Guest Post: 4 Day-Trips from Bilbao by Liz of LizenEspañ

A fellow Basque-Country enthusiast, Liz, from has cheerfully agreed to share her northern Spain expertise and insight today. Moving in to her second year of living abroad, she’s come to know and appreciate the Basque region, and is spilling her secrets on the best day-trip destinations from Bilbao. Thanks, Liz!

I’ve noticed something this past year while living in Bilbao. When talking to Spanish people about where I live, they all seem to give the same response: “Eh, Bilbao is no good, you should live here,” said my host mom when I went to visit her in Valladolid.

“You actually like living there? But it’s so dirty!” was the response from a friend I met at camp. It seems that many Spaniards have the same perception of Bilbao: dirty, industrial, and not a very “fun” place to live.

I have to disagree.

 Bilbao did and still does have an industrial flavor, but the citizens have embraced it and gone to great lengths to beautify the area and make it a modern, European city.

 Everyone knows about the Guggenheim Museum, and it certainly has helped with Bilbao’s revival. However, one of my favorite things about living in Bilbao is that it is wonderfully connected. It has an amazing public transportation system, which enables you see a majority of the Northern Spanish countryside. Here are four of my favorite day-trips from Bilbao:

 Gernika (Guernica)

 If you’re looking for a typically Basque village, Gernika is just that. It gained its notoriety during the Spanish Civil War, when the Nazis bombed it in order to support Francisco Franco’s efforts to overthrow the Basque Government and the Spanish Republicans. Over 1500 people died, as it was a market day in Gernika, and people from all over the province were there to buy and sell goods.

 Last year I visited Gernika on the last Monday market day before winter.  The town was full of people, and there were streets filled with stands selling cheese, bread, and txakoli (Basque white wine). I also visited the seat of the Biscay parliament, and saw the Oak of Gernika, which symbolized peace. While Pablo Picasso’s famous painting “Guernica” is located in the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern art in Madrid, you can see a reproduction of the painting in mosaic in the town center.

Castro Urdiales

 Castro is a small beach town in the autonomous community of Cantabria, but it’s only 30 minutes from Bilbao by bus. There’s a beautiful beach (actually, two of them), and a jetty where people lay out on sunny days. The beaches are relatively uncrowded, and the architecture on the beach is stunning.  There’s also a gorgeous 13th century church and a fort that overlooks the Bay of Biscay.

I love spending the afternoon in Castro, lounging on the beach and later taking a stroll down the newly renovated pedestrian boardwalk. There are some great cafés, with pintxos and tapas, and if you ask nicely, the bartender at Café Dallas will make you some homemade sangria.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Bakio)

 I have a love/hate relationship with hiking. I never really want to do it, but once I do, I’m always glad I did. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe one of the coolest hikes I’ve done this year in the Basque Country.

 San Juan is an old hermitage located on an island that can only be reached on foot.  The church dates back to the 10th century, and was sacked by Sir Francis Drake in the late 1500s. There’s a stone bridge that takes you to the island, and sometimes the surf is so high that it crashes over the bridge. It’s one of those places where the closer you get, the more picturesque the view gets.

 The hike isn’t overly strenuous, and only takes a couple hours. Plus, halfway to the hermitage, there’s a small café with some of the best pintxos I’ve ever eaten.

 Once you get to the hermitage, you can ring the bell, have a picnic, and even stay overnight if you wish to camp there.  When you are looking out over the Bay of Biscay at the jagged coastline, it’s easy to see why invaders had a difficult time conquering this part of Spain.

 St. Jean de Luz

 Yes, I know St. Jean de Luz is in France, but it’s still French Basque Country, so it counts. St. Jean is just over the French border, and is a posh resort town. It’s a little touristy, but it has so much charm that can be easily forgiven, especially if you visit out of season.

 Walk down the main street and peruse the quaint shops, and make sure to stop for a crepe—so French. There are a number of treat shops that have beautiful pastries, and they taste just as good as they look. After, take a walk down the long beach, or check out the promenade that parallels the water.

 St. Jean de Luz is also a good stopping point along the way to other notable French seaside towns, such as Bayonne and Biarritz, should you want to venture further into France.

 These four locations are great places to explore, and from Bilbao, the furthest you’ll have to venture is two hours. Whether you’re looking for history, adventure, or simply a relaxing day on the beach, the northern coast of Spain is the place to be.

The Places That Hooked Me in…

You know that moment when you’re in a new place, whether it be for a few hours or a few days and your pulse quickens a bit? When you glance around and your surroundings absolutely grab you?

It may hit you unexpectedly—during an amazing al fresco meal, while strolling out on a balmy night, or watching the sun set. It may overwhelm your senses all at once.

The relationship you can have with a new place is like love; you’re left wanting more.

Here are the places that hooked me in, and the moments where it hit me:

Athens, Greece

Climbing up the Acropolis and seeing the spread of this ancient city below me. Stumbling upon a tucked-away street of chic cafes. Indulging in cheesecake on a rooftop overlooking the Acropolis lit-up at night. Gorgeous seaside nightclubs spent laughing and dancing with friends.

Sevilla, Spain

Exploring the winding, narrow streets of Barrio Santa Cruz. Delighting in cold cervezas and the finest jamón. Relaxing alongside the Río Guadalquiver.  Marveling at the tile-work of Plaza España. Taking in the view from the bell tower.

Naxos, Greece

Riding motorbikes through the countryside. Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean. Feasting on saganaki, horiatiki and souvlaki. Celebrating with drinks at happy hour near the beach. Counting the different shades of blue in the ocean.

San Sebastián, Spain

Devouring pintxos in the old part of the city. Walking alongside the bustling waterfront. Window-shopping in the center. Imagining my dream-home overlooking the sea.

Barcelona, Spain

Admiring the quirky architecture of Gaudi. Experiencing the lively nightlife. Soaking up the sunshine. Snapping photos of all of the city’s color and action. Sampling food in the local markets.

These are the select few places in the world that stole my heart and still call me back long after I’ve left. They leave me daydreaming of a return trip, nostalgically thinking in the memories I created there.

Where in the world has captured your heart?

Friday Photos: Lights

I decided to participate in Twitter’s #FriFotos this week, and the theme is LIGHTS. #FriFotos is played weekly and encourages photographers, from amateurs to pros to submit a photo according to the theme. These are then tweeted and shared across Twitter, as well as posted on blogs.

Without further ado, here’s my interpretation of this week’s theme:

At the yearly summer feria (fair) in Algeciras, Spain. Ornate lights decorate the entire fairground.

Entrance to the fair is through this gate.

A more elaborate feria, located an hour away in Jerez de la Frontera, took place in May.

How does the decor stack up to your local fair?

Happy Friday, everyone!