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If you like pintxos… don't think twice and come to Bilbao!

Here are some of the best places to enjoy small bites of Basque cuisine. Enjoy creamy roast txangurro, mini pil-pil cod or a more international dish like a pastrami, sardine and chipotle sandwich. You won't be able to resist!

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Hipster route in Bilbao

There's no doubt that the hipster and hipster fashions are here to stay. While the "hip" subculture dates back to the 1940s, the movement is again on the rise and is clearly marking out its territory.

Bilbao’s fame as a cultural mecca has reached as far as China and beyond, but people may not realise the extent of the hipsterisation of this former industrial city in the Basque country on the northern Spanish coast, thanks to the transformations undertaken in recent decades and the quirky, youthful pulse of contemporary Bilbao. Even the football team, known by its English name of “Athletic Club de Bilbao”, or “Athletic” for short, fits the hipster mould thanks to its peculiar philosophy. And it’s the sole team in the Spanish league that fields only local players.

There are plenty of place for visitors to sleep. One of our choices would be Basque Boutique, a small hotel located in the heart of the Casco Viejo or old city centre. Guests are immediately immersed in the culture, since each of its eight rooms is dedicated to a particular aspect of Basque life or gastronomy: the Karola (a giant red industrial crane that still stands), Marijaia (the rotund figure of the legendary lady who presides over the city’s annual fiesta), or the baldosa de Bilbao (the city’s traditional geometrically patterned paving blocks). The hotel achieves a perfect fusion of tradition and the avant-garde, mixing vintage décor with such modem comforts and television, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and en suite bathrooms. It’s an unforgettable experience you sholn0’t miss.

Another spot that exudes charm is the little Pensión Caravan Cinema. Also in the city’s old quarter, it uniquely combines history, atmosphere, and comfort. Each of the five rooms is dedicated to a contemporary Spanish film director: Pedro Almodovar, Alejandro Amenábar, Alex de la Iglesia ,Julio Medem, and Fernando Trueba. Both comfortable and surprisingly economical. If you’re into Spanish movies, this is definitely for you.

Now that we’ve unpacked, it’s time to sample Bilbao’s famed mini food portions, known as tapas in the rest of Spain but pintxos in the food-obsessed Basque country. One place everyone should try is Brass, on Licenciado Pozas street. For breakfast, brunch, or an afternoon aperitif with a pintxo or three, this is where to go. Talented DJs also perform there after sundown, evenings, and you’ll probably want to stay all night. It’s the most hipster establishment of Bilbao, and the prices are quite reasonable.

On the same street is the la tabernilla de Pozas, an old-fashioned tavern that will take you back to the Bilbao of many decades ago. Instead of pintxos, what you’ll find on the high, wide bar are sandwiches made with tuna or anchovies (bocadillos de atún or anchoas), but you’re have to ask for them –there is no sign or indication.

Charlotte, in calle Heros, serves breakfasts, and then pintxos, as well as the most scrumptious pastries. It’s also famed for cocktails that some rank well above those concocted in New York. It’s American-style décor adds to its popularity amongst the local hipster community.

We mustn’t omit Mr Marvelous, on the same street , which is lined with interesting places. A variety of delicious croquettes, incredible loin of venison, poached eggs with truffle and mushroom sauce –you won’t be able to stop eating!

If you still have room after the pintxos, you may want a proper meal in one of Bilbao’s many excellent restaurants, such as la Camelia, for ecological sushi and the organically grown and exquisitely prepared vegetarian dishes. Who knew healthy food could taste this good?

Bascook,in Barroeta Aldamar street, belongs to the famed chef Aitor Elizegi, whose skills and inspiration have won him dozens of awards. Bascook combines traditions and innovation. The food is delicious and the atmosphere cosy. There a very affordable prix fixe luncheon menu.

For the gastronomically adventurous there is Kokken, where fine dining and fine art go hand in hand. The cuisine is Scandinavian and so is the décor –modern, functional, and very welcoming.

One further proposal is that you try Colombo, on Rodríguez Arias street. You won’t know how good croquettes, hummus or ceviche (marinated raw fish) can taste until you’ve tried them here. And the wait staff couldn’t be more attentive and charming!

