Mutriku Mackerel Madness – Déjà Vu!

Welcome To Mutriku!

The Hounds made the pilgrimage to the Mutriku Mackerel Fest last year, but because detailed info on the when, what & how was next to non-existent, we opted to set off quite early in old Gertie the Land Rover to avoid any crowds & parking hassles & pulled in just short of the 10AM mark. The town was absolutely vacant, and we had a couple of serious doubts about the possible success of our mackerel fest quest. But a quick chat with the Tourist Information folks confirmed that it was all a “Go!”, but kicking off shortly after 12PM…

Mackerel Pintxo Numero Uno y Dos! Our First Port of Call – Taberna Ametza.

The only substantial mistake we made last year was that we missed the BIG MACKEREL GRILL OFF that capped the day at around 6PM (due to driving & drinking restrictions). So included in this year’s operational plan was an overnight stay. There are only 2 places to sleep with a dog in Mutriku & we lucked out with one of the 3 rooms @ Hostal Rin. Perfectamente location…

Our greatest advantage in attending this year’s fest was that we pretty much knew the score, and queued up for our fave spots from last year. First stop, Taberna Ametza, where we sampled 2 different mackerel pintxos washed down with a pair of  zuritos (small beers) on the town square – off to a solid start…

Batzokia’s Excellent Mackerel Strips in Olive Oil with a Drizzle of Balsamic…Top Pintxo By Far!

We next made a bee line for our top voted bar from last year’s visit – Batzokia. The front of house service @ this taberna is all women & they were: (a) super friendly and (b) massively efficient. In a brief chat with one of the women we learned (if our Spanish was up to snuff) that the bar/restaurant is run as a co-operative and is somehow part of or supported by a Basque political party called EAJ-PNV (we have one in Hondarribia). And, once again, we were not disappointed to find our most desired pintxo still being dished out in quantity (and free!) at the bar. We found it hard to leave…

Mutriku Scenes…

The Weather Gods, though not fully co-operating, were indeed most kind to us. As every time we headed into a bar or taberna for a drink & a snack, the heavens opened up & hosed Mutriku down. Then, miraculously, just as we zipped & buttoned up to battle the elements, they flicked a switch & it all ceased & desisted. Two hats off to the Weather Gods!

Mutriku Scenes – Billie Strolls the Harbour…Buildings of Mutriku.

Top Left: Mackerel Pintxos & a Croqueta; Event Poster; Yet Another Taberna – Bar Zubixa; Mr. Mackerel Stokes Up the Crowd

Top Left: Bar Zubixa Political Poster; Da Marching Band!; Boat

Top Left: Mutriku Port; Boat Houses; Family Pic; Duck Fountains

As the arvo wore down, it was fast approaching the kick off time for the Big Event – a grand scale mackerel grill up & pintxo fest port side. We developed a plan to: (a) make an initial foray into the crowded fest as Hound #2 had a great fear of missing out on some mackerel a la plancha; then (b) return Billie to our hostel room for a siesta; (c) wander the Old Town & sample some more pintxos at any bars we might have missed; and (d), end up back at the port for some more mackerel pintxos & some live music.

The Big Verdel Event – Top Left: Plate of Grilled Mackerel & a Cold Beer for 1 Euro!; Da Crowd; Festival Menu in Basque; Up Close & Personal Verdel Pic; From On High Crowd View

Parts (a), (b) and (c) all went to plan & success was achieved on all fronts…but when part (d) rolled around, something was clearly amiss. We arrived back at the port shortly after 9PM (give to take 15 minutes) and everything & everybody had vanished – no mackerel food stalls, no people, no stage and no music…party over! We were going with the general consensus view that the Spanish like to party & stay out late, but I guess the stall vendors & musicians had other ideas. But it was true that the gente (people) fullfilled their mantra ‘eso si que es la vida‘ (this is the life) & saw the sun rise…we could hear the riotous crowd noises from our paper thin walled room. And it was not much help on the sleep front when our two neighbours stumbled in (and I mean stumbled in) around 4 or 5AM.

