In the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain and France there is a population of people with an extreme take on culture and nationalism. Rather than identifying as Spanish and French citizens, respectively, they are Basque citizens. This is Basque Country.
The people dress alternatively and hold true to their Basque traditions, like speaking only the Basque language. In some places, like the city of Bilbao, Spanish is the second language. But certainly English won’t help you here. The underlying Basque nationalism, and at times separatism, adds a unique element to this charming European region, and a visit to Bilbao, Spain will open your eyes.
Meandering through the streets of Bilbao, I’m surrounded by European charm represented in the Old City’s cafes, the architecture, the brick-laid roads. There you can settle in with a coffee and a book at one of the open-air restaurants of Casco Viejo, and observe Basque culture all around you. Then as you continue to walk through the Old City, there is a seamless transition to the new and ultramodern as you come up to the Guggenheim Bilbao.
With grand swooping lines, reflecting sunlight off of its silver walls, the Guggenheim Museum is an architectural masterpiece. The building is unreal, a cartoon whimsy brought to life. And perched outside to guard this home of modern art is a dog made of flowers, reaching ten stories tall. Inside the walls of Frank Gehry’s creation lives a collection of modern and contemporary art that will keep you busy for hours as you roam around the tortuous halls and rooms of the museum.
While you are in Bilbao, be sure to also visit the riverwalk and dine in the Plaza Nueva, see the Palacio de la Diputacion and Catedral de Santiago. For a chance to see the city through Basque eyes, plan your private tour with Bilbao Greeters or ToursByBasques, which will surely help you to appreciate the local spirit and better navigate this center of Basque Country. A visit to Bilbao will give you a whole different look at Spain!