When we’re able to rise from the table, we might think about hitting Bilbao’s astounding profusion of shops, Hitz for example, sells stationery supplies, gifts, and perfumes in a vintage atmosphere, set off by old steamer trunk, typewriters, and other antiques –totally hipster!

Another must is Flamingo Records, selling vinyl disks –including rare treasures and first editions– In every musical category and style. You won’t leave empty-handed.

The hipster clothing store par excellence is Arizona Vintage Clothing. It features 100% American style gear and accessories.

In the Bilbao La Vieja or Ibaiondo district you’ll find Vacas Flacas, the city’s most spectacular second-hand clothing shop, where goods of the highest quality can be purchased at bargain prices. But you must telephone an hour in advance for an appointment.

One of Bilbao’s most unusual establishments which no visitor should miss is La Casa de Atrás, with a huge selection of old books, many of them out of print for decades, as well as numerous vinyl records. There’s also an on-site tattoo parlour. Could you ask for anything more?.

One of our favourites is the famed furniture and decorations shop Almoneda Campos, on calle Bertendona. Its speciality is old-fashioned lamps and chandeliers, but there’s much, much more to see and fall in love with.

Time for a snack? How about one of city’s most hipster –and friendliest– bars,Residence, on calle Barraincúa, and very close to the Guggenheim museum. The best place in town for a tall gin and tonic or an exotic imported beer. Live music, too!

Another very special spot is La Catedral de la Cerveza, (“the beer cathedral”), a mecca for serious beer aficionados, on Carnicería Vieja street in the old quarter, featuring brews from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, and the Basque Country itself. You can even buy kits to make you own beer.

Let’s not forget bar Marzana, on the street of the same name, which has become a marvellous amalgam of the old and new. Don’t worry if there’s no table. You can sit on the street and enjoy the incredible river view.

A last drink, but where? How about La Karola? It is named for the famous crane that still towers above the site where Bilbao’s Euskalduna shipyards once stood, and which was named in its day for the young lady who used to cross the bridge over the river every day, and whose beauty transfixed the district's industrial workers and passers-by. The bar, opened 40 years ago, has enviable views of the river and food so delicious it will take you breath away.

But there are still more places to visit, such as the café-theatre La Ribera, in the lower part of the La Ribera (“the riverbank”) market. Great food and live music –chiefly jazz and indie. For atmosphere, there’s nothing like it in Bilbao.

If you happen to be visiting the city on the last Sunday of the month, you won’t want to miss The Sunday Market, inspired by such street markets as London’s Brick Lane or Spitalfields. The theme “A passion for pretty things” applies to everything you’ll see there, from decorative items and antiques to vintage clothing, cupcakes, handicrafts, gadgets, art, flowers, charming little shops, bars, and restaurants, live music, etc. Another street market, thel Dos de Mayo is set up on the first Saturday of the month, and is a great excuse to tour the neighbouring shops like Atakontu, Cultto, or Trakabarraka,and perhaps to sample a vermouth at one of the many local bars. If it’s a sunny day the atmosphere is amazing.

And here we end our hipster tour of Bilbao, first reminding you that there’s much more to this fascinating city that you’ll discover for yourself when you come. Now’s the time to book a ticket on vueling!

Photos: Fernando Sanz
Text: Tensi Sánchez de actitudesmgz.com

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Eight Very Basque Sports

You will often hear me say that I feel Basque by adoption and, if there is something I especially like about the Basque Country, it is their passion for sport in general. There are some I am not very good at, and are only suitable for locals, such as harrijasotzea (stone lifting), lasto altxaketa (bundle lifting), aizkolaritza (tree-felling), esku pilota (open-hand pelota) and even football, which is really big here. There are three local teams in the first division – Athletic de Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Eibar.

However, there are other sports which, as far as I’m concerned, are also well-entrenched in Euskadi. I have chosen the eight I would like to take part in (as a sportsman or spectator) in the next few months. I would also encourage you to try them out, or at least to come and watch them.