Top Left: ‘Mackerel Day’ in Basque; Professional Txakoli (local white wine) Pourer; Two Fun Late Night Pubs…For Young Folks.

Zumia Pit Stop…

Up early for a quick walk round the Mutriku port, then headed home with a quick stop in Zumia for a second coffee and a wee squizzy around the Old Town section…safely back in Hondarribia for lunch. Excellent adventure had by all…

Road Trip – The End…La Costa Norte de España

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Dark Clouds Ahead…

NB: I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but I simply wanted to wrap it up & move on to writing about other more recent events & happenings before they fade from memory. And in general, I write this post as our ‘electronic diary’ so we do not forget all the good times & people we’ve met…you don’t have to read it, just look at the photos!

We headed south from Viveiro towards the Galician big smoke of A Coruña (in Galician, or La Coruña in Spanish). A Coruña was as far west as we planned to go before turning around for home…one thing that always surprises me a little is how big many of Spain’s other cities (other than Madrid, Barcelona or Sevilla) truly are. And A Coruña was no exception…

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A Coruña, Galicia…

We managed to find our accommodation, Hostal Socaire, with no problemas and the staff were sweet as with help vis a vis parking for Gertie (the port has paddocks of free parking – just a 5-10 minute walk) and a bit of neighbourhood and city orientation. Our first night ended up a wee bit quiet & local as our day had knackered us out. We had a few nibbles at a local bar & the hostal staff gladly gave us another chair from the bar for our balcony, so we sat out with a bottle of vino…

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A Coruña – Roman Lighthouse…Weather Vane…Roman Lighthouse Up Close…Giant Compass

The next morning was a bit of a mixed bag – generally grey & cloudy but patches of blue poking through. We toddled off towards one of the city’s beaches for Hound #2 to take here customary dip in the sea, and then ambled along the seaside promenade towards the ancient Roman Tower of Hercules lighthouse. The weather gods were leaning in our favour as we circled the impressive faro antiguo with patches of blue sky beginning to make more sporadic appearances.

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A Coruña Scenes…Plaza de María Pita…

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Amazing Lamp post Tiles…

All along the seaside promenade they had these amazing, massive street lamp posts – they appeared to be of iron (not the best choice cerca the sea) – that had 4 ceramic tiles per post, with each set of tiles being totally different!

We were gradually working our way to the Old Town section for a bit of an explore and, of course, lunch….We strolled through some crooked laneways, poking our heads in here, then there, strolled the Plaza María Pita and then the weather gods crapped out and incredibly huge droplets started to descend. But our timing was perfecto as we were in a gorgeous tree filled plaza whose periphery was lined with bars – yippee! So 2 cervezas of draught Estrella were promptly brought table side (we chose to sit outside under the awning so Hound #1 Billie could hang) & we serenely watched the rain tumble down.

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Marvellous Momo’s…

Once the rain had lightened up, we headed off to locate a couple of ‘researched’ places to attempt lunch. We popped into one of our first choices, Jamonería La Leonesa, and all seemed more than kosher with a couple of vino tintos in hand & plates of stunning iberco jamón being whisked past our sniffing noses (unfortunately, Hound #1 was tied up outside). But a Galician chap next to us kicked off a conversation (initially in Spanish but flip-flopped to English too) which lead to some expert dining advice. He said we needed to go to Momo’s, just up the street – better food, better value he said. He told us to tell them he’d sent us, but not to use his real name, Fernando, but his nickname Manero which was how he’s known round Coruña proper.

We followed his instructions to a ‘T’ – the Momo staff had a good chuckle and appeared to pass the word round the entire place that Manero was at it again. We struck menu del día platinum @ Momo’s with an €8.70 sticker price folks…cheap as chups as they say in New Zealand.

