Artistic. Elegant. Steeped in history. All are perfect ways to describe the Basque Country. Still, these words fail to adequately express the allure and inherent uniqueness of the Basque provinces.
The beginning of our weekend long immersion into the Basque lifestyle found us in Briones, La Rioja at the site of a traditional Bodega (Winery). The bodega, Vivanco Cultura de vino, includes a museum of its history on its grounds as well as its winery. We toured Vivanco’s lush vineyard – which stretches out as far as the eye can see – underground temperature-controlled winery, and fascinating museum. Our stay at Vivanco ended with a winetasting in a tastefully built room with a stunning view of Vivanco’s verdant vineyard. It was a decadent experience that was made even better by the gorgeous weather in Briones. It was a perfect fall day in the countryside.
Is it a flower? A ship? Fish maybe? It’s all three. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is a pure work of art in every sense of the word. This is where our second day began, bright and early. From the museum’s architecture to the cornucopia of works it houses, there is no such thing as a lack of creativity. Everything about Bilbao’s Guggenheim is “outside” of the proverbial “box”. You do not merely view the art inside or on the surrounding grounds of the Guggenheim; You experience it. I hope I do not speak only for myself when I say that experiencing all the Guggenheim has to offer gives a fresh perspective on life. Because understanding the art requires an open mind to see through the artists eyes as well as to derive your own meaning. The eclectic work of art throughout the museum leaves no room for a dull moment. Set in the centre of Bilbao right by what used to be the busiest waterway during Bilbao’s metal heyday, accentuated by an iconic bridge, and a backdrop for live street music and attractions, the Guggenheim is more than just a building full of art.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other word would smell as sweet” (Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet)
This quote by Juliet to her star-crossed lover is quite apt for the next place we visited. Donostia in Basque and San Sebastian in Spanish, call it what you wish in whatever language, it remains breathtaking. Donostia-San Sebastian has a devastating charm that makes you never want to leave. Everything about this town is so picturesque it doesn’t feel real. With quaint pastel houses scattered across hills, brightly colored boats in the port, and the bluest waters in Playa de la Concha, it’s a dream come true. The seamless way art is interwoven into the day-to-day of the city is a work of art in and of itself. From Los Peines del Viento (The Combs of the Wind) to the one of a kind bridges all across the town, it’s hard to not look like a tourist (what with your camera constantly being out to capture everything and the look of wonderment in your eyes). Contrary to its appearance, San-Sebastian has been through the ringer and back over its history, but this resilient city gets back up and gets better every single time. San-Sebastian in a word? Indescribable.
We could only bask in the Basque for so long. The last leg of our weekend trip was Pamplona. What can I say about Pamplona? We missed the running of the bulls…by a few months. Nonetheless, it was a great experience. Chilly, but great. Pamplona is a tiny town that definitely made its way onto the map through international recognition for Encierro (local name for the running of the bulls). We walked the trail the bulls run, oohed at their pens, and awed at La Plaza de Toros de Pamplona (bullfighting arena). It was a fitting end to a wonderful weekend.
Three days, three provinces, one bus full of sleep deprived college students. I have no complaints.