Biscay information

Introduction to the Province of Biscay
Biscay, (also known as Viscaya or Bizkaia), is a province on the Cantabrian north coast of Spain. It is part of the Basque, or Pais Vasco, region and has always been a place of strategic and commercial importance because of its harbour at Bilbao at the mouth of he River Nervion. Biscay is a wet province but as a result is verdant, thickly forested and stunningly beautiful.

The capital city of Biscay, Bilbao, is a large place but doesn’t feel so, despite spreading for 14km along the narrow valley of the Nervion River, because the green surrounding mountains are always visible from within the city.

Many people arrive by ferry of course, at Bilbao’s port, but Bilbao is also well served by trains and buses and also has an airport. The city’s main thoroughfare is the Gran Via, lined with expensive shops, government buildings, banks etc and which leads to the huge football stadium of San Mames, a Mecca for Bilbainos.

The best of Bilbao can be experienced in the city’s old quarter or Casco Viejo. Exploring this jumbled area on foot you will find the best bars and restaurants, interesting shops to browse in, the beautiful 19th Century restored (partly thanks to the efforts of Pavarotti) Teatro Arriaga where from September to May many operas are performed and Bilbao’s Cathedral de Santiago (a stop for pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela).

Of course, Bilbao’s new and deserved claim to fame is the Guggenheim Museum. Opened in 1997, this Frank Gehry-designed stunning piece of titanium-covered, modern architecture is as much to be admired externally as for its contents and has catapulted Bilbao onto the global cultural map.

Experience the best of Biscay’s cuisine by sampling tapas (pintxos) in the many historic bars in the arcaded Plaza Nueva or stock up on fresh local produce at the huge art deco, 3 storey, covered market, the Mercado de la Ribera. See below for more on the gastronomy of Biscay.

Around Bilbao and Beyond
Just 15 minutes from Bilbao by metro, is the elegant resort of Algorta (known locally as Getxo), a refreshing contrast to urban Bilbao and a gastronome’s delight. Many of Bilbao’s wealthy jet set choose to live here.

Biscay’s 80km long coastline offers a delightful series of small fishing villages and ports to explore, the villages themselves often perched fantastically high on the cliffs, overlooking their harbour and beach below. The villages of Ondarroa, Lekeitio (with two fine beaches), Elantxobe and Bermeo, with its spectacular fishing fleet and Fisherman’s Museum, are most definitely worth visiting and the beaches of Pedernales, Mundaka and Playa de Laida are worth seeking out.

The town of Gernika is the traditional heart of Basque nationalism and has been forever immortalised in Picasso’s nightmarish painting of the same name.

Inland Biscay is a place that has much to offer yet is well off the beaten track and so as a result is an unspoilt, peaceful place to enjoy and explore. It offers remarkable opportunities for hiking and climbing, especially the area to the south of Durango, 30km east of Bilbao. Durango is the gateway to the Urkiola Natural Park and the rocky Duranguesado Massif, a popular walking and climbing destination.

Just inland from Bilbao itself is the Urdaibai Natural Reserve, declared a UNESCO protected biosphere in 1993, where a wide selection of flora and fauna can be seen. It also offers great opportunities for outside pursuits.

The limestone caves of Pozalagua, near the village of Ranero, are remarkable as are the huge cave chambers of Torca de Carlista.

The Gastronomy of Biscay
The Biscay region has an abundance of excellent raw ingredients to choose from, from the land and the sea.

Cod (bacalao) is no doubt the most popular basis for many a Basque dish. Typical dishes you might find include Bacalao a la Vizcaina, with a pepper sauce made from local dried, sweet peppers and Bacalao en Salsa Verde, with an asparagus and parsley sauce. Hake (merluza or lebatza) is another popular fish, a typical hake dish being Merluza a la Bilbaina, which is hake in a red pepper and tomato sauce. Also look out for Marmitako, a tuna and potato stew.

Of course, the best way to sample Biscay’s cuisine is to snack on tapas (or pintxos), which are small, affordable portions of a dish. A traditional typical tapas of the region is Tigres, or fiery stuffed mussels.

For dessert try Canutillos de Bilbao, which are confectioner’s cream-filled little pastries, served hot.

For a typical wine of the area, try Txakoli, which is a fresh white wine.


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