The Strange Museum

After a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the Basque Country in San Sebastian, it was time to leave to coast and head inland to our next destination Bilbao, the unofficial capital of the Basque Country. Bilbao is only ninety minutes on the coach from the coast through wonderful green, mountainous countryside.It's a industrial city port that has enjoyed a remarkable regeneration in recent years. The rejuvenation is mainly in part to the investment in the incredible Guggenheim Museum on the river Nervión and the subsequent benefits this has brought to the city.

Mirador de Artxanda, Bilbao, Spain

As we walked to our hotel from the bus station we were struck by how quiet and sedate the city was. And this laid back feel continued beyond the siesta-time first impressions for the whole of our stay.

Any walk along the Nervión river is a pleasure, and an easy way to navigate your way around the city. Following the river you can't fail to miss the Guggenheim Museum, and any trip to Bilbao has to start there. The museum and the surrounding river-side designs are spectacular and it's a wonderful backdrop for a leisurely amble in the sunshine.

Puppy, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

The star of the Guggenheim museum is the building itself. Take the time to walk around the outside of the building to absorb all the incredible shapes and surfaces. Some of the most spectacular exhibits are outside such as the giant terrifying Maman spider and the gargantuan dog Puppy.

 Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Inside there are a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions, and you can comfortably wander around the various levels in a couple of hours.

 Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

We were in Bilbao for the BBK music festival and we collected our wristbands from the stunning San Memes Stadium home to Athletico Bilbao football club, just a short walk up the river from the Guugenheim. It's typical of the stunning modern Bilbao architecture and whether you're a football fan or not, it's well worth a visit. We actually picked up our festival wristbands from inside the stadium and were treated to a full view of the pitch and arena - a nice touch.

 San Memes Stadium, Bilbao

This was our fourth European Festival and it was a good one. There is free transport from the city taking you up into the hills high above Bilbao to the festival site. The first day was deceptively quiet being a Thursday, and subsequent festival days were much busier. It was a pleasant 30 degrees in the early evening and this was a well organised festival with lots of facilities, set in a very pretty location above Bilbao. The music and events start later in the evening so be prepared to watching a headliner at 2am in the morning.

BBK Festival, Bilbao

The late starts to the festival days meant we had a decent chunk of the day to explore the city. A short walk across the Nervión is the Funicular de Artxanda which takes you up to a viewing platform with great branded views of the city. A sign-posted nearby mirador at San Roque Baseliza didn't quite offer the same views, unless you're a keen plane spotter, in which case the views of the airport are wonderful.

Bridge over the Nevrion, at Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

If you are craving a view of the sea then jump on the well-connected red line metro north to the Getxo municipality. Within thirty minutes you'll be at the seaside town of Algorta, home to the old port of Puerto Viejo. The area is a joy of white washed buildings and steep streets leading down to the waterfront. It's a busy and vibrant place, and the locals were out in force to enjoy the beer, wine, pintxos and the views over El Abra Bay.

Hanging out at Puerto Viejo, Bilbao

We wandered along the pretty coast and enjoyed lunch overlooking the beach at Txiringguito Playa Arrigunaga. The metro back into the city is a short walk away at the nearby Bidezabal.

The iconic Cafe Bar, Casco Viejo, Bilbao

As in San Sebastian you are never far from a bar offering pintxos, a cold beer or a chilled red wine. There are hundreds of them! And in the evening the quiet streets came alive with a throng of folk ambling from one bar to the next. There was a lovely crowd of middle-aged people going from bar to bar enjoying a drink and a snack and it made for a really nice atmosphere, conducive to getting merry in an orderly and sensible fashion. Every street corner had a bar and a handful of tables. We drank some great wine, and never paid more than 2 euro for a glass. Perfect.

Pintxos, Cafe Bar Bilbao

The Bilbao Old Town, Casco Viejo is perfect for a coffee and meander around the narrow streets checking out the shops and cafes. Picking up the river from the old town, check out the grand Art Deco train station, then treat yourself to some flowers at the famous flower market opposite.

Bilbao train station

Our final morning in Bilaboa fell on a Sunday so we were back in Casco Viejo to investigate the weekly busy flea market on Plaza Nueva, and enjoyed a coffee and wonderful cheese and strawberry pintxos at the iconic Café Bar Bilbao.

 Flea market at Plaza Nueva, Bilbao

We absolutely loved our short visit to the Basque Country, but we already knew we would have to return to Northern Spain and investigate the coastline further, at a relaxing, leisurely pace in keeping with the local's laid-back take on life.

The old and the new, Bilbao.


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