Staff Review

The Basque Country

by The Kirker Team

Despite the fact that I have explored a fair bit of Spain over the years, the Basque Country has remained an enigma to me. It was with some excitement then, that I found myself travelling to Bilbao on a wet and windy but atmospheric November weekend. It is often overlooked that Bilbao is less than 2 hours flying time from London, making it an ideal destination for a short break. Although the northern coast does not enjoy the Mediterranean climate of the south, it gains from a beautiful, rugged coastline dotted with sandy coves and fertile land which some of the country’s best wines. The Basque Country runs from just west of Bilbao along the coast to the east of San Sebastian and south of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the region's capital.'Bilbao is best known today for the Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry. Set along the river in what used to be docklands, the building houses a collection of works by Basque artists, and is as much a piece of sculpture itself as anything found within. The whole area was regenerated around 20 years ago, and is now also close to the Melia Bilbao and Gran Hotel Domine, the Kirker hotels in Bilbao. Both are contemporary properties, perfect for exploring both the Guggenheim and the lesser visited Museum of Fine Art. In particular, I would recommend an upgrade at the Grand Hotel Domaine for a room with a view of the majestic Guggenheim directly opposite.'Bilbao, of course, is a thriving, workling city which offers more than just art. A walkway now runs from this regenerated area towards the old town and siete calles – one of the best areas in town to sample pintxos. For those lovers of tapas, think bigger, better, and even more delicious. The name derives from the Spanish for spike as the majority are pinned to a slice of bread by a toothpick. 'Leaving Bilbao, I got my first impression of the coastline that weaves along to San Sebastian. The prevalence of surfers speaks volumes for the regular weather patterns that drift in from the Bay of Biscay; think a more dramatic version of the south Devon coast. A brief stop for lunch in the beautiful fishing town of Getaria, and we were arriving into San Sebastian. I have always heard of the city as a foodie heaven, and with a ridiculously high percentage of Michelin star restaurants in the city, food holds great importance here - do speak to the Kirker concierge for an update on our current favourites. I was lucky enough to stay in the newly refurbished Maria Cristina, the Grande Dame of San Sebastian now restored to its former glory. The hotel is equal distance between the two beaches in town, and also close the old town and its restaurants and pintxos bars. 'San Sebastian is amongst the smarter of the mainland cities, and certainly worth a longer stay, especially in the summer months. It was therefore with regret that I headed to Bilbao after only one night to fly home - the Basque Country definitely gets added to my “must return to” list.

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