CREATIVE HUBS: BILBAO
A former industrial hub turned hotbed of creativity and gastronomy, Bilbao’s star is fast ascending. Despite it being Spain’s tenth biggest city, Bilbao has a lot to offer; hot on the heels of Barcelona and Madrid, it is quickly gaining rank as one of Spain’s coolest and most creative destinations. Located in northern Spain’s Basque Country and framed by lush mountains, the city is split into two sections: the Right Bank and the Left Bank of the Nervión River. The city’s an atmospheric labyrinth of cobbled streets combined with surprisingly modern structures: old, traditional bars look out over architecture like the iconic cable-stayed La Salve Bridge, a green concrete structure equipped with a steel deck and a renowned red gate designed by French artist Daniel Buren, connecting up to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum.
The gastronomy in this super relaxed and ‘off-the-tourist-beaten-track’ hotspot also packs a punch, and has tucked an impressive amount of one-to-three-Michelin-starred restaurants under its belt. With its creative scene flourishing, now is a great time to jet over for an unexpected gem of a city break.
WHERE TO STAY:
Located in Bilbao’s old quarter, Caravan Cinema is a family-run affair set in a 200-year-old building with ancient stone walls. Its retro design is ’50s inspired, while each of its 11 rooms is inspired by a film director to give the obligatory nod to the institution’s name.
Art lovers should book into Hotel Miro. Granted its name is more to do with the hotel’s interior designer Antonio Miró than artist Joan Miró, but it does look right over the Guggenheim Museum. Bedrooms are modern with local black Marquina marble bathrooms, and the hotel’s contemporary photography collection is well worth a look.
Basque Boutique does what it says on the tin, providing a wonderfully unique experience in true Basque Country style. Its eight rooms are kitted out with beautiful handmade furniture from the local area that makes quirky references Basque Country folklore.
WHAT TO SEE:
Of course the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao should be up there on your list of modern art must-sees, but the Bellas Artes Museum (Bilbao Fine Arts Museum) is a close contender and lovely alternative. It’s got a fantastic Picasso exhibition on until February 2018.
An afternoon siesta should come high on any Spanish agenda, and what better place for a kip and a breath of fresh urban air than this haven of peace? Built over 100 years ago, outdoor concerts take place in its grounds and there’s a fountain with sound and light shows.
Azkuna Zentroa – a 1900s former wine warehouse turned cool, contemporary multi-functional space – was designed by the eponymous Philippe Starck. The ground floor covers a vast 6000-square-meters containing a media library, a theatre and a cinema. The jewel on top of the space’s crown has got to be the rooftop pool (and sun terrace), which has a transparent ceiling and glass floor that give you full view down into the plaza while you swim.
It’s no secret that Bilbao’s residents are well-attired, so the timeless pieces found at Harry’s 1982 are a welcome addition for the city’s fashionistas. Opening its doors just last week, it’s brought a smart collection of menswear that combines laid-back Spanish sophistication with elements of an English country gentleman, plus a brilliant range of shoes, too.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK:
Sitting on the canal, Mina, sometimes referred to as the ‘Brooklyn of Bilbao’, is one of Bilbao’s many Michelin-starred restaurants. The tasting menu revolves around local, sustainable produce and ranges from a light tasting menu to a full, 14-course tasting menu that changes daily.
Arrese is one of Bilbao’s most famous bakeries dating back to 1852. Locals come flocking for their truffles, which are coated in chocolate with a butter-cream centre. For a real treat, try one of these pieces of heaven flavoured with coffee or a splash of cognac.
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If you’re looking for a pre-dinner apéritif or some of the best pintxos in town, then Ledesma Musikariaren Kalea is your street. You’ll find it just parallel to Bilbao’s main shopping street, Gran Via. Try Café Iruña for beautiful tiles and great wines.
A 15-minute drive from Bilbao is triple-Michelin-starred Azurmendi, serving food that’s as sustainable as its striking architecture. Surrounded by vineyards and cut into the hillside, one of the building is made entirely of glass. In keeping with its commitment sustainability, the restaurant also houses photovoltaic solar panels, a system that helps recycle rainwater and a rooftop vegetable garden.