1. Cycling – The most widely commented sport may be football, but, in the Baque Country, the one engaged in by most is cycling. Professionally, there is the Vuelta al País Vasco (where you can delight in the famous muro de Aia, in Zarauz, including some ramps with a gradient of 28%), and the Clásica de San Sebastián. For the amateurs, there is the Bilbao-Bilbao, a race you can safely jot down in your agenda. Orbea, the oldest make of bicycles in the world, is visible in all these trials and this year marks it’s 175th anniversary. It has a track record of almost two centuries, in which it has won Olympic Games, triathlon world championships and mountain bike competitions. In short, a sport all Basques can be proud of.

2. Road Racing – After cycling, running is the next most popular sport. The most genuine local race I have ever seen is the Behobia-San Sebastian, a straight-line race that starts near Irún and ends in Donostia-San Sebastián. I will be there again in November and I hope you wll also run it some time. Run for it! Literally, if you haven’t signed up already, because the tickets sell out like hot cakes, both for the race, accommodation and flights.

3. Mountain Running – This is undoubtedly the most genuinely Basque form of running. (It is referred to as trail, but is actually a mountain race.) The culminating race is the Zegama-Aizkorri which, like theBehobia, links two towns and has a limited number of tickets available.

4. Open-water Swimming – With a coastline of over 250 kilometres, the Basque Country may be regarded as territory to be conquered by boat and – why not? – by swimming. The Basques have little fear of cold water or the Cantabrian Sea. Crossings like the Mundaka Swim (from Bermeo to Mundaka), on 27 June, the Getaria Zarautz, on 26 July, or the Vuelta a la Isla en Donosti are unique experiences. Be warned – admission is limited. If you like swimming, we recommend you check out bestplacestoswim and add your comments.

5. Traineras – The trainera is a vessel associated with the Cantabrian seaboard. It is a rowing boat – although it can be fitted with sails – which emerged in the 18th century as a fishing vessel. It subsequently evolved into what is now considered a sporting rowing boat which is strictly regulated in terms of weight, size, etc. Unlike the Olympic rowing boat, the trainera is fixed-seat. Why should this be so? Well, here it is a question of tradition, as that it how the old arrantzales (fishermen) used them. The major competition is the ACT, while the most prestigious one is possibly the Bandera de la Concha, held in Donosti every September. I was lucky enough to spend one morning with the oarsmen of Mundaka, known as Mundakarra, who had competed in the latter race in 1986 and 1987. Now, thirty years on, their trainer, Sabino, continues to spread his infectious enthusiasm among the youth of Mundaka. I also caught the bug – if I am tempted just once more, I’ll be taking  up the oars next season!

6. Triathlon – Very much in vogue are the races known as the Ironman or Half Ironman (the most demanding race in this category, which involves swimming 3.86 km, cycling for 180 km and running for 42.2 km). In Euskadi, a full-blooded Basque triathlete is likely to attempt them all. They are all tough and spectacular – Bilbao Triatlón, Zarautz, Memorial Onditz and, while we’re at it, the X-Terra Basque Country. The first two are half-distance; the third is Olympic, with a women’s version the previous day, and the last one is a cross triathlon. What characterises them all? The fact that these races are set against incredible backdrops and an exciting atmosphere.

7. Surfing – Surfing and, now, SUP (Stand Up Paddle) are highly popular in these northern climes. Near Bilbao is the beach of La Salvaje, or Sopela, and Mundaka itself, considered to have had (or to still have) the best left-hander in Europe. All the classics of the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) have surfed here. Further towards Donosti lies Zurriola, in the centre of San Sebastián or Zarautz. Schools like Pukas are doing a great job. Apart from surfing itself, SUP (Stand Up Paddle) is also riding the waves big time. Bilbao is very much up with this new pastime, which is why it hosts the Iberdrola Bilbao World SUP Challenge, one of the leading races on The Euro Tour circuit.