Post our mid day repast, we wiggled & waggled our way back to our hotel for a mini-siesta and scouted out several of the touted pintxo streets for that evening’s activities…

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El Rey Del Jamón – We Concur!: Top Left – Cecina (Dried Beef); Queen of Jamón; Muchos Jamónes; El Rey del Jamón

We had a short & sweet list of places for our pintxo stroll, but we had spotted a number of other inviting establishments…our ‘tactical plan’ was to walk to the end of several of the connected, sequential pintxo alleys & work our way back, one pintxo & bebida at a time. Our first docking place for the night was El Rey del Jamón, the name (the king of jamón) says it all folks. We placed an order for a plate of cecina (air dried beef – Spanish version of bresaola) & two pours of some Spanish red – estupendo! The night was officially kicked off…

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Vintoteca Estupendo!

The next door we sidled through was Vinoteca Argudelo – a top of the line joint where we had our 2 best copas de tintos of the night. My glass held some delicious Mencia grape juice with the label ‘Tilenus’ from Bodega Estefanía  (I had sampled this in Oviedo – yum) whilst Hound #2 grabbed a glass of the meaty, mouth filling Carramimbre from Bodegas Pingón – a wine to look out for. And a nice feature of A Coruña pintxo bars is the pintxos are free with your drink – yippee!

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La Bombilla; A Taberna – A Coruña, Spain

Our next pit stop was La Bombilla, and only because we loved the sign, shallow & superficial we know, but it works sometimes. The vino was good & we got a couple of free plates of calamari. Then we decided to alter our tactical plan & wander to the back streets for a bit of an explore as we’d read that: (a) the drinks are way cheaper and (b) some places served wine in Chinese tea cups. What’s not to like??? So we found A Taberna – about as rustic & basic & simple a taberna as you will ever find (just check out the web site). So we ordered up a couple of Chinese tea cups of white vino from a barrel, poured from a pitcher for the whopping cost of €0.60 each. Yes, you read that right folks – €0.60 each. The hombre next to us gladly & proudly announced that he has 30-40 a day…and you could tell.

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Manteleria, A Coruña, Spain – Raquel @ Manteleria

We tapped a couple more spots in our wander home, but finished out the night at Manteleria where we met & had a great and interesting chat with Raquel (you will find her blog here), an architect but currently running this fine establishment. We chose the right spot to close out the night with a couple of choice glasses, fresh from a new bottle, of Finca Cuarta from Prior de Pantón, one of the best, refined & meaty renditions of the Mencia grape I had on the trip – and worth a search. Buenas noches…

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A Coruña, Spain: Breakfast Deal To Make Ya Squeal!

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Tapia Casariego, Asturias, Spain

We bid a sweet goodbye to A Coruña (Gertie was safe & sound – phew!), and plotted a path to return to a renowned surf beach in the pueblo of Tapia de Casariego (say that 5 times fast) for Hound #2 to have a go. But the tide & waves were not co-operating, so after a good college try, we headed off in search of lunch….

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Tapia de Casariego, Spain: El Muelle, Ensalada Mixta, Pulpo a la Plancha, Port View

We made a bee line for the port for both the views, and possibly better seafood & settled into an outdoor table at El Muelle (means jetty, wharf or pier in Spanish). All worked to plan & we once again enjoyed some pulpo a la plancha and a refreshing ensalada mixta…and 2 cervezas.

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Cudillero

Our resting place for the night was a camp in the much-written-about fishing village of Cudillero. We parked Gertie up at the very top of the very steep town street (yes, just one street) & wandered down…and down and down. We would agree that Cudillero is pretty and met many of the accolades that have been written about it, but it has also gone a wee bit past the tipping point on the tourism scale. Chocka with restaurants & bars, almost hocking their menus and a smattering of very twee shops to catch the tourist’s eye.

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Cudillero, Spain: Top Left – Pulpo a la Plancha; Hound #2 & Pulpo; Clams; El Faro; Scallops

So we opted to deploy our ‘back streets’ strategy and came across the almost empty El Faro restaurant. And since we were no starv’n marvins, and we were again in a fishing port, the obvious choice was a couple of raciones (small plates) del mar. First order of business – vino…so with 2 glasses of Albariño a mano, we put the order in for some clams (almejas) & scallops (zamburinas in Galician, or vieiras in Spanish). What was delivered to our table was, both presentation & taste-wise, a true masterpiece of culinary art & flavours. So good in fact, we decided we needed to have a go @ the octopus (pulpo)…and another glass of wine (awesome Verdejo that paired perfectly with all the seafood taste treats).

