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Barcelona-Bilbao-Biarritz

Barcelona-Bilbao-Biarritz

Travelers are beating a path to Bilbao in Spain to take in the architectural wonder of the world by Frank Gehry - that is, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The Guggenheim's long history of making architectural history which began with Frank Lloyd Wright on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street in New York, continues in Bilbao and Berlin. The New York Guggenheim initially created controversy, whereas the Bilbao Guggenheim has earned only praise from critics and museum-goers alike. It is breathtakingly beautiful from every angle, its titanium-clad exterior gleaming in the light and its shape, some have likened it to the prow of a ship, a 21st century contrast to the 19th century city.

We found a wonderful way to visit Bilbao. We flew TWA to Barcelona, itself a treasure trove of architectural marvel and art. Representations of Modernism abound, most notably in the works of Gaudi - but remember, this is the city of Picasso, Miro, Dali and Tapies, as well as Mies van der Rohe's pavilion. Gaudi's famous Pedrera house on Passeig de Gracia and the Sagrada Familia - a work in progress - are astonishing sights for the interested traveler. Less well know is the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection at the Monasterio de Pedralbes. Beautiful parks are in evidence, as well as more Gaudi, as you walk the streets of this magnificent city. Like Paris, around each corner you'll find something splendid.

Where to stay? Our favorite is the Colon, a charming older hotel, perfectly located, overlooking a plaza and across from the Cathedral. On one visit, during the summer, we sat on our terrace and enjoyed performances by great singers and dancers on the steps of the Cathedral.
Address: Avda. Catedral 7, Tel.93-301-1404. Or Fax 93-317-3442. The Hotel Claris is also a good choice. It is a beautiful hotel in a melange of styles and it does have a roof-top swimming pool. If you are in Barcelona during the summer months, a useful amenity at the close of a day of touring the town. Carrer Pau Claris, 150. Tel. 93-487-62-62. Fax. 93-215-7970.

"Foodies" will find marvelous dining in this city. Ask your concierge to make reservations at Jean Luc Figueras in what was once Balenciaga's studio, elegant Michelin star dining; or, Beltxenea where in summer you can dine in the formal garden; or Oratava where the specialty is game; or for bistro dining Botafumeiro, a bustly shellfish restaurant.

Fly from Barcelona after several days of sightseeing to San Sebastian and stay at the Londres y de Inglaterra, a lovely hotel overlooking La Concha Beach. Attractive decor, and a friendly staff who can arrange a car and driver at a reasonable rate to take you to Bilbao, an hour away. Tel: 943-426989 or Fax: 943-420031.
We were picked up at the airport, driven to Bilbao where we spent four hours at the museum, then returned to San Sebastian. Or, you could choose the Maria Christina, considered the top luxury hotel in the town. This hotel, late 19th century, overlooks the river. Tel: 943-424900, Fax: 943-423914.

We dined that night at Arzak. This fabulous restaurant is in an inn-like setting on the city's outskirts. The meal was fabulous, among the best we had ever eaten - anywhere! - the Spanish wines they recommended were the equal of the best of France. Be sure to make reservations well in advance - let the concierge of your hotel do it for you when you make reservations for lodging.

The next morning the driver picked us up and drove us across the border to Biarritz, where we spent the night at the Hotel du Palais, once the chateau of Louis Napoleon and Eugenie. This hotel is the ultimate in luxury, and its dining room is two star Michelin, well-deserved. There is much to see and do in Biarritz, a splendid summer resort, equally lovely in Spring and Fall. The traveler will enjoy driving into the French Pyrenees and visiting wonderful small villages. Basque cuisine, which you will have sampled in San Sebastian, has yet another incarnation in French style. Sheep cheeses on both sides of the borders are very much in evidence and quite special. There are two top restaurants in and near Biarritz, each worth a visit. We'll review them, along with a detailed look at the dining experience at the Hotel du Palais in another feature story. For reservations at the Hotel du Palais, Tel: 05-59-41-64-00 or Fax: 05-59-41-67-99. The hotel is up to date with an e-mail address as well: palais@cotebasque.tm.fra.

From Biarritz, we flew to Paris, and after a few days, returned to New York with a comfortable flight on TWA.

If you prefer to stay in Bilbao for another day at the museum, or to see its incredible titanium clad exterior in difference light (dawn and dusk as well as mid-day), consider the Carlton Hotel, recently refurbished, Tel: 94-416-2200, Fax: 94-416-4628 or Hotel Urcilla, modern and first-rate rooms, services and facilities. Tel: 94-410-2020, Fax: 94-443-9335. For dinner, Ariatza, Victor Montes (tapas), or Retolaza are excellent bets. While in Bilbao, have a look at the odd suspension bridge built by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel in the 19th century.

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