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Spain, Land of Churches, Castles and Wine - Part 1

Although I grew up in Spain, it’s been nearly 20 years since I left the country to overseas, so this summer I decided to go back and visit family and friends while showing the country to my Vietnamese girlfriend.

Being such a vast country, and having limited time, I decided to take her to just one major city, Bilbao, where we hired a car and drove around, focusing on small villages and towns, that are usually left out of most tourist guidebooks.

Both being wine lovers, we decided to experience some of the new, trendy wine tourism which is becoming very popular with locals and foreign alike, some of which travel from faraway places like Australia or the US.

So we landed in Bilbao, in the North coast, ready to explore. Due to its unpredictable weather, it has never attracted masses of tourists. However, over the years, some have started to discover the magic of this area which offers a totally different view of Spanish culture.

Divided in two by the Nervion River, Bilbao is only about 20 kilometres away from the sea and its beautiful beaches. The river marks two distinct areas in the city, the old town (Casco Viejo), lying on the right with the old houses, the gorgeous Arriaga theatre, and the main food market, which has recently been refurbished. And the new town on the left, with all the tall buildings, beautiful wide streets, parks and the famous Guggenheim Museum.

Plaza Nueva (New Square), is a beautiful inner square in the centre of the old town, with boutique shops and great bars, it’s especially busy on Sundays when the locals go there, not only to enjoy the great selection of food and wine, but also to the open trade market for antiques, coins, stamps, books and virtually everything else.

On the other side of the river lays modern Bilbao. The Gran Via is the artery of the city with top international and local shops. Moyua Square marks its middle, an amazing gardened roundabout, with lots of beautiful flowers, which will lead you to some of the most historic and beautiful streets in the centre of Bilbao. One of then, Alameda Recalde, will take you from Moyua to the world famous Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art, a must see for anyone visiting Bilbao.

After hiring a car, we travelled to the emblematic Rioja, famous for its wines.

This was the start of our wine tourism trip.

Check back here for Part 2 of Alfredo's Spanish journey next Friday.

[Photo via Angel]

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