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Playa del Silencio, Cudillero, Spain

The next day brought us another patchwork of a day with somber clouds dispersing to reveal a burning sun. We checked our Top 10 Beach list & Playa del Silencio was on it & we were within spitting distance, so off we went…

To say we were impressed would be a massive understatement – wow! So beautiful, and so empty…

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Playa del Silencio, Cudillero, Spain: Empty Beach, Billie & The Stick Game; Chill Bill

Another fishing village on our ‘to do’ list was Lastres, and once again, lunch time was fast approaching. Simply said, we liked Lastres a lot – not past its prime tourist-wise, chocka with old or ancient buildings that were very well kept & maintained (Cudillero was a shambles compared to Lastres) and just enough restaurants & bars to keep the locals happy & well fed & full of vino.

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Lastres

We used Dad’s Rule again (many locals filled the tables & bar), and plopped ourselves at an outside seat at Bar El Meson for the menu del día.

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Menu del Día de Lastres @ El Meson

For starters Hound #2 picked the mussels (mejillones), and I was almost beside myself as they were serving the fabada asturiana! A dish that’d been on my comida list the whole trip but I’d failed to try…Now this was my kind of food folks – big bean stew with hunks of ham hock, blood sausage & chorizo floating about in a most savoury broth. I loved it so much I forgot to take a picture of the mussels….and Hound #2 had to take a taste test with a 1/2 dozen spoonfuls of my fabada. For our mains we both got what we wanted – a wonderfully grilled, fresh sea bass (lubina)  for Hound #2 and a perfectly seared sirloin steak (entrecot) para mi.

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Our Last Night’s Camp Site…

The timing of the finale to our trip was a bit open ended, and mainly weather dependent. So with a day or two of decent weather holding a place in the forecast, we headed for another campground surrounded by some of our must see beaches.

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Top: Playa de Rodiles – Too Many People; Campground Beach; Last Camp…

We awoke to a sparkling morning and decided to seize the day as the weather forecast had radically changed – par for the course here on the Northern coast of Spain. Hound #2 had her required dips in the campground beaches whilst the Beach Ground Crew (me & Billie) had a wander. Then we plotted a course for a well written about seaside town – Llanes.

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Llanes

Llanes is one of the bigger seaside towns we hit on this trip – not at all in the league of Santander or A Coruña but significantly larger than Cudillero or Lastres or Luarca. It has a modest Casco Viejo (Old Town) where we stocked up on Asturian specialities like cider, cheeses & picante chorizo. Then it was one last beach before we pointed Gertie to the East, and home.

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Playa Ballota, Llanes, Spain

A stunner of a beach to end the trip – Playa Ballota, just a skip & a jump out of Llanes and, once again, too many people!!!

So folks, we think we can unanimously say, that if you are thinking at all about a visit to Spain, the Northern Coast is ESTUPENDO! A jewel in the Spanish crown with majestic beaches, drop dead scenery (Picos de Europa are a must see), savoury food, gulpable drink and warm & welcoming people.  So go…go now before they pave over paradise       ;-)….

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Vinos de Viaje…

Mutriku’s Mackerel (Verdel) Fest!

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Fishing Port & Town of Mutriku…on a Perfect Spring Day.

When we first arrived in Hondarribia in June 2015, we dutifully scanned a mass of tourist brochures & magazines to identify anything that might be of interest to the Food Hounds. One that stood out was a mackerel festival in the port town of Mutriku in April – so it was duly recorded on our adventure calendar.

