Bilbao : A Foodie Guide

Hi, my name’s Kerry and I head up a lot of the social media and content here at the Club. I’m excited to share with you some culinary adventures I was lucky enough to have in July, after impulsively booking a few days in Bilbao, northern Spain. I had an amazing time and came back to the UK reluctantly, having presumably packed on a significant bit of timber from three days’ solid Basque eating and drinking.

It’s under two hours to Bilbao from Manchester, and on arrival you immediately get a taste of the treats in store. The twenty minute shuttle bus from the airport to town costs just three euros and takes in lovely sights of lush, green fields and mountains dotted with red roofs and palm trees, until suddenly out of the countryside looms the red arc of the famous La Salve bridge. Right away your eye is drawn to the futuristic metal curves of the iconic Guggenheim Museum and just like that, you’re in central Bilbao.

I arrived on a Sunday, and soon realised the locals take their day of rest seriously. Most shops and restaurants were closed, so I took a walk along the Nervión river past the Guggy, under the spindly legs of Maman, Louise Bourgeois’ imposing metal spider sculpture. An extended wander through the undulating hills and tinkling fountains of Parque de Doña Casilda worked up quite an appetite – time for the first of many pintxos stops!

Maman – outside the Guggenheim Museum

I headed to Poza 46, a lively punk bar pumping raucous music and serving up these dainty Basque versions of tapas to dreadlocked young locals. Here I soaked in the atmosphere and enjoyed a glass of Amstel Oro (a darker, maltier version of the familiar lager) and a plate of five rounds of soft white bread topped with everything from spiced prawns to quail’s eggs to pickled peppers. The tab came to a jaw-droppingly tiny €7, and with a dulce de leche helado from a street stall on the walk home, I was replete.

Monday morning, and the town is gently waking up (though don’t bother springing out of bed – most shops don’t open til 10 at the earliest). The Casco Viejo, or old town, is just a short walk from the town centre and well worth a wander for the incense-scented hippy boutiques, edgy vintage stores and endless bustling pintxo bars, as well as beautiful historic churches.

It’s here that I found my first Basque lunch – at the modern Mercado de la Ribera, Europe’s largest covered market. It’s not to be missed! After an extensive browse of amazing seafood, fruit and veg, meats and local cheeses, I headed to the dining hall, lined with lively pintxo counters serving food and local vermouths, wines and beers. Here I passed a great hour or so reading my book, people watching and making several trips for top ups of txakoli, a dry local sparkling wine, and endless pintxos. A highlight was the spiced chorizo, jamón and quail’s egg, closely followed by a simple but effective skewer of plump garlic prawns.

The food hall at Mercado de la Ribera

A meandering walk back through town took me through the glamorous Abando shopping district (treat yourself – go on!) before taking a mid-afternoon siesta, which in Spain is pretty much the law. That evening, refreshed and ready for some serious eating, I headed out to follow up on a few recommendations from foodie friends. A short walk to the Indautxu area led me to El Puertito, a tiny oyster bar where oysters from all over the globe can be bought individually with your choice of beers or crisp wine. Unfortunately they were all out of the local type, so I chose two Gillardeau at €3 each from the hand-written blackboard and enjoyed them with yet more lovely txakoli.

Next I headed to Calle San Francisco in the colourful, multi-cultural area of San Francisco – blessed with some sweeping sunset views of the city beyond the central train station. Filled with warm fuzzies, I had to stop and take in the panorama for a few minutes on my way (and get some shots for Instagram of course). Through the bustling crowds, I found myself at Blanco y Negro, a traditional Basque restaurant that’s recently been given a really cool, almost pop-art makeover. From the extensive menu I chose chistorra Basque sausage, homemade hummous with soft bread, and marmitako: a rich stew with chunky pieces of tuna and fluffy potato – a revelation! With drinks, this relaxed meal came to under €20. After a sundowner in the lovely outdoor seating area of nearby Peso Neto bar, I was ready to waddle (or roll) home along the banks of the river.

The next day was a rainy one (pretty typical of whenever I decide to leave the UK), so I spent a few hours browsing the amazing collections of the Guggenheim then ate some gorgeous vegan pintxos at Green Bistrot. In the afternoon, I took the three-minute Artxanda Funicular to the top of the mountain, where I took in sweeping views of the city, swam in an outdoor pool then ate some of the lightest calamari I’ve ever tasted at Restaurante Txakoli (no prizes for guessing what I drank here too!).

The crispest calamari going – with, yes, more txakoli!

Solo travel is my favourite way to go, but in the evening I was ready for some company, so headed out for some aperitifs and a chat with an Australian artist who was also staying at my hostel (Poshtel Bilbao – a great, well-designed hostel in a brilliant location). After an Aperol Spritz, we explored the winding Siete Calles (Seven Streets) of the old town and sat down for a fancy meal at Spanish restaurant Amarena. On the menu for my last night was garlic and chilli tiger prawns, piquillo peppers stuffed with Basque salt cod and octopus with clam risotto, along with a bottle of local white. Note, I didn’t scarf down all of this solo – luckily my dinner companion was up for sharing.

Garlic prawns and too much wine at Amarena!

The meal was followed up with (ahem) several kalimotxos at a lively little nearby bar. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it! This local beverage raised my eyebrows at first – it’s cola mixed in equal parts with cheap red wine – but it’s actually a fairly pleasing combo even if it did mean I had a sore head for my final morning in Bilbao. The good news is, even at the airport the food and drink selections were pretty impressive – I even remembered to pick up a bottle of that wonderful txakoli to bring home with me.

Sitting down to write this has been seriously nostalgic – I’m already pining to get back to this beautiful city with its welcoming locals, unique culture and vibrant arts and food scenes. I’d highly recommend it for a break, and I hope my account of my few days here will make you consider it the next time you’re planning a holiday! Book yourself a mini break and/or book in for the club’s Basque Weekend (20th – 22nd September)



Kerry and a grey but fantastic view from Artxanda mountain