Tag Archives: Bilbao

4 years later…an update on 2010 post, “Places in Bilbao I Like That You May Also Like”

  • Menéame0

Time surely goes fast…I still remember when the Guggenheim was being built and when we took pictures of tourists, awed at the fact that there were actually people visiting Bilbao!! Well, things have changed a lot since then: Bilbao has turned into a wonderful, livable, lively town, great for foodies and a must-see from an architectural point of view. My favorite places have also changed, and so I also have new likes and dislikes. Let´s talk about 9 places that I love and that you may miss as a tourist, as they´re a bit off-the-beaten-path:

1) Mercado de la Ribera, the biggest covered market in Europe, completely re-built, and where my guests love to take pics of the fresh fish at the fishmongers´, of the Ibérico ham hanging from the ceilings, of the wide range of local cheeses and of the farmers that offer their locally produced vegetables (without any “organic” label on them…no need for this kind of marketing)…

2) Alhóndiga, the former wine warehouse located on the very center of Bilbao, now a public cultural and leisure center. Its interior has been singularly designed by acclaimed designer Philippe Starck, and it has a great rooftop bar where you can enjoy great music and views.Alhóndiga rooftop bar

3) Diputación Street, right behind the beautiful building of the provincial government or Diputación, in the Gran Vía (main street). Great pintxos in El Globo, good cocktails at El Embrujo, wonderful ibérico ham at La Viña, excellent steaks at Santa Rosalía…

4) Henao and Heros streets area, close to renovated Jado square (the one with the lions fountain in the center), where new bars have added life to this beautiful resident area. Mr Wonderful, Coppola pizzeria (in Barrainkua st), Singular, Residence, El Txoko de Gabi, Las Cepas…excellent pintxos and wine route, as well as good live music.

5) Bacaicoa bar, in Unamuno square, Old Town…the best pintxo of grilled mushrooms in town.

6) A ride on the Begoña or Iturribide public elevators, in the Old Town, for the very best views of the Old Town of Bilbao from above. Very cheap and a great experience as a local.View from Iturribide elevator, Old Town

7) A ride on the Funicular of Artxanda, from Castaños street…definitely the best views of the whole city from above…just turn left when you get up to get to the view point.

8) Santa María street in the Old Town on a Friday evening, for alternative pintxos bars and restaurants and great street atmosphere (we love having pintxos outside bars, rather than inside)

9) Doña Casilda Park, or “park of the ducks”, as we used to name it when kids…lovely public gardens in Bilbao, right behind the Meliá hotel. Perfect place to relax and enjoy the coolness of its shady trees and pond.Doña Casilda Park

Holy Week…not so Holy anymore, but still beautiful

  • Menéame0

As you probably know, Holy Week is celebrated all over Spain with processions and a wide variety of rites related to suffering and pain. While the most extended idea is that Holy Week is just celebrated in Seville, the truth is that it´s a period of religious passion in many other places. Not so many years ago all tv channels (well, we had just two when I was a kid) broadcasted religious movies, radio stations played just religious music, cinemas and bars were closed on Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday, people ate very lightly as a penance and mainly fish, and there was not much to do except attending the local processions.

It´s not like that any more. Now the religious sense of the Holy Week has been practically lost and it´s a time for holidays. But processions are still there, and in Bilbao they are on the streets for a whole week. They are breathtaking: the sound of trumpets, the penants wearing those high coned hats and covered faces, the rhythm of dozens of drums, the overwhelming silence, the images that are rythmically carried by at least 12 men at an endless pace…It´s really something unique and I love going to see them…of course bars and cinemas and everything is open now, so…yes, we do enjoy a glass of wine and a pintxo afterwards.

In Balmaseda, west of the Basque Country, in the province of Bizkaia, they celebrate the most famous Live Passion, where the inhabitants of this beautiful town hold a religious show in the open air recreating the Passion of Christ. Breathtaking, real…it takes place at night and hundreds of families and visitors gather for a religious show that has been represented for the past three centuries and always with town locals, that play their roles as real professionals. www.viacrucisbalmaseda.com, part of it in English.

