Travelers look for both ancient magic and modern architecture in the Basque Country. Tales of witches mix up with state of the art museums. Traditional food is just a door to enter the most exciting nightlife. Tiny villages full of legends and fairies are just a walk away from modern cities. If you are looking for the biggest contrasts in the smallest space, the Basque Country is your destination.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Not exactly modern, but architecture in the Basque Country nonetheless. This captivating island has become famous due to the HBO series Game of Thrones. Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen settles down here, in Dragonstone when she arrives in Westeros. You can now follow her and climb up the 241 steps that will lead you from mainland to the little chapel dedicated to Saint John The Baptist.
The Cantabric Sea shows itself as glorious and dangerous as it is. You might want to go for a walk along the cobblestone beach and even take a bath before going back to civilization.
Guggenheim Museum: the biggest example of modern architecture in the Basque Country
One of the stereotypes that chase basque people is that they tend to overdo everything a little bit. There once was a local joke about the Guggenheim Museum being the “dog shed” as one of the first pieces of art to be exhibited was Puppy, the vertical garden sculpture that can still be found today by the entrance. It, of course, features a dog.
Funny or not, the Museum is a piece of fantastic Architecture in the Basque Country by the famous architect Frank Ghery. It holds a permanent collection that is always worth seeing. Check its web page to be up to date regarding temporal exhibits.
Now that you are in Bilbao, keep walking and you will find more modern architecture in the Basque Country. The tube entrances by Foster are somehow an attraction. Go all the way down Gran Vía into the Arriaga Theatre and the Old Town. There you will find some of the best Pintxos ever. Pintxos are the Basque version of Spanish tapas and they can be even tastier.
San Sebastián: beach, mountain and of course, Architecture in the Basque Country
San Sebastián is a beautiful city that can be reached by bus from Bilbao. There are also trains, but the connections are not too good. Once you are there, you will be visiting one of the places the Spanish Royal Family used to prefer to spend their holidays in. You can imagine its past splendor if you walk by the Hotel María Cristina and the Marina. If you travel in September you´ll enjoy the best season there, as the San Sebastian Cinema Festival will be on.
San Sebastián is very well known by its food (both traditional Basque food and pintxos) and also for some modern art that you will find not so hidden as you might expect. The Comb of the Wind, by Chillida is strange and astonishing. And, if we go back to modern architecture in the Basque Country, the Kursaal is a very good example of it.
Climb up the Monte Igueldo for astonishing views and sunbath down in La Concha Beach.
The Painted Forest
Unlike the Painted Desert, in the States, the Basque Painted Forest is not a natural phenomenon, but a piece of art made by a man: Agustín Ibarrola. There are 47 paintings that can only be seen from certain spots. Most of them represent men, pines or just geometric figures. Ask for the map when you get to the park and aim for the whole experience. This is the kind of current magic that this land has to offer.
Just by it, you will find the Santimamiñe Caves. This part of the trip is all about paintings. This ones, though, date from 13.000 years ago. There are guided tours every day except Mondays. The visit lasts about an hour and a half and only the first 40 meters are open to the public due to conservation policies. Nevertheless, the paintings and the anthropological and archaeological works are more than worth it.
Gernika, a little bit of history and a beautiful little town
Bilbao has become a very modern city and San Sebastián holds on to some royal remains. But the heart of the Basque Country is Gernika. The Gernika Tree is a symbol of independence and a new one grows from the older one to keep the Basque People one and strong. The city has a very lively food market where the local agriculturers sell their products. From the freshest carrots and tomatoes to Txakolí (local homemade wine) and cheese.
Traditional Basque houses (Caseríos) and cobblestone streets will make a very different visit. Spend half a day here for the real basque flavor.