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6 ways to get off the beaten track on your next visit to Bilbao

After two decades of ripping up the urban rulebook, Bilbao continues to fast forward into the future with new projects like the colossal Zorrotzaurre island development. The city retains its traditional character, however, in the Old Town and its famous pintxo routes (the Basque spin on tapas). Check out our list of the 6 most offbeat things to do on your next visit to Bilbao.

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Bilbao is in fashion

By Tensi Sánchez from actitudesmgz.com

t gives me great pleasure to debut as a writer for My Vueling City and, naturally, my first post is about Bilbao. Without boasting or bragging too much, it must be said that no other European city has anything of which “My City” could be envious of. See for yourself as you read on.

Bilbao has been able to reinvent itself to an extent that few other European cities have achieved. In less than fifteen years, Bilbao has gone from being an industrial city to a city where the focus is on services, and the constant change continues to this day.
There is no surprise then that the majority of large international companies have set up shop in Bilbao; the regional capital of Biscay. Bilbao can also claim to have put itself on the map as an architectural benchmark.
Residents and visitors alike can enjoy a highly varied lifestyle that includes a great combination of the modern, the traditional, good food and shopping.
Just one weekend is time enough to immerse yourself Bilbao’s lifestyle. Here are a few suggestions about my favourite places in the city.

Everybody knows that good food abounds in these lands and this is precisely one of the strengths in Bilbao. Restaurants can be found dotted all over the city and cater to a wide range of culinary tastes. Exploring the many options is a delight for all the senses as you are seduced by the cuisine and often spectacular visual treats.

Here are some great examples: Un Señor de BilbaoLa Cuchara de ValentinaNeruaLa chuleta sin espina and Shibui, the latter being the only place in the city to offer haute cuisine, Japanese-style.

Bilbao is also the perfect city for trend setters and trend followers. A clear example of mixing the modern and the traditional can be found at Enkarterri Concept Store; clothes, furniture and food, all franked by the Basque label.

When talking about fashion and design, I must mention Persuade, the quintessential temple to avant-garde fashion and, dare I say it, the most amazing shop I have ever seen in my whole life ( although not suitable for all budgets), and Shopa, which specialises in design, clothes, books, wine and much more, is located inside the iconic La Alhóndiga leisure building and was designed from start to finish by French industrial designer, Philippe Starck.

And finally Lu:laNarataSerie BCharadaCultto and Ah Moda are shops that exude fresh and different fashion.

After a hectic morning of shopping, treat yourself to brunch in Plaza Nueva in the old town. You cannot come to Bilbao and leave without trying the famous Basque pintxos! Just take a short walk and you’ll see for yourself that there are countless bars just waiting to be discovered.

Visiting one of the many contemporary art galleries is another option but Epelde y Mardaras is undoubtedly the most peculiar. Located in an enormous flat dating back to 1840 with the chance to order lunch or dinner, it really is an incredible experience.

For vintage style at its purest, go to Almoneda Campos – an intriguing shop full of all kinds of items from times gone by. However, if you’re looking for something more exclusive and modern in terms of decoration and design, I have two excellent suggestions: Urbana 15 and Mosel.

Enjoying a carefully-prepared evening drink is a must in this city. My favourites are to be had at Corto MaltesLa Gallina CiegaEl txoko de Gabi and, of course, on the terrace at Hotel Domine with those marvellous and unbeatable views of the Guggenheim Museum – the perfect place to round off an evening in Bilbao.

And if that’s not enough for you, there is always an online agenda of cultural and leisure activities happening in Bilbaoilovebilbao.com. I recommend you sign up for free before planning a trip to Bilbao because it will help you find information about everything that is going on, up to a week in advance.

Vueling offers a large selection of connections to the city so there is no excuse for not planning your “perfect weekend”. Bilbao is in Fashion… ¿What are you waiting for? Book your flight now!

