I recently retuned from an enchanting city less than two hours flying time from Dublin which is served by direct flights three times a week by a major international carrier. The city is not large by international standards — being somewhat smaller than Belfast but almost twice that of the Province’s capital when you take its greater metropolitan area into consideration. It is located approximately 15 miles inland on a river and yet will play host to 30 or more visits by major cruise lines in 2015. It is home to a world-famous museum and with almost 700 restaurants within its city limits according to Trip Advisor, it is some place that you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to all things gastronomic. Indeed, the region in which it is located boasts almost 40 Michelin-rated restaurants and is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world to enjoy food of the highest quality. It is a bilingual city that boasts a very unique culture and the local language is unrelated to all other European languages. Like Ireland, it enjoys a rich history, culture and some unique sports and indeed its inhabitants consider themselves very similar to the Irish. Its citizens are amongst the friendliest people in the world and the city enjoys day time temperatures in the mid-twenties even this late into October!
Intrigued? Perplexed? Stumped? You may therefore be surprised to find that the city in question is Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque region of Northern Spain and a hidden jewel amongst many in this largely unfamiliar part of the Iberian Peninsula, as far as Irish tourists are concerned. Like many Irish families, yours truly kept Spanish students back in the Eighties and many of them originated from northern Spain and in particular from cities like Bilbao, San Sebastian and Santander. I was always intrigued by the similarities between us and built up this picture in my mind of a part of Spain that was similar in some respects to Ireland; was green and was tantalisingly near and swore that I would visit it someday. Well, almost 25 years later, I finally made good on that promise and shame on me because Bilbao and the Basque Region have far exceeded my expectations in every possible way and I shall be sharing my observations and experiences over the course of the next few blogs so don’t forget to visit www.travelbug.ie for further updates.