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The city’s shiniest attraction, Frank Gehry’s ark-like Guggenheim museum, is its biggest draw – a shimmering titanium juggernaut that houses modern art, the likes of which are a hit with snap-happy tourists: think Jeff Koons’ Puppy, a terrier carpeted in plants, and Louise Bougeois’ giant, imposing spider, Maman. 

After a heady dose of culture, swing by the characterful old town, Casco Viejo, where the cobbled streets of Las Siete Calles (‘seven streets’) are chocka with bars stacked with plates of pintxos, the Basque version of tapas – small slices of bread piled high with artfully created toppings that cost about £2 each. I cruise from bar to bar, and wash each pintxo down with generous libations of velvety Rioja and lager. Although glitzy San Sebastian, a two-hour drive away, is Spain’s culinary capital, Bilbao is much more affordable (and far less touristy), enabling you to eat like a king on a pauper’s budget.  

The fabulous timing of BBK on July 12-14 means that it falls straight after the San Fermin festival, otherwise known as the Running of the Bulls, a wild no-holds-barred fiesta of bull runs, street parties and sangria fights, from July 6-14. Several tour operators, such as Contiki and PP Travel, have capitalised on this, combining the two fun-filled festivals in one holiday package.

In need of some post-festival R&R, I hire a car and explore the dreamy, crowd-free beaches that dot the northern coast, the nearest of which is a mere 10-minute drive away, or a 35-minute Metro ride from Bilbao to Sopelana. Spain’s green and rugged Atlantic coast is popular with surfers, but the breaks aren’t as overrun as Newquay in the summer months. Mundaka is the region’s most famous surf spot, while Sopelana has a tranquil nudist beach, Barinatxe, as popular with good-looking twenty-somethings as it is with leather-skinned pensioners. 

Rivermouth site Rodiles is home to one of the country’s most legendary waves thanks in part to its tranquil setting in a pine forest at the edge of a sweeping bay. Glamorous San Sebastian is a must-see and the three-hour coastal drive from Bilbao is one of the best in Spain. 

After an unforgettable few weeks in the Basque Country, I vow to return to BBK. The cheap beer, smiley faces and sunshine contribute to the festival’s feel-good factor, and unlike my experiences at some of the UK’s depressingly corporate festivals, I’ve come away without being splattered in mud and without feeling ripped off. 

A three-day pass for Bilbao BBK Live on July 12-14, including camping, is £88. Day tickets cost £46. Buy tickets from
 seetickets.comticketweb.com and  lastminute.com See bilbaobbklive.com for festival updates.


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Bilbao's BBK festival - Europe's most underrated music festival?
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