As we approached April, we did a bit more research as the tourist brochure stopped at telling us the festival was: (a) in Mutriku, and (b) it was in April. A bit of Googling did indeed confirm the date to be Saturday April 2nd, but other than that (all the info’s in Basque) we knew no more than we did before (time, events, etc…).

Wanting to make the most of the day, we 3 Hounds headed off in the trusty Land Rover (Gertie) shortly after 8AM for Mutriku – a beautiful coastal drive that winds its way through the seaside towns  of Orio, Zarautz, Getaria & Deba. We started to get a bit worried as we entered Mutriku as we fully expected a bit of a traffic bun fight (we’d just driven through one in Deba due to a bike race) and a parking from Hell experience…but nada. Easy peasy. What’s up? Did we get this TOTALLY wrong?

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Mackerel Fest Evidence & A Few Of The Locals…

We had a good wander round the port and could see evidence that something was going to happen – but when? No posters were up anywhere, no crowds, no nothing. We decided to stay calm & have a couple of coffees in a picturesque town square which just happened to be by the tourist information office.

A quick consultation with a very helpful & friendly person @ the oficina de tourismo confirmed it was all happening – beginning at roughly noon (after all, it is Spain) the bars & tabernas would start offering FREE mackerel pintxos! There would also be music at one of the squares and some wee accordion marching bands. And it would all culminate with a mackerel BBQ at the port. When we headed back outside to the square, the scene had quickly changed to folks streaming in from every direction with the square filling up & the tabernas ready to go…

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Mackerel Pintxos – Free!!! From Top Right: Mackerel Slivers in Oil with a sprinkling of Vincotto; Mackerel, Mayo & Balsamic; Smoked Mackerel & More Mayo & Mackerel

Now Hound #2 is an almost rabid mackerel aficionado – if fresh mackerel is on ANY menu we come across, the mackerel is a done deal order. For me, not so much – I tend to find mackerel a wee bit too much of a fishy fish but hey, I am here at a mackerel fest, in a port town widely known for its very fresh fish – so taste I must. Wow – what a pleasant surprise…Hound #2 was a bit stunned that I actually ate far more mackerel than she did (she scolded me a couple of times for taking more than my ‘fair share’). I think the real key is the level of freshness, which makes all the difference – and fresh this mos def was.

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Fest Is Kicking Off In The Square….

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We All Join In….Even Billie!

Thanks Mutriku – we had a blast. We rated it a 9 out of 10 day out & we highly recommend the Mackerel Fest if you be in Spain, in April or there abouts.

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Insert Mackerel Pintxo Into Mouth, Sip Cerveza, Repeat…Billie Wonders When It’s His Turn.

And not to leave any options unexplored on such a gorgeous day, we made pit stop in Deba so Hound #2 could have a boogie board session, and then on to the Basque Geoparque Flysch Coast walk. Estupendo! Never knew rocks could look so cool…

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Basque Flysch Coast

Bilbao…More Than A Museo.

Bilbao is the real Big Smoke of the Basque Country and for many, many years it was (probably still is) its industrial heart. Bilbao was the centre for iron & steel production, boat building, fishing, etc…and it used to be that the hotels in Bilbao gave discounts only on weekends as the majority of their trade came from business folks staying over on weeknights to negotiate trade. But it has changed and is still changing with a significant turning point being the opening of the famous Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in 1997.

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Hound #1 Having a Snooze on the Train to Bilbao

So the Hounds decided that Bilbao was worth a decent squizzy, so we hopped on the local yokel train from San Sebastián. And local yokel was a wee understatement, it appeared to us that we made a stop about every 10 minutes or so and in some towns, like Deba, we made 3 stops in about 90 seconds. Oh well, the scenery (you skirt the coast for quite a ways) was estupendo.

We had booked ourselves into the Casual Gurea pensión and what a prescient choice that was – minutes from the train station (we were backpacked up) and smack dab in the heart of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) and pintxo action central. Highly recommend Casual Gurea for a Bilbao stay over – great staff, sweet rooms with wooden floors & baths, a balcony and an affordable price…and they allow pooches! But FYI, they are doing some renovations at the moment like putting in an elevator – it’s 3 floors up – but that was not a bother for us three.

