Early the next morning after a quiet breakfast at the Villa Soro, we set off westwards towards Bilbao, about 100 kilometers away from San Sebastian. The drive was easy and very green with the hills and trees of the Pais Vasco (Basque country), a welcome change after the over-construction we see everyday in Marbella.
We arrived before noon and walked on the riverbank towards the main entrance of the Frank O. Gehry designed Guggenheim which opened to the public in October 1997. The museum was built as part of a grand plan to redesign and modernize the city of Bilbao along with Santiago Calatarava’s new city airport, Federico Soriano’s new Conference and Performing Arts Center, the construction of a Sir Norman Foster designed metropolitan railway along with a new footbridge crossing the river at Uribitarte also by Calatrava.
There was a temporary exhibit of the works of German artist, Anselm Kiefer alongside the museum’s permanent collection of modern installations and large-scale works by celebrated artists like Jeff Koons large flower puppy, Jenny Holzer’s LED columns, Yves Klein’s Fire Fountain and Louise Bourgeois’ large spider called Maman (a copy of which we had previously seen outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa). One of these – The Matter of Time by Richard Serra – can be experienced by entering the different structures of double ellipse and spiral among others and creates a strange dizzy and claustrophobic feeling. We entered the small spiral and didn’t dare go into any of the others after that.
We continued on to the first floor to see the rest of the works by Anselm Kiefer then headed on to the museum store to look through the numerous art books and items for sale to kill time before our reservation at the restaurant. There is also a cafe and a prix–fixe menu restaurant aside from the Martin Berasategui (a three-star Michelin chef) managed Guggenheim Bilbao Restaurant.
The restaurant’s modern modern interiors with its’ colorful paint-splattered walls and red-upholstered chairs and banquettes fit perfectly with the museum’s impressive and eye-catching shape. We were the first to be seated and had time to peruse our menus before settling on the 6-course Sensations tasting menu (pictured in order below). The best one out of the six courses for me was the intensely-flavored third course of Roast vine tomato stuffed with baby squids with a black risotto and fresh cream. One of the specialties of this region is chipirones (baby squids) which is always present in Basque country menus. This version was a stellar take on the lowly squid with the sweetness of the tomato complementing the strong flavor of the squid ink risotto and the baby squids. Our meal ended with a very interesting yet simple dessert of warm dark chocolate juice with a milk and anise ice cream and crunchy almond meringue leaves. This is another flavor combination that I’ve tasted several times in Spain – liquorice and chocolate. We had a half bottle of Azpilicueta along with some still Mondariz and Illy espressos to finish. Sated and sleepy with headed back to San Sebastian and had a well-deserved siesta (afternoon nap) dreaming about the wonderful meal we just had.