Bilbao and San Sebastian

When we started our roadtrip towards Pais Vasco, I had absolutely no idea of what I would find at arrival. I knew they speak a very strange dialect, the Euskera, which does not derive from Latin, is different from any other European language, and is characterized by a vast use of the letters K, V and X. Also, I had heard that the north of Spain was very different from the South and that Barcelona was almost another world, but I was not expecting this kind of charme. Due to lack of time, my journey to Pais Vasco was limited to two cities only: Bilbao and San Sebastian. I have to say I could not have chosen better, both places fascinated me but in two completely different ways.

Bilbao is the heart of the Basque county, the largest cosmopolitan city of the area and the center of socio-economic development. What I found particularly fascinating about this city is its double identity: on one hand, it is characterized by elements of the traditional Basque culture while, on the other hand, it is visibly future-oriented due to the various modernization initiatives that have been recently taken.

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Basque tradition invades the streets of Casco Viejo, also known as  “las 7 calles” in Spanish or “Zazpi Kaleak” in Basque (which means “the 7 streets” which were those that originally formed the town in medieval times). The extremely narrow and colorful streets which characterise this area of the city convey a feeling of mistery and tradition. Almost every street is pedestrian and hosts traditional pintxo taverns where people eat and drink at every hour of the day. Getting lost in these streets is for sure the best way to visit the city but don’t forget to have a look at Plaza Nueva and St. James Cathedral as well, definitively worth it.

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After having visited the other more modern areas of Bilbao such as El Ensanche (literally, “the expansion”) and the Arriaga theater, make sure you have time to visit the Guggenheim museum as well. This shimmering titanium building is certainly eye-catching and possible one of the most iconic buildings of modern architecture. The regeneration of the city of Bilbao is almost completely attributed to this amazing museum, as brought the city into the art and culture spotlight while initiating its development. The architecture of the building is almost as amazing as the variety of works that can be found inside, both in temporary and permanent exhibitions. Be prepared to spend a full morning admiring the beauty of this museum and of its surroundings.

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But Bilbao was only one part of the Basque county roadtrip, which continued on to San Sebastian, a beautiful city right on the sea. It is impossible not to fall in love with this place and its romantic atmosphere. The streets of the old town are those typical of a small maritime city, full of bars, restaurants and shops which attract tourists from all over the world. The beaches, such as Playa de la Concha and Playa de Gros, are amazing: large, clean and full of sand, perfect for sun-bathing and relaxing but also for jogging and playing beach-volley. However, my favourite part was taking the funicular up Mount Igueldo, where you can find one of the most incredible views ever. The trip on this old funicular from the 1920s is already an incredible experience but once you reach the top of the mountain and see the sea stretch out below you is something so beautiful it is hard to describe. San Sebastian is the place to come to fall in love.

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Hope you’ll love it as much as I did,

– G

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