A Pintxo is not a Tapa…and a Tapa is not a Ración…

  • Menéame0

pintxos BilbaoMany potential visitors to the Basque Country tend to ask about The Best Tapas Bars in town. Well, I normally answer telling them that, first of all, there´s no such thing as Tapas Bars. Most bars offer tapas or pintxos. And also, that a Tapa is not a Pintxo. To make it more complicated, a Pintxo is not a Tapa and a Tapa is not a Ración and Pintxos can be divided into Banderillas and The Rest while The Rest may have another subdivision, Pintxos You Eat With Your Hand and Pintxos Served On A Plate…it seems a bit complicated, uh?pintxos Donostia

Let´s start by the very beginning: Pintxos (or pinchos) were (and still are) small portions of food that are placed on the counter and you pick them with your hand. The classic one is the Spanish Omelette, served on a piece of bread. You get into the bar, order your drink, and grab the pintxo with your hand. There´s normally a big selection of pintxos on the counter, you can have as many as you want, but the local custom is to have just one with a “zurito” (half a beer) or a glass of wine or cider. In some selected places, mainly located in the Donostia-San Sebastián area, they also offer Pintxos made on order, more elaborate, more expensive, and that are nomally eaten using a fork.

Tapas are not Pintxos. Tapas are complimentary served in many parts of Spain, for free, to go with your drink. They are more basic than a pintxo, and may also be smaller. In some places they call Tapas to Raciones. A Ración is something that is served hot, you have it seated, in an informal way, and normally share several with your friends. And is not free. You may order A Ración of Calamares, of Patatas Bravas (spicy potatoes), of Albóndigas (meatballs), Champis (mushrooms), etc…pintxo ganador

One of the effects of the Pintxos becoming more and more popular is that  in many bars in San Sebastián they give you a plate and tell you to place your pintxos on it, then they charge you for them. That is an outrage!! Pintxos and drinks are always paid when you finish and should NEVER be eaten on a plate. It´s not our way and it should never be, pintxos are eaten with your hand and the etiquette says that they are paid based on an honor system: the waiter asks how many you´ve had, and you tell him the truth. No need to count…

Every year we hold a Pintxos Championship. The winner bar will be famous forever and customer will flock in to taste his small culinary preparations…For more info, a useful web is www.todopintxos.com.

Some Places I Like In Bilbao You May Also Like

  • Menéame0

There´s always an area in every city in the world that is widely visited by tourism, forgetting about other places that may be even more interesting. Bilbao is not like San Sebastian, which offers an unparalleled natural beauty as well as a better known gastronomy. The “Guggenheim effect” has brought tourists to this formerly ignored city, but the vast majority just stay a night or two and then leave, missing some of the charmest spots in town.

What follows is a quick very short list of some of the places I like in Bilbao (ordered as they come to my mind), that you normally will not visit as a tourist (and at very fair prices):

1) Bar EME, www.baremebilbao.com,  absolutely the best sandwiches in the whole world (and I´m not exaggerating), locals love this place, you can have them either at the bar or to take away, it´s amazing how many hundreds of them they sell every day. Made with a special bread and a secret sauce, they are a treat. Quality remains untouched over the years. At 2,20 euros each, a bargain!!

porron2) La Tabernilla de Pozas, in Licenciado Poza street (known as “Pozas”, the most popular street for having some drinks before the soccer matches), you´d never enter here because it doesn´t even have a sign outside. There are no bars like this anymore. Wine coming from wooden barrels behind the bar, drunk in “porrón”,  it´s popular to have (non-peeled) peanuts and wonderful tuna sandwiches (real ones with huge chunks of fish and wonderful crusty bread), an ageless counter, unaltered premises for ages,…, and the legend says that the two brothers behind the counter haven´t talked to each other for years..

3) Melilla y Fez, in Iturribide street (Old Town), just entering the street on your left hand side, a huge variety of potato omelette (Spanish omelettes) served in big portions at very good prices. Also, “pinchos morunos” (real kebabs) and a lively local atmosphere.pinchos morunos

4) Bar Estoril, in Plaza Campuzano (downtown), the best long drinks in your life, together with wonderful french omelette pintxos. Can´t miss it screw driver made with real orange juice and the gin & tonic.

5) Bar Rio Oja, in El Perro street, the best cazuelitas (tapas), Old Town (Casco Viejo), homemade cuisine at popular prices.

6) Azak restaurant, in Pablo Alzola st, in the Basurto district, you can have selection of Iberic specialties and cheese for as less as 14 euros…and so big you´ll need to have another bottle of their wide (and cheap) wine list. A rarity in this district. Huge selection of meals, appetizers and beers.rio oja

7) Taberna Taurina, in Ledesma street (center), small but authentic with dozens of pictures of bulls and bullfighters.

8) Mina restaurant, a small restaurant in the heart of the Old Town, facing the Ribera Market. A bit pricey, but worth every cent spent at it. The chef Álvaro Garrido deserves a Michelin star, at least. Menu changes weekly, always surprising, always delicious.