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EL TXOKO was smok’n…

We arrived in the late afternoon so the few train snacks we had consumed had not done the trick. And with dining time quickly slipping away to closing time, we hit the restaurant right at the entrance way to our pensión – El Txoko. Txoko is the name given to the somewhat infamous Basque male gastronomical societies where, up until recently, women were forbidden (now they are allowed to eat, but not cook).

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From Top Left, Clockwise: Goat’s Cheese Salad, Grilled Fresh Mackerel, Creamed Green Bean Salad and Duck Confit

This was another of Spain’s menú del día deals to make ya squeal – €10.50 for 3 courses and a half bottle of Rioja. We now had the fuel to explore Bilbao and we were sufficiently armed with helpful gastronomic guides (mucho thanks to Amy @ RestlessFork blog…we hit all your suggestions) to navigate the Old Town laneways…

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Zuga, Plaza Nueva, Bilboa – Pintxos of Excellence

Our first port of call was Plaza Nueva but it really should be called Pintxo Plaza. A beautiful square quite reminiscent of Constitution Square (used to be a bull fighting square) in San Sebastián that is pleasantly sprinkled with a decent variety of comestible establishments.

We stuck out heads in Zuga first (dogs allowed – yay!) and the delicious pintxo display drew us in. We started out on a high as this was – by unanimous vote – the best pintxo of the trip. An almost fist sized chunk of glistening tuna topped with a fresh salsa & sitting on a tangy vinaigrette drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Worth a trip back to Bilbao…

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Cafe Bar Bilbao, Plaza Nueva, Bilbao – Fun Joint

Next on our list, Bar Bilboa, was just down the square and highly recommended by our friendly pensión host. Spot on he was – mucho friendly & helpful staff and perfect pintxos. Yet another reason for a return to Bilbao….

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Victor Montes, Plaza Nueva, Bilbao and a Selfie @ La Olla…

Then on to one of the old fellas of the Bilbao pintxo bar scene, Victor Montes. Victor Montes is most def ‘old school’ but in a very good way – an elegant blend of bar, restaurant, bodega/wine store and all around warm atmosphere. We finished the evening with a nightcap at La Olla & headed home to get ready for a day in Bilbao…

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Scenes of Bilbao

Friday manaña found us on a wee mission as Hound #2 had broken her phone…so we went in search of either repair or replacement, but snuck a few sights into the search. One of which was the Alhóndiga Bilbao, originally a massive wine warehouse that was built in 1909 but recently renovated with the design help of French Bad Boy Philippe Starck. It is a full function space with art & culture exhibits, cinema (they were featuring a Buster Keaton fest), restaurants & bars and sporting activities. We found the rooftop, glass bottomed swimming pool of most curious interest.

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Alhóndiga Bilbao: Roof Top Glass Bottomed Swimming Pool: Philippe Starck Designed Pillar

Hound #3’s usual vice on visiting a new city is, of course, wine stores and Bilbao was no different. After 2 disappointing no shows (the stores had shut down), we hit pay dirt with Bodega Urbana. A perfect mix of wine store, bistro / restaurant and wine bar – a fun option was the ability to make your own blend (and label) from the various varietal tanks on site. We tasted the house Petit Verdot – rich & velvety on the palate – and snatched up a bottle (as well as the Syrah).

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Top Left, Clockwise: Bodega Urbana Poster, House Vino, House Vino In Bottle, Wine Store

With no quick phone fix, it was time for some culture – so off we toddled in search of the infamous Guggenheim Museum (the Guggen to the locals)….

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The Guggen…

If I am really honest, and I am, the best thing about the Guggenheim is still the building. Stunning on this almost Spring day with the sun beaming down on its titanium sheets & framed against a deep blue sky…awesome and ageing like a true beauty. The best art on display was a fascinating exhibit called ‘Making Africa‘ which we were so lucky to catch its last few days.

To be continued…

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Bilbao Scenes…