We cross the Pyrenees reaching Spain, the 8th country in our journey. Eventually get lost for a few days through the peaks and valleys of the province of Navarra, dotted with towns built in stone, secluded monasteries and beautiful landscape. We just wander around without quite knowing where we really are till we make it to Pamplona, to follow the steps of Ernest Hemingway, having a coffee at charming Cafe Iruña, and not quite running in front of the bulls. Pamplona is a small pleasant town.
Our friend Maria had prepared for us a list of places to visit in her home region La Rioja, so we go there next and while enjoying the beauty of the landscape, are caught of guard by some wintery weather, with falling snow and temperatures lower than we have experienced in any other place during this trip, including the Arctic, of course we were there in summer and now is almost winter 🙂 Despite the weather we try to follow Maria´s list as much as possible and it takes us to beautiful towns like Briones and beautiful monasteries like Suso and Yuso and also Valvanera. Even if we are not able to visit them, since we seem to arrive on the day they are closed to the public, just the drive there through the snowy roads and beautiful autumn colours through the dramatic Sierra de La Demanda is more than worth it.
Maria also advices us to visit one of the oldest wineries in the region which is Marques de Riscal. Worth every minute of it. First we do a guided tour of the cellars, where we learn yet a bit more about wine making and then sample some nice wines from the winery.
We also have the chance to see the amazing building that Frank Gehry, the well known Canadian architect, designed for the winery a few years ago and that is a luxury hotel situated in the vineyards. Totally spectacular, covered with a canopy of waves of titanium and stainless steel in 3 different colours, pink representing the wine, silver representing the bottle top and gold representing the characteristic mesh from the Marques de Riscal wines. It has a beautiful glow, even against dramatic cloudy skies. We decide to go in a have a quick bite for lunch at the bar of the hotel, which translates in sitting for hours chatting with a young couple from LA, who is also travelling in a campervan. Very pleasant altogether.
Frank Gehry is also the architect who designed the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, which is one of our next steps. The place is magnificent. I suppose the more you travel, the harder it gets to get impressed by new places, but when you get to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao you are most definitively touched and awestruck. The way it shines against the light and it changes colour, depending on the mood of the sky is fascinating. The curves and angles of the facade, pure magic.
The way such a extraordinary building fits with the environment is in itself enchanting.
The interior is full of art treasures and people enjoying them.
But Bilbao has much more to offer, and knowing us, much of it comes in the shape of delicious food. We make a pit stop at La Ribera market that is a joy for all the senses.
Also very enjoyable are the people, that are very kind and really friendly. We have the same experience in Donostia (San Sebastian), where people also gather in the narrow streets and squares streets of the old quarter in the evening to sample some pintxos and some txakoli, a delicious local white wine.
Donostia is the world capital of pintxos, and many say it is actually the food capital of the world. Our own experience here is simply that food is a true delight and we thoroughly enjoy everything we eat, which frankly is quite a bit.
Besides that, Donostia has some beautiful architecture and not one or two, but three urban beaches, hugging its coast. The most famous one is La Concha, at the center, which is almost 1.5 Km long. But joining the 3 together it feels that you can walk along some sort of infinite promenade. What a surreal and graceful seafront this city has.
One of the wildest corners of the seafront is adorned by the statue Peine del Viento (Windcomb), a collaboration between the famous sculptor Eduardo Chillida and architect Luis Peña Ganchegui, a matter of rough beauty.