The Funicular of Artxanda, 99 years of history for the best views of Bilbao

25 09 2014

Next year we will celebrate 100 years of the first trip of the Funicular of Artxanda, one of the two cable trains that exist in Bizkaia (the other one is in Trapagaran, ascending to Larreineta mountains for the best views of the estuary of the river of Bilbao). It runs every 15min from 07:15am to 10:00pm, the trip takes roughly three minutes and it leaves you on top of Artxanda hill, a very popular destination for all Bilbao citizens when they want to enjoy nature, restaurants and some relax. Once you get to the top, turn left on exit and walk for about 200m…you´ll arrive to the best viewing point of Bilbao, with wonderful views that embrace the whole city. A must on your visit to Bilbao.

A short video on the way up:

http://www.bilbao.net/cs/Satellite/funicularArtxanda/Subida-Virtual/es/100001152/Contenido?idVideo=100023561

funi artxandafuni artxanda2

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The Flysch of Zumaia, Amazing 60 Million Years Back in History

16 08 2014

Zumaia is a beautiful town that is, quite surprisingly, not visited by foreign tourism. Located on the coast, it offers a unique experience, though: the visit of the Flysch (an association of certain types of marine sedimentary rocks characteristic of deposition in a foredeep”). Its Geopark offers a stunning view of the magnificent flysch formations by the crashing of the waves against the cliffs, stretching a total of 5 miles. It can be easily seen from the Church of San Telmo, on top of Itzurun beach.Itzurun beach and part of the Flysch

San Telmo church and FlyschGeologists from all over the world come to this area to study the Earth´s formation and the different prehistoric periods, and some say that the Zumaia flysch covers up 100 million years back.

FlyschThe area is also stunningly beautiful and there´s a beautiful walk along the cliffs, that is part of the Way of St James pilgrimage. A must see during your visit to the Basque Country, taking into account also that Zumaia is close to the quaint fishing ports of Mutriku and Deba.Zumaia





The One and Only Transporter Bridge of Portugalete

25 07 2014

This is one of the most pleasant  surprises for most of my guests when coming to the Basque Country. I tend not to inform in advance about what we are going to visit, this way I believe the visit has the added value of the unexpected. And so here it is…after a 2´drive from the cruise port, or just 20´from Bilbao, the unique Puente Colgante (officially named Puente Bizkaia) appears in front of us. At first sight, they don´t understand what´s going on: “OK, an iron bridge…what else?” and the look of disappointment is kind of worrying. But then the suspended barge starts crossing the river to get to the other side, and right there is when they open wide their eyes and start taking pictures and getting closer to the Bridge.The Transporter Bridge

It runs 365/24 and has already been used for over 650 million people in its 121 years of existence (inaugurated on 1893). Designed and patented by Alberto de Palacio, a local engineer (disciple of Eiffel), its main use was to link both margins of the river without interrupting the constant flow of ships transporting iron from the mines on the nearby mountains.

 

 

It allows the transport of passengers and 6 cars, apart from bikes and motorbikes. It´s been recently painted (color was chosen by popular vote) and a full maintenance work has been carried out to make sure that it´ll be running for another 100 years or more. Mainly used by locals and not designed as a tourist attraction, it has been awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Monument, a fact that has increased the number of visitors to this incredible bridge. There´s an elevator that takes you to the upper walkway, with great views and some explanations on the origins of the Bridge.The barge

A ship crossing under the bridgeA must on your visit to the Basque Country…and close to the beach of Ereaga and the beautiful old fishing port of Algorta…

 

 

 





An Update on my 2010 post, “Some Places You Wouldn´t Go in Bilbao if Not Told”

8 07 2014

Time surely goes fast…I still remember when the Guggenheim was being built and when we took pictures of tourists, awed at the fact that there were actually people visiting Bilbao!! Well, things have changed a lot since then: Bilbao has turned into a wonderful, livable, lively town, great for foodies and a must-see from an architectural point of view. My favorite places have also changed, and so I also have new likes and dislikes. Let´s talk about 9 places that I love and that you may miss as a tourist, as they´re a bit off-the-beaten-path:

