One for the bucket list
A weekend in Bilbao and San Sebastian
Ever since I heard about the building of the Guggenheim gallery in Bilbao I've longed to visit the town and nearby San Sebastian. I can hardly believe it's been 20 years since the gallery was built and we have only just managed to make the journey!
I've been lucky enough to visit the Guggenheim galleries in New York, Venice and Bilbao and I love them all, but the architecture of Frank Gehry at Bilbao is really something special. It is worth visiting even if you only see the outside of the building, but inside the gallery is beautifully designed, with perfect light and space and it's a joy to explore in all it's twists and turns. There is a huge gallery dedicated to the giant iron sculptures of Richard Serra, whose monumental work is breathtaking and a bit disorientating. In the permanent collection I enjoyed seeing works by some of my favourite contemporary artists, including Anselm Keiffer, Gerhard Richter and Yves Klein, as well as discovering work by Henri Michaux.
We stayed in the Hotel Miro, which couldn't have been better located - we had a wonderful view of the Guggenheim from our room, and it's a great base for exploring the town. The restaurant next door, Serrantes III served up the most amazing seafood, and I really enjoyed tasting goose barnacles for the first time - they are much more delicious than they look! Bilbao is quite compact and very easy to explore, and it has a fantastic tram and metro system - it couldn't be easier to get around. There are many beautifully designed bridges over the Rio del Nervion including the lovely Zubizuri pedestrian bridge. Our Hotel was also just around the corner from the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a lovely collection of Basque art and contemporary art, and is well worth a visit.
We took a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastian (also known as Donostia) - it takes about an hour, and is very comfortable and easy - the bus stops by the mouth of the river Urumea, which was fascinating to watch as the huge waves crashed down it from the ocean. San Sebastian is a great base for surfers, with two beaches - one is exposed to the dramatic breakers from the Bay of Biscay and the other, longer sandy beach is sheltered and safer for less experienced surfers and swimmers. The weather was pretty awful all weekend, but we were lucky in San Sebastian as the rain stopped in the morning and we had a really nice walk around the coastal path and up to Mount Urgull with its beautiful views of the town and the sea. We happened to arrive in San Sebastian during a carnival - I still don't know what was going on to be honest but it was so much fun to see everyone wandering around in fancy dress and the beautifully decorated floats and dance teams in the afternoon. San Sebastian is of course most famous for its amazing food, with many Michelin starred chefs as well as the traditional Pintxos at every bar. We decided to try a Pintxo trail and bar hopped our way around town sampling as many as possible. Pintxos are the Basque equivalent of Tapas, often served on little slices of bread. The bars are lined up with plates and plates of delicious little works of culinary art and it's so hard to choose! My favourites were a squid croquette and a pistachio croquette followed by the most incredible crab mousse I've ever tasted. It was also obligatory to try the local cider, which was much more delicious and less scary than the cider of my youth (which I have to say put me off the stuff for life!). I'd like to visit San Sebastian again one day and spend a little more time with those amazing Pintxos.
My highlights for Bilbao and the region would be the architecture and art, and the most delicious food, and I hope to visit again one day - hopefully when it's a bit warmer! We weren't very lucky with the weather but it didn't spoil a really lovely weekend break and I'd recommend a visit at any time of the year.
I've added a selection of my favourite photos from the trip below and if you'd like to explore a bit further, grab a cup of tea and head over to Flickr for a few more!