9) Maestro García Rivero street, in the very center of town, full of bars where  you can have a “zurito” (small beer) or a glass of wine together with some pintxos in any of its several bars. Lively outdoor atmosphere, the place to meet to start the night for many locals.

In your next visit to Bilbao, try to visit any of the places mentioned above. You´ll get a true feeling of what this city is about.

11 Must-Sees in the Basque Country

  • Menéame0

The suggested routes below are, in my opinion, those places that you should visit when coming to this so much unknown country. Most are easily accessible on public transport and, except in high season, you shouldn´t worry too much about crowds.

1) DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIÁN, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (in the world?), views from Igeldo mountain, pintxos in the Old Town, Chillida-Leku open air museum (www.museochillidaleku.com), the picturesque fishing town of HONDARRIBIA.

2) ZARAUTZ, GETARIA (wonderful promenade almost touching the sea linking both towns), grilled fish at any of the restaurants in Getaria, ZUMAIA and its beautiful church, LEKEITIO, its port, its island and the incredible retable inside its church.

3) ARANTZAZU Sanctuary (www.arantzazu.org) and OÑATI and its University(www.oinati.org).

4) SAINT JEAN DE LUZ, BIARRITZ, BAYONNE-BAIONA, in the French Basque Country (also Petit Bayonne, on the other side of the river), great chocolates and gateau basque, apart from picturesque villages and perfect beaches for surfing.

5) BILBAO, Guggenheim Museum (this was obvious!), Old Town (Casco Viejo), Funicular train to Artxanda for spectacular views of the city.

6) The HANGING BRIDGE (Puente Colgante) of Portugalete, a Unesco World Heritage Monument, unique in the world, over 110 years old and running 24 hours a day.

7) VITORIA, Old Quarter (jewish) and a guided visit to the spectacular restoration of its Old Cathedral (Ken Follett based its novel World Without End on this cathedral, so they made him a statue!)

8) ATXONDO valley, where silence can be heard, spectacular place with the mountains and sheep in the background. And several wonderful restaurants .

9) URDAIBAI Biosphere Reserve and the beaches of Laga, Laida, the town of Busturia, Mundaka (surfers´ paradise), the sea estuary, the caves of Santimamiñe and the PAINTED FOREST OF OMA. Also the steep fishing town of Elantxobe.

10) The walled towns of LAGUARDIA and LABASTIDA and the wine region of Rioja Alavesa. Not to miss the guided visits to the wine cellars underneath the town.

11) The POZALAGUA caves, in the Karrantza valley, a spectacular combination of rare stalactites and stalagmites, now specially prepared for visits with kids,, http://www.karrantza.com/?seccion=cuevas3&idioma=es.

You will not find massive tourism or tourist traps at any of these places, and distances from one to the other are not that big, so plan your visit in advance and you will make the most of this absolutely beautiful corner of the world!!

The Old Fishing Port of Algorta

  • Menéame0

puerto viejo 3Yet another place full of charm that you don´t normally visit when you come to the Basque Country. Located on the east end of the river of Bilbao estuary, it is the small fishing quarter that gave birth to the fancy suburbial town of Getxo. puerto viejo 1It consists of a group of typical fishermen´s houses, painted in white, red and green, uphill, and full of nice places to eat. But you don´t see any tourists here, it´s mainly locals, that like to walk along the beautiful promenade by the sea starting at the Hanging Bridge (www.puente-colgante.com, a Unesco World Heritage Monument, we´ll leave it for another time) and passing by the magnificent villas and mansions overlooking the beach of Ereaga, and ending at the Old Port, the Puerto Viejo.

You can also get there on bike or by car, but I recommend the walk along the beach to end having a glass of wine or beer together with a great pintxo at any of the bars on the port. Kids jump from top of the stairs to the water, just for fun, while people sit on the puerto viejo 2stone verandas watching them and enjoying an outdoor drink with some “caracolillos” (periwinkles?¿, small black sea snails, much appreciated over here) or fresh shrimp. Climbing the renovated stairs where young people like to sit, you will find a statue of a fisherwoman and a kind of shrine devoted to the Virgen del Carmen, as well as a small cozy square where you may want to sit down and enjoy some peanuts (with shell) and a drink and another pintxo. On top, after another image of the Virgin, there are three or four excellent fish restaurants (catch of the day, mainly), expensive but worth the experience.

A bit further uphill, to your left, the mirador of Usategi, for outstanding views of the bay. On the way back , there´s an elevator to your left that takes you to downtown Algorta, the metro is easily accesible from there.

(down, view of the Old Port from the beach of Ereaga)

ereaga