BILBAO , SAN SEBASTIAN & LA RIOJA
Most of you know Spain very well … For sure you have visited the main destinations, or you have heard about the beautiful southern part of Spain or our islands … However, when talking to clients about the North of Spain, we realize that this is still the unknown destination. We immediately have a big “O – I did not know…” on client’s faces when we show them pictures and this is, of course, when we jump into details and let them discover a surprisingly unknown but very well rounded MICE destination.
The Basque Region – located in the north of Spain – right on the border with France is the home of among the world’s finest food, beaches in natural settings, avant-garde architecture… The two main destinations – Bilbao, the main city in the area, and San Sebastian, a beautiful town on the beach, are ideal places for meetings and incentives and offer the right infrastructure for any size, even so, in our opinion, the best group size is between 50 to up to 250 delegates in this area. The weather is beautiful all year round but we would recommend the destination mostly from May to October, as this is the most stable time of the year. Many of our clients have doubts about how to get there, but when you start looking into flights connection to the north of Spain, you will see that the airport of BILBAO is very well connected with Europe’s main cities and easily accessible through any major hub and of course through Madrid.
So, there is practically no reason not to consider Northern Spain as your destination! By choosing it, you’ll experience a still unknown “pearl” in our beautiful country and surprise your delegates with San Sebastian or Bilbao with its unique beauty.
Here are the “FIVE” elements that you would experience when you come to Northern Spain and some INSIDER information from our team.
1.- Discover Bilbao – the capital of the north
Bilbao is the heart of a metropolis where more than a million people live. The great architectural and infrastructure projects put the city on the international map – The Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, the Euskalduna Conference and Music Centre, Norman Foster’s Underground, Calatrava’s airport, the towers designed by the architects Arata Isozaki and César Pelli… are all examples of how dynamic the city truly is. Bilbao offers over 23 hotels and a total of 3000 rooms all embedded in a beautiful and walkable historic city centre. From Bilbao, you have the chance to visit fertile landscape with forests, mountains, beaches and steep coasts or you can connect into the Rioja wine region – one of the most known wine regions in the world.
Ovation Insider: If you have time, you should definitely visit the Vizcaya Bridge – “the Hanging Bridge” – This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the unique bridges in the world and was built in the 18th century and now the symbol of the European Industrial Revolution. You can climb the bridge, see how it works and learns about the usage in the past. After this, we suggest that you visit the village “Portugalete and enjoy some “pintxos” with the view of the bridge. Miren, one of our team who is originally from Bilbao, suggests that you visit Bar Siglo XX and that you taste “Huevos relleno”.
2.- Visit San Sebastián and the Basque Coast
San Sebastián, also known as Donostia, lies along a white sandy bay between two hills. Fishermen’s houses, a smart suburb and modern districts make it one of the most attractive cities on the northern Spanish coastline. The city hosts one of the most known International Film Festivals once a year, and due to this is often seen as the “Cannes from northern Spain”, because of the beach, the way of the city is to build and the film festival. In the surroundings of San Sebastián you find beautiful coastal towns where you can bring your group and within only 20km you have the French border from where you can do day trips to Biarritz and other well-known French destinations. With 17 hotels and a total capacity of almost 2000 rooms, San Sebastian could be your main hub for your meeting or incentive or could be a beautiful day trip from Bilbao.
Ovation Insider: In case you are in San Sebastián, you should definitely visit the old quarter, not only because of its beautiful scenery but basically because of all the Pintxos Bars. “Pintxos” are tapas on bread placed on top of the bar. You enter a typical place – tell the waiter that you wish to eat and the bar is full of food. You’ll enjoy it even they give you the invoice. Sounds like a rip-off – but don’t worry, it’s not expensive and definitely a unique experience. One of our favourite places is Txepetxa or Zeruko, right in the centre of the old quarter.
3.- Experience the RIOJA wine region
Of course, everyone knows the wines from La Rioja. This area of Spain has over 500 wineries and is internationally famous for the quality of its wines. This destination could be either a day trip from Bilbao or could act as the main destination especially when we talk about focus groups and wine lovers. Apart from beautiful wine regions, amazing bodegas, impressive monasteries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the area is known for being the birthplace of the first written words in the Spanish language. The combination of wine, countryside and high-end Spanish cuisine make “La Rioja” an unforgettable destination in the north of Spain.
Ovation Insider: If you are in the area, you should really make sure to visit the bodega Marqués de Riscal one of the most known and astonishing buildings in the area. Embedded in a town that dates back to 1067 the Canadian architect Frank Gehry designed this contemporary bodega and hotel by using titanium – like the Guggenheim Museum. Apart from the impressive building, you can visit the bodegas, taste the wine, enjoy lunch in this amazing setting. We even recommend it for small off-site meetings or post tour options if you have a VIP group staying longer.
4.- Taste the high cuisine of the north
When we talk about the cuisine, you will be surprised that the northern area of Spain offers almost 40 Michelin starred restaurants which like this convert it into one of the best fine dining destinations in the world. From traditional to experimental dishes you will find it all in the area between Bilbao and San Sebastian and all this at a great cost/quality ratio. So you can experience exceptional cuisine in an amazing location at a reasonable price. Should you have any VIPs in your group we can try to get you into the 3 Michelin Star range and you can be assured that your delegates will keep remembering this experience for the rest of their life.
Ovation Insider: It’s difficult to say which restaurant is the best – if you ask our team – you will get different answers. Still, the one which most comes up is ARZAK– a signature cuisine, deeply rooted in the traditions of the region it assures a unique and unforgettable experience. It is usually difficult to get a table, but with some time and the right contacts, we can make it happen.
5.- Live the typical traditions
The Basque Country is rich in traditions, unique sports and amazing festivals, all fully integrated into the local culture. For your events and incentives, we can use those traditions and festival concepts and integrate them into your activities or evening events as entertainment. Sports like “Fronton” (the typical Basque ball game) or sports like “Harrijasotzailes” a very ancient sport also known as “stone-lifting” or “Aizkolaris” – translated as the wood chopping competition – all those are typical traditions that we can integrate into your event and create fun moments during your meeting or incentive in the north of Spain.
Ovation Insider: Last year we did our Ovation Yearly Kick off in Bilbao and enjoyed a unique day of Basque Sports. In teams, we tried all kind of “unusual” activities while enjoying drinks, pintxos (tapas on bread) and typical music from the region. Amazing teambuilding and a lot of fun.
I hope that with all these insider tips, we were able to get your attention. Having said this, should you have clients that have been to Spain and are looking for a new and different experience, we are sure that the north of Spain and in particular the region around Bilbao and San Sebastian will prove to be that unique destination you didn’t know you needed.
To discover and learn more about Spain please visit Ovation Spain DMC
Deputy General Manager
+34 914 00 93 84