January 04, 2013

The Basque Country

Alain, a friend of mine, hosted me in Bilboa for a couple of days. I had first met Alain in China, while sailing the Li River near Yangshuo. We met again in Beijing to feast on some balls. He met me at the Bilbao train station as I rolled into town from Barcelona. Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country, which spans several provinces in Spain and parts of France.

We spent the first day exploring the city proper. Bilboa has buses, trams, a metro system, and even a funicular that transports passengers up a mountainside. Bilboa's most noteworthy landmark is the Guggenheim Museum. The titanium sheathed masterpiece was designed by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry, who is also the man behind the Experience Music Project in Seattle. The museum revitalized Bilbao's riverside, brought in millions of tourist euros, and set a new standard for contemporary architecture.

On the second day we explored the surroundings in Alain's car. Castillo de Butrón is a fine medieval castle tucked away amidst some hills, while Bermeo is a quiet fishing village with a picturesque port. We crossed the oldest operational transporter bridge in the world at Portugalete. My favourite part of the road trip was exploring San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a 10th century hermitage perched atop an islet.

We dined at some of the finest restaurants in the region. Lunch was at a traditional restaurant that oozed character, housed within a former mill. Dinner was in the exquisite beach town of San Sebastien. The former royal resort is located only 20 kilometers from the French border. Like plastic surgery clinics in Seoul, Michelin starred restaurants can be found on almost any street corner in San Sebastien.


“Travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone.” – The Dhammapada