On Spain's northern coast, Vizcaya, or Bizkaia in the Basque language, is situated between Gipuzcoa to the west, and Cantabria to the east. Dominated by its capital, Bilbao, on the banks of the River Nervion, the province can boast beautiful beaches and a wonderful inland mountainous landscape. Both history and culture are well-preserved in rural and urban regions alike, and the capital itself has undergone a cultural revitalisation thanks to the opening of the Guggenheim Art Museum in the city centre. Any visit to Vizcaya must also be accompanied by extensive sampling of the regions famous gastronomy.
Bilbao, the former industrial centre of Spain, has been subjected to change in recent years. The old heavy industry, in the forefront due to the abundant iron-ore within the soils, has declined and the city is now hitting the headlines due to the spectacular Guggenheim, designed by the North American Architect Frank O. Gehry. It is a unique Museum built on a 32,500 square meter site in the centre of the city; an amazing feat of construction. The building itself is an extraordinary combination of interconnecting shapes. Orthogonal blocks in limestone contrast with curved and bent forms covered in titanium. For all visitors, the Guggenheim creates a sense of awe.
Within, enjoy works by all major modern artists such as Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Klee, Warhol, Tàpies and Chillida, to name but a few. Look out for the temporary exhibitions, usually first class.
Is there more to Bilbao than just the Guggenheim? Of course. With other cultural centres such as the opera house or the Teatro Arriaga and historical highlights include Catedral de Santiago within the casco viejo, as well as old quarter and the Basìlica de Begoña, there is much to see. Eating out is fun too, especially if you wind your way from bar to bar, enjoying the wide range of tapas on offer. For party revellers, Las Siete Calles or Seven Streets are filled with more bars and eateries, open until the early hours.
The city's football team, Athletic Bilbao, play in the stadium of San Mamès, on the outskirts of the city.
Out of the city, there are many good beaches beyond the estuary of the Nerviòn, and heading westwards you will soon reach Encartaciones, an area of limestone caves such as Torca del Carlista and the Cuevas de Pozalagua, containing fascinating stalactites and stalagmites. Nearby there is also an ecological park, just to the north of the village of Carranza. The park cares for injured native animals such as the Brown Bear before later returning them to the wild.
Between Bilbao and San Sebastían, is the picturesque and charming village of Lekeitio, an ideal spot to stay for day or more. Enjoy the calmness, the views, the position and the fine Hotel Emperatriz.
Gerníka, south of Lekeitio and east of Bilbao, is a town of both historical and political interest. In 1937 it hit the world's headlines as it became the victim of the first ever saturation bombing of a civilian centre. The town is of course immortalised in Picasso' painting, hanging in the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. The Gernika Museum offers a number of Picasso's sketches for this final masterpiece as well as a documentation centre on the bombing of Gernika and the Civil War in general. Notably, the Gernika Museum is now expanding to become Spain's first "peace museum" with the co-operation of the General Directorate for Fine Arts and Cultural Assets of the Ministry of Culture. Gernika remains at the heart of Basque nationalism, and the great oak tree where meetings for Juntas Generales used to take places is now in the atmospheric Casa de Juntas. Well worth a visit.
An immensely beautiful and unspoiled region, with spectacular beaches and cliffs, vibrant historical towns and fishing ports. San Sebastián on the coast is arguably the best looking city in the whole peninsular.