Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

Holidays to Bilbao, San Sebastian & Rioja: Overview

San Sebastian and Bilbao are the two main cities of the Basque Country, or Euskadi as it is known in the Basque language. Situated within an hour's drive of each other on the Bay of Biscay, both cities are very different in character, and to make the perfect driving circuit, we also recommend exploring the Basque hinterland and the Rioja winemaking region to the south.

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Harriet, Kate and Lucy are here to help give you the inside track.

Why we think you’ll love it

  • The Basque city of San Sebastian, with several acclaimed gastro-temples run by famous chefs, has more Michelin stars than anywhere else in the world bar Manhattan and Tokyo
  • The one thing that will come to most people's minds when they think of Rioja is the wine, and quite rightly too. The region produces some of the world's finest vintages

Luxury Holidays to Bilbao, San Sebastian & Rioja: The Detail

THE BASQUE COUNTRY

The Basque Country is also renowned as the gastronomic heartland of Spain, and the cities offer everything from superb restaurants to simple tapas bars. Indulge in a txikiteo (tapas crawl) and sample the delicious local cider and busy nightlife. We have selflessly visited the best restaurants and tapas bars in order to recommend the best in our detailed dossiers on the region.

SAN SEBASTIAN

San Sebastian (known as Donostia in Basque) has a scenic position at the foothills of the Pyrénées, close to the French border. Set around a sheltered bay, the town became a fashionable coastal resort in the 19th century and has a relaxed, small-town feel, with wide streets and elegant buildings.

There are several good beaches, including the golden sweep of La Concha that arcs around the edge of the bay, and good surfing on Zurriola beach next door. There are also plenty of good, simple eating houses, and the narrow streets of the Parte Vieja, or old quarter, have one of the greatest concentrations of bars in Spain.

BILBAO

Bilbao, the larger of the two cities, has been transformed in recent years by an ambitious programme of urban renewal that has rescued it from post-industrial decline. The most striking symbol of this revival is the famous Guggenheim Museum with its shimmering titanium shell, moored like a ship on the banks of the Nervión River. Outside the museum is Jeff Koons' equally iconic, kitsch floral sculpture of a giant puppy.

The Guggenheim is by no means the only show in town, however. There are other good museums, notably the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Mercado de la Ribera - the largest covered market in Spain - good shopping and a cityscape further transformed by new architecture from the likes of Norman Foster and Santiago Calatrava.

THE BASQUE HINTERLAND & RIOJA WINE REGION

Away from the cities, we highly recommend exploration of the rest of the Basque country, with its extraordinary language, long history and proud local culture. We can create self-drive itineraries that include places such as the salt marshes, sea cliffs, forests, beaches of the UNESCO protected Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve; the town of Ordizia for gastronomic markets and cheese tastings and the fishing village of Ondorroa to see the tuna boats being unloaded and the vibrant fish market. Thanks to our little Basque book of contacts we have access to superb local guides who can real insight into Basque culture and arrange access to San Sebastian's famous (and famously secretive) gastronomic societies. Needless to say, we can also book tables in the best of the very good bunch of restaurants.

Further south lies Rioja, one of the world's most famous winemaking regions. Original Travel can arrange vineyard tours and wine tastings at some of the most famous producers, but there's also an extraordinary place to stay in the Gehry inspired and designed Hotel Marqués de Riscal, surrounded by the vineyards of that particular famous winemaker.


Top picks for Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

Villa Soro, luxury hotel in Spain

Villa Soro

Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

Villa Soro is a charming 25-bedroom hotel housed in a renovated 19th century villa which has been declared a Historical Heritage Building of San Sebastian.

Where to stay

Hotel Iturregi, luxury hotel in Spain

Hotel Iturregi

Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

An old Basque farmhouse turned boutique hotel, Hotel Iturregi is a gem in the hills above the coastal town of Getaria, with views across the vineyards to the sea beyond.

Where to stay

Exterior at Miro Hotel, luxury hotel in Spain

Miro Hotel

Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

The hotel is located just a couple of hundred feet from two of the city’s top attractions: the famous Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Where to stay

Surfing, San Sebastian

Surfing

Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

There’s something innately sophisticated about surfing on a beach break slap bang in the centre of a city.

What to do

Exterior design at Hotel Marques de Riscal, luxury hotel in Spain

Hotel Marqués de Riscal

Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

The Hotel Marqués de Riscal is the design hotel to trump all others, designed as it is by the renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry, who revitalised Bilbao with his Guggenheim Museum.

Where to stay

Guggenheim Museum, San Sebastian

Guggenheim Museum

Bilbao, San Sebastian and Rioja

The most striking symbol of Bilbao’s transformation from decaying industrial backwater to hip international metropolis is the Guggenheim Museum.

What to do

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