Wednesday 25 November 2015

PHOTO DIARY: Bilbao, Spain, October 2015

Last month we visited the Basque Country in celebration of my birthday. We were away for four day and split our time equally in Bilbo and San Sebastián. Four days in this area was just perfect. We were able to see everything on my list and eat copious amounts of wonderful food. I'm absolutely sure there's more to the region than Bilbao and San Sebastián but these cities were great places to start, plus we did only have a long weekend.

I loved the contemporary vibe of Bilbao which was quite in contrast to the old town, tradition atmosphere in San Sebastián. However, the linking factor between the two cities comes down to food. My fondest memory of the weekend is probably the pintxos crawl we did in San Sebastián on our second night away. We visited about 8 different restaurants in 2 hours, stopping at each for their signature dish and a glass of wine. The weekend wasn't all food and wine, we visited a handful of museums, caught a couple of funiculars and strolled along the beach. All in all our four days away was a blissful and relaxing experience, something I can't say about most of my trips as we're usually go go go. Would I go back? Absolutely, but mainly because there's a few more restaurants I'd like to visit.

We spent one evening in Bilbao, we arrived early on the Thursday and left late on the Friday afternoon meaning we had practically 2 whole days to visit the city. This was the perfect amount of time.

Day 1:

We flew into Bilbao Airport early with British Airways from Heathrow. Once we had landed it was a only short bus journey into the city centre. We arrived at our hotel hours before check in opened so we dropped our bags and began exploring.

Our first port of call was always going to be the Guggenheim Museum, not only is it the most significant tourist attraction in Bilbao but it was also a stones throw from our hotel. The entry charge varies depending on how many exhibitions are open. You have the option to pre-book tickets from the website which is probably a good idea if you're visiting at a peak time.

You can't deny that the Frank Gehry designed building is breathtaking. The curve of the walls, the shimmering metallic façade and the beautiful use of glass make for an other worldly architectural delight. From the outside, through to the interior, it's hard to fathom just how this enormous building was constructed. Everywhere you look there's bold angles of metal, glass and stone. I could have spent hours gazing around the main atrium in awe at the different shapes created from the materials. The space is stunning and whilst the dramatic asymmetric element of the construction could have made for a confusing area, the abundance of light and clean cut colour scheme provides a relaxing and truly enjoyable atmosphere.

The art inside the museum on the other hand isn't so spectacular. I did enjoy wondering through the huge steel spirals that make up the permanent Richard Serra's The Matter of Time installation as you get a perspective of changing time as you walk round and around. And of course at the back of the museum there is the sculpture area with work dedicated to Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, and Anish Kapoor. I was a little gutted that Koon's Puppy was receiving a makeover during our visit as this enormous flowered covered dog looks simply delightful.

Tulips by Jeff Koons

Tall Tree and The Eye by Anish Kapoor

Maman by Louise Bourgeois

After the museum we went on a stroll through the city, towards Casco Viejo i.e. the old town in search of a lunch time spot. We stopped by Restaurant Rio Oja for some traditional Basque food. This included fish cooked in an oily, buttery sauce and squid cooked in it's own ink. Both dishes had quite distinctive flavours and whilst they were enjoyable I don't think I'd be in a rush to order them again. The restaurant itself was lovely, with pretty white and blue tiles and very friendly staff.

We wondered around the old town, checking out the shops but I stupidly didn't take an photos which is a shame because the buildings are very beautiful. La Ribera Market is a fantastic food market in the area.

We strolled along the river, marvelling at the wonderful architecture and just how contrasting it is compared to the old town. We found the entrance to the Funicular de Artxanda and took a ride up to the park to see dramatic views over the city. There isn't much at the top so it's definitely best to visit during the day. After a walk around we caught the funicular back into town, it's only a five minute journey and one of the highlights of the city.

We walked past this crazy looking hotel, I love the colourful windows and it fits in so well with the contemporary Bilbao architecture.

We walked over the incredible Zubizuri bridge which offers fantastic views down the river. I loved how curved this structure is, great fun for some creative photography.

Once we'd finished our walk along the river we checked into the beautiful Hotel Miro and spent a few hours relaxing before dinner. Dinner starts late in Spain, 8pm at the very earliest so it was nice to have some down time. I even had a bath which is something I never normally have time to do on holiday.

For dinner we did a mini pintxos crawl. Pintxos (pronounced pin-chos) is the Basque equivalent of tapas. Tiny morsels of food on top of a little piece of bread with a cocktail stick stuck through the middle to keep everything together. The idea is to hop from restaurant to restaurant trying their speciality dishes.

The first place we went was terrible and not even worth mentioning. Our second stop, which is where the above pictures were taken, was La Viña del Ensanche. We sampled some delicious croquettes, patatas bravas, octopus and calf cheek. Out third and final stop of the evening was situated next door at El Globo. We ate spidercrab, fois gras and seared tuna. The food at both of these restaurants were divine and definitely places to visit if you're ever in the city. The experience of standing at the bar and choosing whatever cold dishes take your fancy (or ordering from the hot menu) may not be the most relaxing way to eat but it's certainly good fun. Order a glass of wine at each place as well, the local produce is excellent, and dirt cheap.

Day 2:

After a fantastic breakfast at the hotel we walked around the corner to where the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao is located and spent an hour or so checking out the impressive collection. This gallery is a lot more history focused than the Guggenheim as well as having a contemporary art section. You'll get a great sense of how art has progressed over the years in the Basque region as well as the rest of Spain.

After strolling around the nearby park we walked over to Estadio San Mameś which is the football stadium for the local team. Interestingly, the team is made up entirely of Basque players and is one of the best teams in Spain. Whilst the stadium is in use there's still construction work going on as it's relativity new. You can see the pitch quite clearly if you take a close look through the railings and don't forget to visit the gift shop. Steve spent ages talking to the reception guys at our hotel about football so he was quite happy we visited this place.

We walked over to Casa Rufo, near the train station, for a delicious lunch of steak. Casa Rufo is a wonderful little, traditional restaurant found at the back of a food shop. You'll probably need a reservation but it's worth it for the old school vibes and delicious food.

We popped our heads into Alhóndiga Bilbao, a multi functionally venue designed by Phillippe Stark as we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags. The ground floor is covered with pillars, all varying in design and is a nice place for a quick walk around whilst you're in the centre of town.

Before heading to the bus station to catch a coach to San Sebastián we stopped by Mami Lou Cupcake for a quick cupcake, it was my birthday the following day after all. The shop is really cute and the cupcakes weren't bad either.

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  1. Bilbao looks amazing! I'm so excited to visit in a couple of weekends time - I used to live opposite the spider sculpture so it'll be nice to give her a visit again! x

  2. the food at casa rufo looks delicious, and that fountain is huge!

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