“On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.” Unknown
Bilbao is our first stop in the Basque Country. The city has its own personality. It is quite small which makes it easy to walk around and enjoy the Basque culture. The Basques have their own language which is different and unrelated to any other language in the world. If you are linguistically obsessed, this is a good place to be. There are also several different dialects of Basque, so the Basque that people speak in Bilbao is different from the Basque that is spoken in San Sebastián. You will notice a lot of k’s and tx’s.
We meet our guide Kyle from Cultural Xplorers. He is carrying three umbrellas -just in case. As we were to learn, some days, it seems like all it does is rain in the Basque Country. They even have a word for that light, misty rain that seems to never stop – txirimiri.
We start with breakfast at a pinxto bar and have a potato and egg torta and a cortado coffee.
Walking through the beautiful city, we head to the train station. There is a large stained glass window depicting Basque life.
There are lots of architectural gems scattered all over the city,.
We enter Casco Viejo (Old Town). At its heart are Bilbao’s original seven streets, dating back to the fourteen hundreds when the city was founded.
There are many historic buildings like the Gothic Cathedral and tiny streets lined with quirky shops and bars.
I find an authentic hat store and buy a Basque beret -ish.
I could have wandered around here all day – except we were getting hungry again. That could only mean one thing in Basque country. It was time for pinxtos.
Pinxtos are foodie heaven. Imagine sitting in a bar having a nice quiet drink and being able to steadily munch your way through a range of amazing food from wonderfully cured meats, steak, cheese, olives, rich foie gras, duck and fish in various guises. It’s overwhelming and Kyle helped us find the best ones.
They are in every bar so even if you just plan on going for a drink-you will end up eating. Kyle points out some of the better bars so we can come back on our own.
The truth is I don’t think you can find a bad meal in Basque country. It is known for amazing food.
We continue eating in the nineteenth century Plaza Nueva.- full of pinxto bars which come alive between three and eight pm.
It is a custom to go from bar to bar and try different pintos along the way.
Refueled, we take a walk down the waterfront toward the Guggenheim Museum and our hotel.
The riverfront promenade has an eclectic mix of traditional and modern architecture and is buzzing with both tourists and locals. We see the La Salve Bridge and the big art installations outside the Guggenheim Museum.
There is Louise Bourgeois (Maman -spider), Jeff Koons (“Tulips” and “The Puppy” which is a giant flowering topiary in the shape of a terrier).
There is Anish Kapoor (“Tall tree And The Eye” aka a stack of metallic balls) and Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Sculpture, which is a unique sensory experience of a jet of fog emanating from the water in the moat surrounding the museum at every hour -odd to experience in the pouring rain.
We meet for a late lunch early dinner at La Vina Del Estanche. On a trip of best food ever, this meal rates very highly and was only the beginning of the food to come.
The next morning I go over to the new exhibit at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. It was their 110th anniversary and newly renovated and reopened the day I arrived. The exhibit was ABC including Spanish, English and Basque letters and words.
Through a selection of more than 300 pieces and 200 artists, they created an alphabetic story.in 31 rooms. Each room was a word. Arte (art), Bilbao, Citoyen (Citizen), Desira (Desire), Espejo (mirror), Friendship………( P was for Portraits- from many different artists)
It was really cool and the museum has some interesting pieces. (love this one – John Davies-Every War Memorial)
And then it was back to eating. After a private tour of the Guggenheim we went to the Michelin starred Nerua. Nerua is an ancient Latin name for the Nervion River where the restaurant in the Guggenheim museum is located.
The small restaurant is designed by Frank Gehry with white walls and tablecloths and his signature curvy chairs.
When we arrived it was pretty much empty.
Chef Alija’s tasting menu was a beautifull and artfully prepared take on Spanish flavors.
I did not know what to expect from my visit to Bilbao. A bucket list place doesn’t always live up to the hype. Bilbao’s enchanting mix of old and new with a focus on food and people makes it a wonderful place to visit. Special thanks to Kyle for making us feel so welcome, comfortable and extremely well-fed in his wonderful city.