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 from my 2010 post, 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





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





I´m moving…

30 03 2010
It´s been a long time since my last entry on this blog, mainly for professional reasons but also because I´ve been contacted by the Basque Broadcasting Corporation (yes, it does sound like the BBC!!), that is, www.eitb.com, and they´ve proposed to publish this blog under their web dominion. I´ve accepted, and the new blog will be published together with a series of other interesting blogs in English language (http://www.eitb.com/en, at the bottom of page) most aspects of Basque life (gastronomy, sports, culture, tourism,…). The new address is http://www.blogseitb.us/basquetourism/, I hope you will continue visiting this blog and sending your comments or questions. Some of the entries will be new but I will also publish old ones, for the newcomers.

Of course, I will maintain my independent (but non-objective and clearly biased) point of view. Hope you like the new blog!!





Some Places I Like As a Local In Bilbao-and where you probably wouldn´t go if not told

27 01 2010

As it happens in every city in the world, there´s an area that is visited by tourism, leaving apart other places that may be as interesting. With the arrival of tourism (the Guggenheim effect), the bars in the Old Town have risen prices and quality is…well, very good, but not quite the same.

What follows is a shortlist of places I like in Bilbao (ordered as they come to my mind), that you normally will not visit as a tourist (and at very fair prices):

1) Bar EME, http://www.baremebilbao.com,  absolutely the best sandwiches in the whole world (and I´m not exaggerating), locals flock in to buy them, you can have them at the bar or to take away, it´s amazing how many hundreds of them they sell every day. Made with a special bread and a secret sauce, they are a treat. At 2,20 euros each, a bargain!!

2) La tabernilla de Pozas (the small tavern), in Licenciado Poza street (known as “Pozas”), you´d never enter here because it doesn´t even have a name outside. There are no bars like this anymore. Wine in barrels or drunk in “porrón”, it´s popular to have (non peeled) peanuts and wonderful tuna sandwiches (real ones with good chunks of fish and real crusty bread), an ageless counter, unaltered premises for ages,…, and the legend says that the two brothers behind the counter haven´t talked to each other for years..

3) Melilla y Fez, in Iturribide street (Old Town), just entering the street on your left hand side, a huge variety of potato omelette (Spanish omelettes) served in big portions at very good prices.

4) Bar Estoril, in Plaza Campuzano (center), the best long drinks in your life, together with wonderful omelette pintxos.

5) Bar Rio Oja, in El Perro street, the best cazuelitas (tapas), Old Town.

6) Azak restaurant, in Pablo Alzola st, in the Basurto district, you can have selection of Iberic specialties and cheese for as less as 14 euros…and so big you´ll need to have another bottle of their extensive (and cheap) wine list. A rarity in this district. Huge selection of meals, appetizers and beers.

7) Taberna Taurina, in Ledesma (center), small but authentic with dozens of pictures of bulls and bullfighters.

8) Mina restaurant, in the Old Town. A bit pricey, but worth every cent spent at it.

More to follow, there are still many places worth visiting in Bilbao…





Txoko and Batzoki-II

19 01 2010

So you arrive into the Basque Country and notice that, unlike your country of origin, there are bars. Many bars, as in the rest of Spain (although our level of alcoholism is not higher to that of your country, paradoxically). Bars in Spain and in the Basque Country are places to socialize, to meet, to talk, to enjoy a small drink and a “pintxo” or “tapa”, but not to get drunk (at least, not their main target)…well, you already know this. So you enter in a bar, and find that there´s a lot of Basque memorabilia on it: flags, pictures of people in Basque berets and of traditional Basque sports, Basque symbols everywhere…welcome, you´re now in a “batzoki”, roughly translated, “the place to meet”. Batzokis belong to the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ) and are everywhere…there´s one per town over 1000 people, at least. They serve as places where members of this party (over 100 years old and in power for 30 years, just until last year) like to have a drink and hold meetings. They are bars in the strictest sense of the word: entrance is public and you get the same as in every other bar. Famed for their excellent food, pintxos and low prices (not so low now), they are very popular, even among those that do not hold the same political views.

The new strategy of the PNV regarding batzokis is to modernize them with a mixture of traditional and very modern interior arquitecture, to offer excellent menus at very good prices and to win every pintxo contest held in the Basque Country. And a familiar atmosphere too.

The extreme left nationalist parties also have their “Herriko Tabernas” or “People´s Taverns”, much more radical in looks and many of them clearly supporting ETA violence (many are being closed now under the new laws that have ilegalize these parties). The socialist party has their “Casa del Pueblo”, “People´s Home”, also a bar but not as popular as batzokis.





Cider Houses – “Sidrerías”

11 01 2010

It´s now the start of the new “cider season”, meaning that the cider that was produced last year will be consumed during the next few months, before the season ends again at the end of April. It´s natural cider, with a low alcohol content (4º), fresh and still, no artificial anything added.

Most “sidrerías” are concentrated around Donostia-San Sebastián, in the Gipuzkoa province, although you can find them now in many other places in the Basque Country. Season begins with the traditional opening of the Kupela (huge cider barrel) by someone locally famous, and following the expression “The new cider has arrived”, the season is officially opened. All sidrerías offer a closed menu for around 25-30 euros, including cod omelette, peppers, t-bone steak, walnuts and cheese (with slight variations). It´s typical to have this menu standing or in long shared tables, and you can have AS MUCH CIDER as you want, it´s included in the price. Sometimes there´s singing of traditional songs and maybe some dancing.

For more info, www.sagardotegiak.com, also in English. It describes the process, the rites and lists the names of the most popular sidrerías.





San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Eneperi, San Pelayo,…

1 12 2009

On the road to Bakio to Bermeo there are three places that you can´t miss on your visit to Euskadi: the church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the restaurant Eneperi and the chapel of San Pelayo.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small church built in the X century, dedicated to St John. The peculiarity of this church is the place where it was built: on top of a small isthmus (or peninsula) linked to land by a narrow pass. And to get there you must first go down from the small parking lot by the main road and then climb the 237 stairs that lead you to one of the most special places in the Basque Country. You can get a very good idea of the place on this amazing 3 minute video, a bird´s eye of the church. More info, videos and pictures on www.sanjuandegaztelugatxe.com, available only in Spanish (international promotion is not one of our strong points…). I´ve been there several times, the climb is not that hard, the views are spectacular (cliffs, forests and a rough sea) and the legend goes that if you sound the bell three times your wishes will be fulfilled.

On the way there from Bakio, to your left, you will see the sign for Eneperi, an ancient “baserri” or Basque farmhouse turned into a restaurant, www.eneperi.com. The restaurant offers excellent local food in a very cozy atmosphere, and the bar area has just been renovated, adding a glass balcony that overlooks the island of Aketxe. There´s also a “cervecera”, that is, a popular place that offers grilled chicken, chorizo, green peppers, black sausage and the likes, plus wine, beer or cider, on the “help yourself” concept, at good prices. A meadow to lay down overlooking the ocean and a kid´s play area complete the scenario.

And on th right hand side of the road, the chapel of San Pelayo, a very popular XII romanic church. Many Basque couples celebrate there their wedding ceremony, not only because of the special significance of the site, but also because of the great views and closeness to Eneperi restaurant.

For those looking for a more lively atmosphere, there´s the 01, with a huge open air terrace and ocean views. DJ music, live shows,…