By Tensi Sánchez from actitudesmgz.com

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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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The Best Potato Omelettes in Bilbao

The world’s pintxo capital (referring to what trendies would call “finger food”, which has been around in the Basque Country since time immemorial) also boasts some outstanding tortillas de patata or potato omelettes. And, speaking of omelettes, we ought to clarify certain points before moving on to locations. Firstly, a great potato omelette should reach the table with the egg slightly moist. Any other option is an aberration which no omelette connoisseur would approve of. But, take note – I said “slightly moist”; not liquid, but set. There is nothing worse than an omelette with runny egg drizzling all over the plate. You do get them, and we have even been served the occasional one in establishments allegedly renowned for their omelettes.

Let’s proceed – with onion included, please. The secret of the perfect omelette is the balance of flavours between the egg, onion and potato. And, if we remove one of the vertices of the triangle, the creature will be bereft of that sweetish touch provided by ripe onion. That does not mean further ingredients are not welcome, but they should be added judiciously, without them stealing the show. Or that there shouldn’t be any exceptions either - we all know that the omelette world is impregnable.

Lastly, the perfect omelette should always be golden brown on the outside, without being burnt – there is nothing more awful than the taste of singed egg. The texture should be pliant, mellow, well-set, and the potato soft and smooth; well cooked but without being dry or pasty, or hard and crisp either.

Another factor to be considered when talking about the potato omelette phenomenon is what time of day to eat it. The answer is unquestionable, and only narrow-minded folk would say otherwise – at any time of day. And, when I say at any time, I mean for elevenses, afternoon tea, for lunch or dinner, as a snack, when you get back from a party in the wee hours, but also – and here is the clincher – for breakfast. At 8 in the morning. With the marks left by the bedsheets still fresh on your face. Accompanied by a nice milk coffee. The Basques are well aware of this. Indeed there are also so many other things those of us from other Spanish autonomous communities need to learn from them. We unfortunately aren’t that adroit at bold, early-morning pairings.

So, after this long, hard reflection on the perfect omelette and having eaten some and consulted with Eneko Sukaldari, one of the leading experts on potato omelettes on the planet, we went in search of the finest in Bilbao. Let the discussion commence…

Brass 27. That an establishment with a hipster calling, acclaimed for its superb brunches, should make what is likely the best omelette in town is a sign that times are changing. Even for Bilbao. While the long-standing classics are shutting shop, others are opening. (This is a subject apart – the havoc wrought by the crisis on something as hallowed as the potato omelette.) And, they show the world that serving up a fine omelette is not necessarily at odds with a chic-industrial-vintage aesthetic. The Brass 27 variety is mellow and balanced, with a perfect creaminess. Interestingly, it rubs shoulders on a fusion cuisine menu with dishes of South American and Asian inspiration, like Pad Thai with prawns. Gee… it’s the 21st century!

Swansea. Located near the San Mamés stadium and thus frequented largely by a football crowd, this commonplace establishment in the best sense of the word boasts one of the best omelettes in Bilbao. What makes it so special? Let’s dispense with superfluous detail – if we took a mugshot of the perfect potato omelette, the resulting picture would be that of the Swansea omelette. It oozes prowess – the egg is done to a tee (not apt for lovers of well-cooked food or compact omelettes), the outside is an exquisite golden brown and the sole accompaniment is a piece of bread. Wicked! Rodríguez Arias Kalea, 70

La Ribera Bilbao. Delightful venue with a sophisticated industrial look, housed in La Ribera market, with lovely views of the estuary. Here you can taste some grand omelettes while listening to live jazz; pair them with cocktails, include them in a brunch and savour that fantastic goldie touch, their perfect balance, powerful flavour and smooth, mellow, ideal consistency, the stuff of our dreams for some time to come.

Salón de Juego Concha 1. There are many reasons to love Bilbao, and one of them is that among the best omelette venues in town – a centre of pilgrimage for gourmets and epicures from the world over – is located in a gaming saloon. The hangout on Calle General Concha has long featured a fabulous omelette – tender, delicious and with perfect flavour and consistency. A round of roulette after the tuck-in… the ideal finishing touch to a perfect evening!

Brace yourself before venturing into the wonderful world of Bilbao’s potato omelettes – book your Vueling to the city here.

By Laura Conde of Gastronomistas.com

All photos courtesy of Eneko Sukaldari

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