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    HomeLifestyleBilbao and San Sebastian: A taste of the Basque Country

    Bilbao and San Sebastian: A taste of the Basque Country

    Nestled in the heart of the Basque Country in Northern Spain, Bilbao and neighbouring San Sebastian offer a unique blend of culture, gastronomy, and breath-taking landscapes.

    Bilbao boasts a varied history that dates back to the Romans and these days, the city has gained an international reputation as a hub for modern art and architecture – as well as being known for its vibrant bar culture of finger food, known as pintxos. San Sebastian is just over an hour’s drive away, where crystal clear waters and luxurious dining experiences await food lovers; the city has some of the highest number of Michelin stars across its restaurants than many other major food-loving cities in the world.

    What to do

    The Guggenheim Museum houses a world-class collection of contemporary art

    Travellers should kick off any Bilbao adventure with a visit to the iconic Guggenheim Museum, alongside the Nervion River. This architectural masterpiece, designed by Frank Gehry, is worth visiting for the building alone, but inside it also houses a world-class collection of contemporary art. Art enthusiasts will also love the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, which is home to a diverse collection of classic Spanish and Basque paintings.

    Later, stroll through the charming Old Town, Casco Viejo, to witness the city’s historical charm. Narrow streets, colourful buildings adorned with murals, and friendly locals give a bustling and welcoming atmosphere. For a dose of culture, check out the Euskalduna Palace, which was designed by architect Federico Soriano and hosts a variety of events, from concerts to exhibitions. Finally, end the day by taking a stroll along the beautiful riverfront and enjoy the scenic views.

    san sebastian beach
    San Sebastian is an oasis of picturesque beaches such as La Concha. Image credit: Marriott

    San Sebastian is just over an hour away and presents a contrast to Bilbao’s cool industrial vibe. The city is an oasis of picturesque beaches, and La Concha is the queen of them all. First time visitors can get to grips with their surroundings by taking a leisurely walk along the promenade or relax on the sandy shores.

    To enjoy panoramic views of the city, consider a hike to the top of Monte Urgull and explore the old fortress at the summit for a touch of history. The San Telmo Museoa presents a captivating journey through the region’s heritage. Visitors are sure to be inspired by permanent and temporary exhibitions such as Clima Ideal: Carteles de Veran, a showcase of vintage posters from the 1880s to the 1960s that presents Donostia and San Sebastian as a vibrant up-and-coming tourist destination.

    Spa lovers can take advantage of La Perla’s thalassotherapy centre, which boasts hydrotherapy and salt water pools, saunas and fitness areas. For even more immersion into the local culture, take a day trip to the historical fishing town of Hondarribia, which is known for its charming medieval buildings, excellent food and calm swimming waters.

    Where to stay

    gran hotel domine bilbao
    The Gran Hotel Domine is a refined retreat at the heart of the city. Image credit: Gran Hotel Domine

    Bilbao’s Gran Hotel Domine is a refined retreat which fuses contemporary luxury with traditional elements. The hotel’s exterior is a fusion of modern lines and innovative structures, which provide a captivating visual contrast to the historic surroundings. Situated facing the iconic Guggenheim Museum, the hotel’s avant-garde architecture mirrors the artistic spirit of the city, offering stunning views of the museum and the Nervion River.

    Inside, rooms and expansive suites are a testament to meticulous design, featuring a seamless blend of clean lines, warm colours, and a curation of contemporary artworks. For those seeking relaxation, the hotel offers a spa and wellness centre equipped with state-of-the-art facilities. Guests can unwind with rejuvenating treatments or take a dip in the rooftop pool while enjoying panoramic views of Bilbao’s skyline.

    Bilbao’s Hotel Miró, located in the vibrant Ensanche district – a stone’s throw from its sibling – Gran Hotel Domine – is a boutique hotel inspired by renowned Basque artist Joan Miró. Designed by renowned architect Antoni Miró, the hotel mixes modern décor with warm comfort. Guests can expect top-notch amenities, including complimentary Wi-Fi and a fitness centre, while the penthouse suites are spacious with king-sized beds, expansive bath tubs and chic furnishings. The highlight is the bar, which is open late into the night and is decorated with art house books – great for solo travellers or as conversation starters.

    maria cristina hotel
    Hotel Maria Cristina has been a bastion of luxury since 1912

    In the heart of San Sebastian, Hotel Maria Cristina has been a bastion of luxury since 1912. Its sumptuous interiors exude elegance and perfectly capture the allure of the Bay of Biscay. Plush rooms are modern with Baroque accents and the suites combine two king sized beds to create a supersized bed for added indulgence. The attentive service ensures that every aspect of a guest’s stay is catered to, from seamless check-ins to expert concierge. Strategically positioned near San Sebastian’s renowned landmarks, including La Concha Beach and the Old Town, Hotel Maria Cristina offers a prime location for exploring the city’s key sights.

    Lasala Plaza Hotel in San Sebastian is another great option for seafront rooms which provide spectacular views of the water. Private balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows flood the spaces with natural light, while amenities are modern and indulgent. The hotel’s maritime accents and warm neutral furnishings perfectly embody a contemporary coastal vibe.

    Where to eat

    maria cristina dining
    Hotel Maria Cristina offers fine dining in an elegant atmosphere

    The hotels all host excellent restaurants which push the envelope of Basque cuisine. There are also multiple bars and restaurants in both cities that specialise in particular dishes. In Bilbao, this includes Casa Victor’s famous Solomillo al Foie – tender sirloin steak topped with foie gras. Among the diverse options, two Michelin-starred restaurants are also worth a visit.

    Azurmendi, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant from chef Eneko Atxa promises a multisensory experience, with sustainable practices complementing its avant-garde cuisine. Another standout is one-Michelin-starred Nerua, in the Guggenheim Museum, helmed by chef Josean Alija, which is celebrated for its minimalist yet intricate dishes that showcase the region’s produce.

    pintxos san sebastian
    Pintxos are a popular finger snack in the Basque Country. Image credit: Donostia San Sebastian Turismoa

    San Sebastian’s exceptional restaurants have earned the city its reputation as a global culinary capital. At the pinnacle, Chef Pedro Subijana’s Akelarre stands proudly with its three Michelin stars. Arzak, another jewel in San Sebastian, carries three-Michelin stars under the expert guidance of Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena Arzak.

    Beyond the Michelin-starred establishments, the Old Town and trendy district, Gros, have a medley of pintxos bars. Try Bar Nestor and Gandarias, which both serve Savor txuleta, a perfectly grilled Basque T-bone steak. Whether your tastes lie with Bilbao’s avant-garde spirit or San Sebastian’s seaside allure, you’re in for an unforgettable journey through Basque Country.

    Factbox

    Flights to Bilbao and San Sebastian are available from major European cities.

    Bilbao’s Gran Hotel Domine has suites from €420 per night, Hotel Miró has suites from €227 per night, with standard rooms and penthouses dependent on the season and availability.

    San Sebastian’s Hotel Maria Cristina has suites from €480 and Lasala Plaza has suites from €220, with standard rooms and penthouses dependent on the season and availability.

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