User Login Form
Social Travel 2.0 Statistics
|Bilbao: the perfect break|
This confident, bustling little city – small enough to walk around – is now an international art hotspot thanks to Frank Gehry’s
titanium masterpiece, the Museo Guggenheim. The less striking Museo de Bellas Artes also houses some of the finest art in Spain.
The rejuvenated port nestles in the green folds of the Euskadi’s coastal mountains on the Bay of Biscay. Besides the exciting new architecture of Bilbao’s renaissance, there is a beautiful medieval quarter, the Casco Viejo, on the east bank of the Nervión river – the heart of the city.
The food is sensational. Forget tapas – the Basque version, pintxos, are epic in variety and taste, with a strong piscine influence. A ritual bar crawl, known as a txikiteo, involves scoffing pintxos washed down by txakoli, the local white or rosé wine. Bilbainos do the rounds of the pintxos bars at Sunday lunchtime, followed by a stroll around the food market in the Plaza Nueva.
Get there by…
Plane. Bilbao’s airport, Loiu, is six miles north of the city centre, with daily flights from London. EasyJet flies from London Gatwick and Stansted, from £63 return. A taxi into Bilbao costs upwards of 20 euros. Otherwise, there is an airport bus service every 30 minutes.
Or take the Portsmouth-Bilbao car ferry, which operates twice weekly
The five-star Silken Gran Hotel Domine (Alameda de Mazareddo 61, 0034 94 425 33 00, opposite the Guggenheim. There’s a good restaurant, with a contemporary Basque menu including bacalao (salt cod). Its Sixties-themed cocktail bar, with live guitar music, is open to non-residents; doubles from 159 euros.
The three-star Petit Palace Arana (Bidebarrieta 2, 0034 94 415 64 11, is a refurbished hotel in a 19th-century building near the Teatro Arriaga. The rooms are small but comfortable, and it offers good internet deals. It also has a free bike-loan service; doubles from 81 euros.
The two-star Hotel Artetxe (0034 94 474 77 80; a traditional Basque house on a hill above the city, has charming rooms and great views. Best if you have your own transport; doubles from 54 euros.
Spend the morning…
At the Guggenheim. Its entrance is guarded by an unlikely Cerberus, a 40ft dog made out of flowers. Puppy is the creation of kitsch American artist Jeff Koons and has become the unofficial mascot of the city. Get photo taken of self with dog.
The interior of el Goog is as amazing as the exterior, the vast contours of which are clad in shimmering fish-like titanium scales. The 150ft-high atrium is the centre of the museum, with the galleries radiating off it. The river outside the atrium is incorporated into the design by means of a raised walkway, linking it to the museum’s water garden.
The exhibitions vary during the year, but Richard Serra’s seven-part The Matter of Time alone is worth a visit. Made from 1,000 tons of weathered steel, this permanent installation is designed for visitors to move around and through each piece. It is laid out to the artist’s site-specific design to maximise their effect both at ground level and from the mezzanine above.
Pintxos. Roam from bar to bar in the Old Town. Try also the café at the Guggenheim on the first floor by the entrance, with a large outdoor terrace. The interior, all wood panelling and glass screens, is also designed by Gehry. It serves drinks and snacks but gets over-crowded. Cafe Boulevard (Arenal 3), first opened in 1871, retains its elegant Art Deco interior, and is perfect for an iced coffee pit-stop.
The Siete Calles, the seven original streets of medieval Bilbao. The 19th-century Plaza Nueva market is at the heart of the Old Town and edged with cafés, bars and shops. The market itself is known for antique books, coins and postcards.
If it’s raining, head for La Alhóndiga. This huge 19th-century former wine warehouse in Plaza Arriquibar, which reopened last year after a remodelling by French designer Philippe Starck, now serves as a large multi-purpose arts and activities centre for the public. There are exhibition spaces, auditoriums, a media centre, libraries, seven cinemas, swimming pools, gyms and a multi-purpose rooftop terrace.
Back at the Guggenheim (0034 94 423 93 33, www.martin berasategui.com). Executive chef Martín Berasategui – one of the region’s most famous culinary figures – has teamed up with three protégés, one of whom, Josean Martínez Alija, is chef at the gallery. The menu updates many traditional dishes; the caldo de sopakos con chipiron guisado y salteado combines two classic Basque specialities, garlic soup and squid stewed in its own ink. Booking is a must.
At Jolastoki (Avenida Leioa, Neguri, 0034 94 491 20 31, the menu combines elaborate fish and fowl dishes such as chicken stuffed with truffles or grilled turbot with saffron oil. Do book.
Stay up late…
In Indautxu, one of the hottest neighbourhoods after dark and where you’ll find the popular Cotton Club (25 Gregorio de la Revilla Kalea, 0034 94 410 4951, a bar with live music, DJs, dancing and more than 100 varieties of rum and whisky.
Or try the Teatro Arriaga for world-class opera, concerts, ballet and zarzuelas (comic operas). Check forthcoming events at the tourist information office in Paseo del Arenal.
Spend the next day…
At nearby sandy San Sebastián. The Playa de la Concha is the largest beach, with an elegant promenade and cafés. There’s a jazz festival in July and a week-long carnival (August 8-15). It also hosts a distinguished film festival.
For more information…
Visit the Tourist Office on Plaza Ensanche