the Rooftop Lounge-Library.

Day 5

Hotel Check-Out and Return Home at Leisure

Of course, there are so many unique options available for planners to hold wine country meetings and events in Rioja. Oftentimes, some programs may extend their time a little longer or split the wine country destination between a destination hotel such as Marques de Riscal and the Basque Country capital of Vitoria, a relatively unknown city to Americans, but classically beautiful with numerous options for gastronomy. This is just a taste.

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