8. Red Bull Cliff Diving – This sport is not in any way Basque, but in the last year its popularity has soared after this majestic, stunning competition was held in the Bilbao estuary in 2014. It was so successful for both parties that El Botxo is now included on the Red Bull Cliff Diving circuit for the finals. Here, we’re all supporters of the Czech, Michal Navratil. Who are you rooting for? If you want to soak up the spectacle, you ought to start booking your ticket and accommodation for 27 September. What advice could I offer if you’re up for it? For your overnights, just opposite where the competition takes place is the Barceló Nervión. And, here are four suggestions for eating out: for a good Sunday brunch, nothing better than the Brass or the mercado de La Rivera. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something more traditional, like the ritual of crawling for pintxos, you are best advised to roam the historic centre or García Ribero street. A third option which would imply more sophistication, but without burning a hole in your pocket, is the Bascook, where Aitor Elizegi has spent years blending the most traditional Basque cuisine with the latest gastronomic trends. Lastly, if you want to indulge in good local fare and you don’t mind leaving Bilbao, go up to Kate Zaharra. There, you will be treated to wonderful views and the best fish you have ever tasted. If after all the intensity you’re still strong enough to work out in the gym or simply wish to chill out in a spa, UP Bilbao offers day tickets.

There you have it – 8 very Basque sports which are also a way of leading a healthy, active life with a local flavour. And, you don’t need to have a surname such as Zubizarreta, Ibarretxe, Urkullu or Igartiburu. Personally, I am elated at having been adopted by this magical land, with all its diversity. Are you up for discovering what sport means to the Basques? Book your ticket here and start working out.

 

Text by Raúl Casañas

Images by Pello Osoro, Ioana Manolache, Jon Saez, Igor Arzanegui, Jon San Juan, RominaAmato, RedBull ContentPool

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Museum Tour of Donostia

One of the city’s highlights is its well-known Aquarium with a history going back nearly a century. Don’t be put off by its age, however, as it was refurbished in 2008 and is now one of the most modern and comprehensive aquariums in Europe. Its full-circle transparent tunnel is breathtaking for children and adults alike, as is its touch aquarium, where visitors can touch live fish. One of the city’s must-see spots.

Another of the city’s prized museums is the San Telmo which has the distinction of being the oldest museum in the Basque Country. Sited in the old town and housed in a majestic, 16th-century building that was once a Dominican convent, both its exterior and exhibitions deserve a visit. The museum is distributed on three levels – the ground floor features a church, the lower cloister (containing the archaeology section) and two spaces for temporary exhibitions. The first floor houses a gallery displaying Basque art, while the second and top floor boasts a large collection of Spanish and European paintings by the old masters

Who said science can’t be fun? The Eureka! Zientzia Museoa proves that nothing could be further from the truth. This entertaining museum should not be missed, whether you’re accompanied by children or wish to learn science in a special way. It features 169 experimental modules as well as atxikiklik, for children aged 4 to 9, where they discover the habitat of wild animals and the five senses. If you’re travelling with children, a visit to this museum is a must.

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa is devoted entirely to the great fashion designer from Getaria. It was once the residential palace of the Marquises of Casa Torre, Queen Fabiola of Belgium’s grandparents, and the Balenciaga masters in their early career years. If you like fashion, this is your museum.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about cider, from apples to the cultural impact it has had in Euskal Herria, you should head for the Museo de la Sidra Vasca Sagardoetxea. Here you will find its complete history – the past, present and future of the fascinating world of the apple.

At the Casa de la Historia museum on Mt Urgull you can learn about the life of thedonostiarrasover time, revealing the more than 800 years of history of a city that still has a young, vibrant spirit. This museum is vital to a deeper understanding of Donosti’s history.

Right in the harbour stands the Museo Naval, a magical spot where thedonostiarras and their relationship with the sea is documented, studied and divulged. A different, interesting place where you are sure to learn something new.

Talking of San Sebastián, we can’t fail to mention its acclaimed football team. The Museo de la Real Sociedad opened to the public in 2009 to mark the club’s 100th anniversary. The museum recounts its history in a novel way, also spotlighting its other sports sections. Football lovers won’t be able to resist the visit.

Lastly, the Museum Cemento Rezola is a highly variegated museum focusing on the role of cement and buildings in our society. It features a large number of audiovisuals, simulators and interactive modules which make for an unforgettable adventure.

Not a bad tour! Donostia is pure culture. Indeed, the city is gearing up to honour its name as the European Capital of Culture 2016. To this end the Centro internacional de cultura contemporánea will be opening to the public at the end of the year. Housed in an old tobacco factory, the centenary building has been fully refurbished for the occasion.

Don’t miss the chance – book your Vueling ticket now!

Text by Tensi Sánchez (Actitudes Magazine)

Photos by San Sebastián Turismo

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