So late August last year I set out on a trip across Northern Spain. First we flew to Bilbao. Bilbao is a port city and the de facto capital of the Basque region. My experience of Bilbao was that its untouched by tourism at the moment even though we cheaply flew there with Ryanair! It is not thronged with Americans or British or any other nationality for that fact and English is not as widely spoken as in some of its southern counterparts. You really feel like your soaking up Basque culture being there. The reason I partly felt like this is because we inadvertently arrived during Semana Grande which they referred to as Aste Nagusia. The only way I can describe this festival is a 24/7 street party; it was unlike anything I have ever seen and it was something extraordinary to witness, I almost felt like Hemingway witnessing San Fermin for the first time, so pure and so untouched by outside cultures.
We stayed in a Pension right in the middle of it all, where the old Spanish couple that owned it had no English and thought I was German due to my height and blonde hair. The Pension was old style accomodation it had winding stairs to get up to it and the old shutter style windows you see all around the city, the bathroom was up the hall and although we ordered a double room they were two separate single beds. I felt like I had stumbled into a Hemingway novel and it was brilliant . .
Semana Grande is crazy and you can read descriptions of it here but realistically no words will do it justice it just has to be lived. I captured a few candid shots here and there to try give you a flavour of it. The firework show at night I did not capture as the camera I have could not do it justice.
If you arrive at Bilbao however on a normal weekend there is plenty to do! Firstly there is the amazing food- so up in Northern Spain they are all about their Pinxtos, you can stop in bars and cafes and try all the different ones. Top tip – if you like your food and like a big meal look around for the Menu del Dia they usually do a two course meal plus a bottle of wine for like €15 each!
We paid a visit to the Guggenheim which was super funky.
After Bilbao it was off to Pamplona which you may have already guessed due to my numerous mentions of Hemingway. We travelled by bus as it was super cheap and easy! Our accomodation in Pamplona I got through Airbnb. The apartment was gorgeous and just around the corner from Plaza del Castilo. The apartment was in an old building but it was just renovated and had all the mod cons. The first thing we did when we were there was go to the bull arena to look around. After that we went walking around and arrived at Cafe Iruna (it had to be done). Cafe Iruna did not disappoint it has that beautiful old style bar and the waiters are all still in formal dress you could see everything Hemingway described and sitting out having a drink and looking at Plaza del Castilo you could see why Hemingway fell in love with the place! The more I walked around Pamplona however the more you could tell why when he came back all those years later he felt as if he had ruined the place by letting the secret it out, it has become thronged with tourists (myself included added to that) – whether this was a good or bad thing I don’t know, I know I still loved it!
After our short stay in Pamplona it was on to foodie heaven – San Sebastian! Again we went by bus and used Airbnb to find a place to stay. The woman who owned the apartment there had little English but she had French so we communicated through broken Spanish and French. I will say we did not do much in San Sebastian besides eat drink and walk around but that is what we wanted to do at the time, if I was ever to go back I would rent a car and go to one of the Cider Houses outside of the town, there is also an amazing surfing beach there I would spend a lot more time at.
The first thing we did there was climb Urgull for the view. We then went to the old town for food- there is only one place I am going to recommend in San Sebastian for food and that will come later on as really its the one place I have been where you cannot go wrong so you are best to just explore and let your senses lead you!The second day was raining so we went to the Aquarium and it was amazing. It is quite common to get a rainy day in San Sebastian so I would recommend going to the Aquarium when it happens.
That night we went to a restaurant that we had passed coming out of the Aquarium and this is the one restaurant I recommend you visit in San Sebastian, its a fish restaurant, its not Pinxtos, and its not Michelin Starred, its a good old fashioned family run fish restaurant that made the nicest prawns I think I will ever have . . . ever! It was called Sebastians, ironically, and its one of those restaurants you know is good as it doesn’t have a website I can link. We spent the rest of the days either on La Concha beach or eating and that’s really the end of our little Spanish discovery. . .