Archive for June, 2010
This is something unique in the world (yes, there are 5 others, but nothing close to this one). And, surprisingly enough, off the beaten path by tourism. A World Heritage Monument by the UNESCO, it´s been in use since 1893, designed by Alberto Palacio (not by Eiffel, as some may think). It serves to link both banks of the river of Bilbao at its finishing point (Portugalete and Las Arenas), runs 24h/365d and it transports both vehicles and people. There´s an elevator that takes you to the very top, where a recorded system plays the story of the Bridge. The views are spectacular and you can cross to the other bank walking on the iron grilled path on top. www.puente-colgante.com, luckily also available in English!.
It´s used daily by thousands of locals who take advantage of the cheap rates and extremely high frequency of trips (it´s constantly coming and going…). I´ve used it hundreds of times, many of my childhood memories are related to this Bridge and still remember how exciting it was to cross the river on a rainy and windy day, hung from cables on a kind of wagon…And then, going to Santurtzi to have some grilled sardines on the fishing port…
I´ve been to the III Basque Tourism Week, held in Donostia-San Sebastián, Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz. Lots of interesting people discussing about how to improve the quantity and quality of visits to our beautiful but alas! so unknown country. There was one sentence, though, that got all my attention, Basque is sexy, and yes, I think we are, and for a lot of reasons…
…because of our love for good food, good drinking and festivals…because there are plenty of places yet to be discovered…because we make one of the best cheeses in the world (Idiazabal) but many others too…because in such a small territory we have sea, beaches, mountains, forests, lakes, caves and rivers…because our fiestas last long and suit all tastes and are really fun…because of our love for rural sports…because of our love for traditions…because of our unique language, euskera, so enigmatic…because we make one of the best wines in the world, the Rioja…because we don´t speak English and signs are in Basque and Spanish and tourists appreciate it…because of our laid back and easy going way of life…because we have the higher number of Michelin starred restaurants per head…because we keep a nice balance between rural and city life…because we have one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (in the world?), San Sebastián…because kids are welcome everywhere and we love to have them around…because of our love for families…and because a sunset from the top of the Hanging Bridge is a lifetime experience…among many other things…
It´s about time you come and visit a place full of positive experiences and emotions…where you will find at home. And this is not just a gimmick!!
Araba is the biggest of the three provinces that make Euskadi-the Basque Country, as it´s called. Its capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz, where the Basque Government and a good part of the Administration is based. Araba is usually ignored by tourism, except for its southern part, the wine region of Rioja Alavesa, where the best wines of Europe are made.
If coming to the Basque Country, try not to ignore Araba. It offers wonderful natural spaces (Valderejo, Gorbeia and Izki Natural Parks, for example), a wide diversity in landscapes and climates, excellent food, a great capital worth a visit and unexplored valleys surrounded by beautiful mountains.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is considered the most livable city in Spain, due to its ample spaces, the high rate of trees per habitant, number of parks, low crime rate and high number of pedestrian areas. Its Old Quarter was declared a Protected Monument in 1997, and keeps the spirit of the old times. The restoration of the old cathedral, www.catedralvitoria.com, can be followed in a guided tour that explains the whole process and has won several awards as Best Restoration Project. Not far, you can have lunch at www.restauranteelportalon.com, a XV century building with a spectacular façade and a beautiful interior, and great food, of course!!. You can´t miss the excellent pintxos served at its many bars, many located in the pedestrian street Eduardo Dato (a popular one is www.sagartoki.es). And, on the way out of town, the sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin of Estibalitz, many girls are named after the matron saint of the province.
Not far from Vitoria-Gasteiz, you can enjoy the reservoirs of Urrunaga and Ullibarri-Ganboa, both offer excellent hikes and places to have great food. The town of Peñacerrada-Urizaharra, still keeps a good part of its mediaeval walls untouched. In Salinas de Añana, further south, near the Valdegovía valley, pure rock salt is obtained as it was done hundreds of years ago, in terraces where water evaporates (guided tours available). And then, the Rioja region…that will be object of a separate post.
Two great museums in Vitoria-Gasteiz not to be missed: Artium, www.artium.org, contemporary art in a spectacular building, and the Museum Fournier of Cards, over 20.000 models of playing cards of all countries.