BILBAO, SPAIN: Few cities and buildings are so associated as Bilbao and Guggenheim and few structures made of glass and titanium have transformed the fortunes of a city like this museum for the northern Spanish city. The Basque country’s largest city has been transformed into a culture lover’s safe haven. In addition Bilbao has opted for design as the basis of its renovation as a city.

If I were an art critic I would argue that the art presently appearing inside the museum’s countless corners are less interesting than the building itself. Of course there are some appealing works by artists such as the French-American Niki de Saint Phalle, but there ends my fascination for the recent art collection on show. Fortunately, I’m not an art critic and I am sure new exhibitions will bring even my enthusiasm to a higher level. That said, Guggenheim Bilbao must be the only museum offers gastronomy on the highest level at the less formal Bistro Guggenheim and a haute cuisine restaurant with one Michelin star. As you probably know, tempting food can be a great piece of art.

More than Guggenheim. Over years Bilbao has gone through a transformation with the metro system, fusion of architecture, unique creativity of Phillipe Stark to be seen in the Alhondiga, a former wine warehouse that has been converted into a multicultural centre. Don’t forget to visit Museo de Bellas Artes, with works by greats such as Francisco de Goya and Paul Gauguin is worth a visit. The city´s history and life force is connected with the many bridges. Add the lively Avenida de Abandoibarra and redeveloped Casco Viejo, offering over 400 stores, to your visit and you have a clear idea of the new and shiny Bilbao.

Snack crawl. It is easy to find the way around and walking the streets is a perfect way to work up an appetite. Bilbao is famous for its cuisine and the quality, and the variety of pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, is refreshingly good. Each bar has their own type of pintxos, such as cured meats, salty seafood and tasty cheeses. Follow the locals and go from bar to bar on a snack crawl tasting specialities. You wan´t be disappointed.

Gastronomy. I select Star Chef Josean Alija as the representative of the high gastronomy. In 2011 he received his first Michelin star. Now he is in charge of restaurant Nerua located in the heart of the Museum with entrance from the river promenade. Alija serve a cuisine based on local produce, the best each season has to offer – with delicious creativity. It is a personal cuisine, bursting with flavour, influenced by vegetables, filled with gentle touch, stripped down as the fruit of reflection.

Menue at Nerua: As a starter I suggest Prawn with steamed chickpeas and aromatic herbs. As mains try fried hake, pumpkin and green sauce, or Beef tenderloin with cauliflower puree, garlic stalks, mint and corialder. As dessert a mix of pumpkin, banana and lemon ice cream. Three courses will set you back 98 Euros.
Reservation Nerua: [email protected]

All the artists. During my rather short stay I recognised that Bilbao has managed to preserve much of its history. While the city looks to the future, it also blends the modern in with the traditional style. Of course, the biggest Basque city had a strong identity long before the Guggenheim opened in 1997. Visit the lively Casco Viejo, walk around the “Seven Streets” and try the pintxos with the locals. I came across that there is an artist behind every dish in Bilbao.

Make it Happen!

Touch Down: Busses run every half an hour from Bilbao Airport taking 25 minutes to reach the bus station of the centre. One-way fare is 1,50 Euro. A taxi takes 15 minutes and cost 25 Euros.

Stay: Hesperia Bilbao hotel has a prime position right opposite the Guggenheim Museum, next to Nervion River and five minutes walk to the shopping district. Bright guest rooms and La Ria Restaurant serves a selection of modern Basque dishes.

Eat: Bar-hopping to taste the wine and pintxos and dine in one of Casco Viejo´s many restaurants. Traditional and modern. This is the short description of food served at Restaurante Victor. Here food has been served since 1940. Victor, Plaza Nueva 2. Tel: 944 151 678

Play: Bilbao has a late night culture, for both eating and drinking. Casco Viejo, the old heart of Bilbao, is packed with bars, eateries and clubs and very much full of life.

Mini Guide: Take the funicular railway up to the top of Mount Artxanda to enjoy the views it offers and to feel the city at your feet. Watch an Athletic Club match and feel the true passion and atmosphere around football stadium San Mamès. A new season kicks off in end of August.


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