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If the industrial heritage of the city is in decline, its proud Basque history is very much the opposite. Situated in the heart of Basque Country, the city is proud of its origins - Basque not Spanish! - and this shines through in everything from the food to the local football team: Athletic Bilbao, also known as Los Leones, The Lions.

A stroll around the city’s old town, the Casco Viejo, and a trip to the Plaza Nueva, both east of the city, allowed me to venture down narrow winding streets, and into ancient churches and designer shops. Moreover, it is the local pinxtos - a Basque variant of Spanish tapas - that floods the streets with a delicious aroma. An assortment of meat, vegetable and fish served up on toasted bread, it is a local snack that’s enjoyed at all times of the day – and often with a cheekyglass of vino, a tradition I was only too happy to abide by. Strolling around this area of town, it is clear to see how the past has met with the present to form contemporary Bilbao, which brings the best of both worlds together in a beautiful and imposing whole.

But if a week of cultural indulgence is not enough, then Bilbao has the benefits of a seaside holiday too. A short subway journey brings you to the northern coast of the city limits and Basque region (on the Spanish side), which offers a plethora of watersports, beach-side cafes and bars to explore, which I gladly did. First stop was the expansive plains of Plentzia, a sheltered beach ideal for those looking to kick back and take in some more genteel water activities. Perfect for soothing the post first-night hangover of BBK fest, I took in a load of paddle boarding on its calm and tranquil waters before kayaking out. A word of warning though, even to sun-weathered Aussies: make sure the sunscreen you apply is a high factor and water-resistant. Two hours of paddling in the midday sun leaves you with red-as-hell shins (a new one for me) and a very unflattering life jacket tan line.

If you want to take in some more adventurous beach life, then head to Bakio: the waves are unfiltered by artificial harbour defences, like they are in Plentzia, and the surrounding life is a little more grown-up orientated with bars taking prominence over cafes and eateries. Sadly, my journey here took place the day after the Plentzia debacle, by which point the skin covering my lower legs had turned a nice blood-red colour and had stretched tight as a wetsuit. This limited my surfing activities to hiding in the shade with nothing but my embarrassment for company as I watched the rest of my pals board out and take it on.

Another top feature of the Bilbao fest is that it is only a couple of hours away from the UK, meaning it is possible to make it for a long weekend. The festival runs from Thursday night to Saturday night, so you can be back for work on the Monday if needs be. It’s also a fraction of the price of other Euro and Brit fests (three-day tickets with camping cost £92) with week-long package deals available too. Whichever way you look at it, Bilbao BBK is a bargain. Bands, beaches, and cultural education to round off the debauchery, just try and take it all in. I tried and failed, so can’t wait to get back this year. See you there...

Bilbao BBK Live runs from July 10 - 12.

For more info and to book tickets, click here.


Basque in BBK glory this summer
Digital Mag

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