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The Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan

Go Beyond the Guggenheim in Bilbao

Eye-catching modern architecture, wildly inventive cuisine, and fresh takes on Basque tradition have transformed the industrial port city.

1. Where to Stay

In the cozy Basque Boutique's rooms, traditional materials are repurposed within a historic townhouse setting.  

Take in an enviable view of the Guggenheim at the Gran Hotel Domine (from $151), just a few steps from the museum. Challenged to create alongside Frank Gehry’s dramatic design, Iñaki Aurreroextea chose to complement rather than compete with the silvery edifice, with odd angles and cantilevered black-glass windows on the exterior and, within the central atrium, a six-story-high, 90-ton rock-and-mesh sculpture by Barcelona artist-designer Javier Mariscal. Each floor has a distinct color scheme that trickles into the contemporary rooms, from ochre to red, equipped with LCD TVs, Philippe Starck bathtubs, and green-tea bath amenities. Make a reservation at seven-Michelin-star chef Martín Berasategui’s rooftop restaurant DOMA for market-focused tasting menus ($85) featuring dishes like red-tuna carpaccio with beet ceviche and rhubarb-and-salted-cod tacos.

Get a taste of the Basque countryside at Palacio Urgoiti (from $101), a 17th-century palace 15 minutes outside of town (and also 15 minutes from the beaches of Plentzia and Bakio). Incredibly, after being torn down at its original location near Galdakao, the pieces of the structure were stored for decades, then moved here in 2004 and reconstructed stone by stone. Original features like French ceilings, antique furnishings, and hand-painted tile floors have all been preserved for the now-luxurious 43-room hotel, though modern extras like marble bathrooms and glass-enclosed hallways have been added. Go for a round on the on-premises nine-hole golf course ($13), then nibble on jamón ibérico from Guijuelo with tomato emulsion ($30) in the formal dining room, or just lounge by the inviting indoor pool while gazing through the oversize windows at the lush surrounding hills and gardens.

Stay in the heart of the Casco Viejo, or the old quarter, at Basque Boutique (from $86). Now a stylish eight-room spot, the hotel was carved out of a historic townhouse steps from Santiago Cathedral, and the original brick walls remain exposed in most rooms, along with rough-hewn wood-beamed ceilings. Whimsical, repurposed touches have been added, like pillars and stools crafted from tree trunks, sculpted trees weaving their branches through the hallways, and floral-patterned cement tiles. Each room has a unique design theme: You’ll find art and original furnishings inspired by the Basque culture and environment, ranging from farming tools to milk pots turned into hangers and bedside tables, in the El Caerío room, plus another entirely based on Picasso’s Guernica.

Published on Oct 3, 2014 as a web exclusive.