1) Mercado de la Ribera, the biggest covered market in Europe, completely re-built, and where my guests love to take pics of the fresh fish at the fishmongers´, of the Ibérico ham hanging from the ceilings, of the wide range of local cheeses and of the farmers that offer their locally produced vegetables (without any “organic” label on them…no need for this kind of marketing)…

2) Alhóndiga, the former wine warehouse located on the very center of Bilbao, now a public cultural and leisure center. Its interior has been singularly designed by acclaimed designer Philippe Starck, and it has a great rooftop bar where you can enjoy great music and views.Alhóndiga rooftop bar

3) Diputación Street, right behind the beautiful building of the provincial government or Diputación, in the Gran Vía (main street). Great pintxos in El Globo, good cocktails at El Embrujo, wonderful ibérico ham at La Viña, excellent steaks at Santa Rosalía…

4) Henao and Heros streets area, close to renovated Jado square (the one with the lions fountain in the center), where new bars have added life to this beautiful resident area. Mr Wonderful, Coppola pizzeria (in Barrainkua st), Singular, Residence, El Txoko de Gabi, Las Cepas…excellent pintxos and wine route, as well as good live music.

5) Bacaicoa bar, in Unamuno square, Old Town…the best pintxo of grilled mushrooms in town.

6) A ride on the Begoña or Iturribide public elevators, in the Old Town, for the very best views of the Old Town of Bilbao from above. Very cheap and a great experience as a local.View from Iturribide elevator, Old Town

7) A ride on the Funicular of Artxanda, from Castaños street…definitely the best views of the whole city from above…just turn left when you get up to get to the view point.

8) Santa María street in the Old Town on a Friday evening, for alternative pintxos bars and restaurants and great street atmosphere (we love having pintxos outside bars, rather than inside)

9) Doña Casilda Park, or “park of the ducks”, as we used to name it when kids…lovely public gardens in Bilbao, right behind the Meliá hotel. Perfect place to relax and enjoy the coolness of its shady trees and pond.Doña Casilda Park





Small family Wineries in Rioja—A Different Approach to Wine Culture

3 07 2014

Marqués de Riscal winerySo you love wine and therefore you´re coming to the best wine region in the world, Rioja. It belongs to three political regions (La Rioja, Basque Country and Navarre) and has three distinctive wine areas (Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja), each one produces wine with different characteristics and personality. Rioja Alavesa is the region where top quality wines are produced, and here you can visit many worldwide famous wineries, such as Marqués de Riscal (with its famous Frank Gehry´s building) in Elciego, Muga, CVNE and Rioja Alta in Haro, , Viña Real, Remelluri in Labastida, Ysios in Laguardia, Baigorri, etc….

 

Francisco extracting his wine from the barrelBut there are hundreds of small family wineries that are not visited by massive tourism. Places that welcome visitors and offer also a guided visit to show their family business and their traditional wine making processes.

 

In a town like Villabuena de Alava, for example, there are more wineries than inhabitants (300 people live there), and it´s a similar thing in most towns in the area. Most families own a small private winery where they produce wine for friends or a reduced number of visitors. It´s also true that many are semi-abandoned or falling apart due to not being used anymore. It´s a real pity, but I guess sometimes it´s hard work to keep this business going. So if you have the chance when visiting Rioja, don´t miss the opportunity to visit at least a small family winery to see how wine has been produced throughout several family generations. (Pictures here belong to a 17th century winery, no name outside, that produces an excellent wine and it´s still running by the retired owner)Old wine bottles in the cellarEntrance to the cellar





