19 May 2024

Contemporary offices blend with traditonal Spanish architecture
Beautiful Bilbao
James Coney delivers his verdict on the art of this stylish Spanish city - and its tapas
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ining in Bilbao can easily slip into a game of tapas roulette. Or perhaps that should be pintxos roulette, as that's what the diminutive plates of bar food are called in this Basque region of Northern Spain. Mrs C is not a seafood connois-seur. I first convinced her to try fish a decade ago - and she has become more daring. But 'really fishy seafood', as she terms it, remains a challenge, which is problematic here.

Delicious plates of pintxos line every bar. It's not clear what they contain. And since most of the descriptions are printed in Basque, with excessive use of the letter x, it's almost impossible to tell what you are about to eat. Still, it's hard not to love this form of dining - and harder still not to love Bilbao.
The famous Guggenheim museum
Sip wine and sample some tapas in Bilbao
efore heading back to our hotel along a wide riverside path. Modern offices blend seamlessly with classic Spanish buildings and large parks, such as at Dona Casilda. Our hotel, the splendid Gran Domine Bilbao, is a good example of this. Every room has its own work of modern art, and it sits over the road from the Guggenheim Museum. Opened in 1997, this dazzling titanium, granite and glass shell is a must for devotees of modern art and architecture.

Even before you enter you're given a taste for the creativity/ bonkers-ness that awaits inside in the form of the 40ft topiary Puppy, by Jeff Koons, that sits outside. Inside hang works by Andy Warhol, Gilbert & George and Wassily Kandinsky.

But it's the enormous rusted 10 ft-high walls of curved metal in the main hall that really catch our imagination. They have been sculpted to form waves that merge to form mazes you can actually get lost in. Later we take a trip to the Vizcaya Bridge. This transporter suspension bridge, built in 1893, is 200ft high and carries 500,000 cars and four million people every year in gondolas that hang from steel cables. It's a staggering work of engineering and is a World Heritage Site. Fares start at about 35 cents – so plenty of change left over for another plate of pintxos.

Original article published in Apr 2015. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
Everything seems tasteful, with striking sculptures dotted here and there. Even the graffiti on the main bridge in the centre of town looks like it's been considered. We explore the back streets to the old town, and the fish market (stopping for more pintxos),
"It's hard not to love Bilbao and this kind of food."
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