HASTA LA VISTA – six Spanish highlights

Great food, great company, striking art and plenty of sitting around in the sun.

We really enjoyed our time in Spain. We didn’t spend enough euros there to lift the Spanish out of their current economic problems, but we can heartily recommend that everyone else should go and do so – pronto.

Here’s a brief ‘best of’ from our trip.

Best Museum:

Of course it has to be the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Frank O Gehry’s remarkable building would win the award even if it were empty. The curators have been clever in picking some striking, accessible artworks to highlight. Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time and Louise Bourgeois’ Maman stop every tourist with a camera.

We also really enjoyed the current temporary exhibition featuring David Hockney’s recent work.

Everyone who’s ever been to Bilbao has a spider picture. Louise Bourgeois’ Maman.

Best Meal:

There were a lot of contenders for this award. Honorable mention must go to lunch in the cellar at Elciedo’s Restaurante La Cueva, but for the atmosphere, decor and food combination, tastefully combined with the storks flying around over the town square outside the window, the winner is Las Ciguenas (the storks) in Haro.

Don’t be put off by the colour, or lack thereof. These are wonderful chipirones – squid in ink.

Best Cafe

If it’s good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for us. Cafe Iruna knows the Importance of Being Connected to Ernest. With its elaborate Victorian decor it is a Pamplona institution.

Anywhere else in the world this would mean queuing with other tourists for the privilege of eating overpriced bad food. But although it was very busy and undeniably atmospheric, the food was good and extremely reasonably priced. Our three course menu with wine was a mere EUR13.50.

Cafe Iruna, Pamplona.

Best Church:

The massive cathedrals of Logrono and Santo Domingo contain wonderful art and spectacular ceilings, but we really liked the little octagonal church outside Obanos.

Perhaps that was because it involved an extra five kilometre walk at the end of a full day’s trekking.

It’s simple, quiet and eight hundred years old. You can feel every year in the stones.

Best Town:

There were a few possibles, including little villages like Laguardia and true cities like Bilbao and Logrono. Although we’d been warned that Bilbao had little to offer apart from the Guggenheim Museum, we found the Old Town and its handsome boulevards well worth the couple of days we spent there.

I’m almost sure we’d hate Pamplona crowds during the San Fermin Festival, so it was lucky that we were there in spring, when the place was quiet and easy-going. Probably it was our favourite town, by a slim margin.

Most Spanish towns have pleasant squares surrounded by cafes, but Pamplona’s Plaza del Castillo is hard to beat.

Best Walking:

The 22km stage of the Camino de Santiago between Pamplona and Obanos takes the award here for its combination of scenic country (anything with canola in spring flower will be a strong contender here) and interesting conversations with our fellow peregrinos. A close second was the following day’s hike, through the old villages of Puente La Reina and Cirauqui.

Put the two days together and you have an excellent little trek.

Everybody’s proud to have made it up the hill without the assistance of a donkey.

I could continue here with the categories ‘Best Rioja wine’, ‘Best cafe con leche’ and ‘Best Pintxos’, but it’s hard to taste such things through a blog post. You have to try them for yourself.

Suffice it to say that the category ‘Best hosts and tour guides’ was easily won by Ana and Iain and family. Gracias!


Filed under Hiking, Spain

4 responses to “HASTA LA VISTA – six Spanish highlights

  1. We’re very much enjoyed your Camino trip even if you didn’t make it to the end. Remind me to lend you our treasured copy of Cees Nooteboom’s “Roads to Santiago”. Or you could read it in the original back in Amsterdam. Well done, Richard!

  2. iain

    Glad you both enjoyed Las Cigueñas Richard. Your readers may be interested to know that the three course meal with wine was even better value than the Cafe Iruña. The menu is a mere 12 euros per head ! Hasta la proxima.

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