Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

July 18, 2019
Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

SPANISH FLY: THE JOURNEY HOME 
FROM MOROCCO, BY WAY OF SPAIN

SAN SEBASTIAN - BILBAO - BARCELONA

Last summer I made my virgin voyage to Africa, with a tour of Morocco that took me through the Atlas Mountains, the Saharan desert, and coast to coastIt was an extensive road trip that covered at least a dozen cities and towns, 9 of which I blogged about. But sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing. As they say in France (and Morocco) - c’est l'embarras des richesses. After 10 days of being on the road, spending each night in a different town or city; and eating enough tagine, cous cous, and lamb to last a lifetime; I couldn’t quite head straight back to the grey skies and gravy of England, could I? I needed a transition destination - a holiday to recover from a holiday, if you will - in a country that was different enough to be interesting yet familiar enough to ease me back into reality. So I spent 5 much-needed days in Spain: decompressing and recalibrating in San Sebastian, Bilbaoand Barcelona. As one does...


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Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

SAN SEBASTIAN


Though not my first post-Morocco-port-of-call (that honour went to Barcelona), I felt truly relaxed in San Sebastian. How could I not? San Sebastian was designed for languid repose: geographically (perched on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country, the landscape itself is a hindrance to productivity), in design (the compact old town is made for walking - narrow, polished stone streets dotted with modern sculpture in surprising situations), and culturally (their answer to Spain’s tapas is pintxos, pronounced “pinch-ohs” which itself is so adorable that you feel compelled to pinch your way through every tavern’s entire menu). Clearly, the visiting crowd got the memo: Dutch tourists who merrily squeezed 4 to a car headed to Bilbao (clearly unbothered by the cosntraints of physics), an elderly French couple with their Cavalier King Charles spaniel (my favourite breed of dog, so naturally I’m biased), bronzed beach bums, hikers with walking sticks and all the time in the world. And then there was me, unwinding from my Morocco trip in full-unglam ie. without a stitch of makeup, hair in a messy top knot, and feet in Birkenstocks. 



Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona
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Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

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Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona


Take an apartment at Hotel SANSEbaya hip boutique hotel carved into a stone wall, facing the sea. Hotel SANSEbay is right in the thick of the action - every evening, a jolly crowd congregates on the steps of the tiny alley outside (which lead right up to Urgull Mountain and down to Concha Beach) while literally 10 steps in the opposite direction you find yourself in the Old Town.


Hike to the top of Mt. Urgull where La Mota Castle awaits - a small castle with ramparts that date back to the 12th century. A heavy lunch at La Cuchara de San Telmo (above, left) is in order. You’ll need the fuel for a very long promenade along La Concha Beach, although you can take a break to admire Miramar Palace, the former summer home of the Queen of Spain. At the end of your walk you’ll take the funicular - a quick rumble through a dense, sun-dappled hill. When you reach the top of Monte Igueldo, catch your breath then have it taken away when you behold the Bay of La Concha. Head back downhill and get lost in the Old Town until its time for dinner. Finish off the day with yet more pintxos at Atari.

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM BILBAO 


I nipped over to Bilbao for the sole purpose of comparing the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to the original in New York. I wasn’t the only one - the museum was opened as part of a revitalisation effort for the city of Bilbao.  It worked, with visitors flocking to Bilbao to behold the Frank Gehry masterpiece (groundbreaking for its Deconstructivist design and also for being constructed on time and on budget).  

To be frank, I wasn’t as impressed by the exhibits as I had hoped to be. There was a bit of a “seen it already” - from the Louis Bourgeois spider (above) which I saw at her 2008 retrospective at the Tate Modern to the Koons tulips which seem to pop up everywhere. However! The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao outshone the Guggenheim New York with its uncensored display of Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, a provocative and political exhibition of Chinese contemporary art from 1989 to 2008. In the US, Huang Yong Ping’s “Theater of the World” was met with outrage in for its use of live animals in its sculpture and thus removed. In Bilbao;  the lizards, toads, and snakes roamed free, adding a much-needed surrealism and absurdity to the proceedings.



Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona
ABaC RESTAURANT, BARCELONA


In Barcelona I ticked a box on my culinary bucket list - dining at ABaC, that famous Catalan restaurant. Bestowed the highest Michelin award - 3 starsThe journey begins on the outdoor terrace (above), through the kitchen (below), and finally in the dining room - all while eating one’s way through one’s choice of seasonal tasting menu. I wimped out of the 25-course tasting menu and plumped for the (slightly) more manageable 18-course tasting menu. But of course, that’s as far as conservativism goes at ABaC  on the menu was lime cactus (left), Bloody Mary On The Rocks with tomato juice ice cubes & celery salt - really, an elevated gazpacho, “Chinese Box” - salty, buttery eel brioche with charcoal aroma, and a pudding served on a marzipan pillow that tasted like a tea-flavoured frost cloud tinged with malt-flavoured crystals; but to name a few. VerdictABaC is a must-eat when in Barcelona  especially given the value for money - €190 for 18 courses and €210 for 25 courses at a 3 Michelin star restaurant. Book way, way, in advance.

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona
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Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona
 ABaC MENU: OUR TRADITION

Lime cactus, tequila, and green leaves

Cecina chip with Café de Paris butter

Caramelised bread macaron with 
spicy tomato sauce and basil

Nori crumble, tuna belly, soy butter, 
botargo with cured egg yolk and spicy shoots

Fine Mediterranean herbs coca with anchovies and cured cecina infusion

Gilda de mar

Bloody Mary on the Rocks (above)

Green Salmorejo

Whipped hazelnut butter with 
bread crusts and caviar

Chinese box: Chinese bread, fried brioche, grilled eel and wasabi 
Onion soup with Parmesan spheres, 
walnuts, and kumquat

Black grouper, suquet & picada with 
romesco sauce, hazelnut and 
anise-flavoured leaves
(right)

Tuna rice, Mediterranean tomato stew, 
tuna belly, and pecorino romano

Matured sequence: steak and 
tendon tartare and asparagus
(above)

Camomile “pillow”, milk and biscuit roll 
with a touch of lightly spicy citruses

Chocolate fragile crate

Frosted tile with fresh and dried flowers, yogurt textures, 
crumbled biscuit, and violet ice-cream

“Sweet pumpkin”

___
Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona
Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona

Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona
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Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona
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Spain: San Sebastian, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, & 3 Michelin Star Restaurant ABaC Barcelona


Successfully acclimatised from the sensory overload of Morocco via the comforting charms of Spain, I was ready to head home to London. Tell me - Do you plan post-holiday holidays? Do you ease yourself from the exotic back into daily life by extending your trips to familiar territory?






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