Bilbao, Spain. This Basque beauty has impactful architecture, brilliant beaches, one of the best museums in the world and a unique gastronomic identity. Famously passionate and proudly independent, the Basques are an enigma. Although their unofficial country straddles northern Spain and south-west France, the residents’ impenetrable language, with its Indo-European roots, is unrelated to those of its neighbours. Over its 700-year history, Bilbao has gone from a trading town on the Bay of Biscay to a gritty industrial hub. Now it is enjoying a renaissance with a flourishing arts scene and some of the most experimental architecture in Europe. But what has remained constant is tradition and a love of food that borders on fanatical. Residents will tell you that Basque cuisine is the best in the world and after a few explosive mouthfuls of pintxos (local tapas served on rounds of bread), you will agree. Bilbaínos spend their Saturday and Sunday mornings on txikiteo (pintxo crawls) through the old town. Plaza Nueva is the nucleus of the activity, with its many tiled bars and cheerful alfresco terraces. Try crab tempura at Gure-Toki 00 34 944 158 037, guretoki.com and salty cod at Casa Victor Montes 00 34 944 157 067, victormontes.com or tangy goat’s cheese in manzanilla sherry at Café Bar Bilbao 00 34 944 151 671, bilbao-cafebar.com which was founded in 1911. Most of the ingredients come from Mercado de la Ribera lariberabilbao.com which has been the beating heart of Bilbao’s food scene since it opened in 1929. Rove its three floors, sampling charcuteria as you go, then chat with local farmers over a glass of txakoli, the slightly fizzy local white, at one of the low-key wine bars. Michelin-starred Mina 00 34 944 795 938, restaurantemina.es is the place to try contemporary Basque cuisine, and you’ll even get change from £56 for its seven-course tasting menu. Book ahead as there’s only space for 25 guests per service in the intimate dining room. Credit: Food and Travel Magazine.
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