How To Eat Pintxos Like A Local in the Basque Country

23 06 2014

Given the increasing number of tourists (don´t worry, the Basque Country is still a heaven for those that feel comfortable far from the madding crowds) that come to this gourmet´s paradise in search of the best pintxos in the world, please find below a few suggestions on how to eat pintxos like a local. Having experienced and seen lots of guests on my pintxos tours at a loss when faced with a counter full of these delicacies, I feel this post as a must for those that want to do it right:

1) Peek into the bar and take a look at its counter. If you don´t like what´s shown there, just look for another bar. There´re plenty.Barra Irrintzi 1

2) Yes, I know that in your native country you don´t have as many bars as we do here, and you tend to spend your time and money in just one for the whole evening. No, we don´t do it that way. We visit as many bars as possible.

3) We like to have ONE pintxo per bar, maximum TWO, and ONE drink.Ham and tomato on bread

4) We don´t have pintxos meals or anything of the kind. It´s an appetizer and not a meal. It´s meant to dilute the amount of alcohol in blood and facilitate conversation while standing close to the counter.

5) STANDING, we have them standing, we don´t sit down for pintxos. Please. Stand. Talk. Enjoy. But don´t seat.

6) Never, ever, accept the plate handed by the waiter. We locals just grab them with our hand from the counter. Or order them from the list on the wall to have them made on order.

7) We pay based on an honour system, that is, we tell the waiter how many we´ve had and he believes us. We don´t lie, ever. The toothpick thing (counting toothpicks as a proof of how many pintxos you´ve had) is nowadays an urban legend.

8) ALL pintxos are good, all taste great. Ibérico ham is good for your health and great for your heart and arteries. And yes, those fresh looking things are real anchovies, not that thing you have on pizza.Pintxos

9) There´s no such thing as “pintxos bars”. 99% of bars offer pintxos, all bars are “pintxos bars”.

10) Order a “zurito” (a third of a glass of beer), a “rioja” (a glass of red wine), a “blanco” (white wine) or a “cider” (natural cider, not fizzy). Ignore Coke or any other sweet drinks, they are not meant for pintxos.

11) Enjoy the atmosphere, ask the waiter about the pintxos, talk to strangers, throw napkins on the floor (YES!!!), pay on leaving, try different things, get a bit tipsy, enjoy this wonderful pintxos culture…pintxos counter





St Ignatius of Loyola, the Basque founder of the Jesuits

17 06 2014

You have surely heard of the Catholic order of the Jesuits, as they are present all over the world. But I´m sure you didn´t know that the founder was born in 1491 in Azpeitia, in the heart of the Basque CountryIñigo de Loyola (born Iñigo, a Basque name, that he changed later to Ignacio), of a noble family, received a good education and soon became a soldier serving the King of Castile. In 1521 he was injured while battling in Pamplona, and retired to heal his wounds to his fortress in the valley of Loiola, near Azpeitia and Azkoitia. During his long recovery he started reading religious books, that made him rethink his whole life. Once recovered, he started a life of sanctity that led him to the foundation of the Jesuit order, probably the most influential in the history of the Catholic church.

The 18th century basilica is located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by a park full of trees and the Urola river that flows through the mountainous scenery. As you can see by the pictures, it´s a magnificent but at the same time a modest building, with a great dome covered in baroque paintings and designs. On its left hand side you can visit the birthplace of San Ignacio de Loyola (a medieval tower) that has been beautifully restored to its original state. You can visit both buildings, the Loiola tower shows most rooms as they originally were on the 16th century.

Right by the Basilica (or Sanctuary) there´s a nice, cozy hotel and some rural lodgings, as well as fine restaurants, in an atmosphere surprisingly tourist free. The valley offers very interesting visits, like the Ferrería de Mirandaola (Ironmongery) in the Iron Valley or the town of Idiazabal, where the world famous Idiazabal sheep cheese is made (also, the Cheese Museum deserves a visit). The Railway Museum in Azpeitia offers the possibility to ride in a steam locomotive train…a great experience for kids!!

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