Bilbao + Basque Country Hotels
2 Calle Zubieta
Tel: 34 943 440 770
Set right on La Concha Beach, this 148-room hotel recalls the San Sebastián of the Belle Époque era, when Spanish royalty made the city its summer playground. In operation since the late 19th century, it still retains an air of grandeur—though its rooms are a little dowdy (the carpeting and wallpaper are faded and prehistoric-looking, and the ridiculously large hair dryers definitely need to go). Still, they're spacious and comfortable, and for the price, you won't find a better location; just be sure to book one of the 78 ocean-view rooms or suites. The boardwalk, and the hotel's alfresco beachfront bar and restaurant, are just outside the back door, and it's only a five-minute walk to the pintxos bars of the Casco Viejo or the high-end stores in the city center.
61 Alameda de Mazarredo
Tel: 34 944 253 300
This "outstanding hotel" with a glass exterior and wavy central atrium takes inspiration from the Guggenheim, the city's iconic architectural site just across the street. Spacious rooms have "very clever contemporary design," with bright-orange chairs, chocolate-brown duvets, and "great views of the museum." Staff "are pretty helpful"; black, white, and stainless steel dominate Le Café Metropol.
28 Campo de Volantín
Tel: 34 94 405 1100
Of the two upscale modern hotels in Bilbao, the Gran Hotel Domine is certainly showier—and it does have amazing views of the Guggenheim. In just about every other regard, though, the Hesperia is the better bet. The exterior, with its candy-colored windows, resembles a game board by day (and a Lite-Brite box by night), but inside, the whimsy gives way to elegance. Each of the 158 rooms and suites is furnished with minimalist pieces in brushed metal, dark wood, and velvety neutral-toned fabrics; most have dramatically lit bathrooms with smoked-glass panes and double above-counter basins. (Room 616, a spacious corner junior suite, costs just a little more than a double room and has lovely views of the museum and the river from its balcony.) Getting to the Guggenheim means just a five-minute walk west by way of the Zubizuri, a curvy pedestrian bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. It's especially romantic to stroll across at night, when the reflections of streetlamps sparkle in the water.
2 Plaza de Federico Moyúa
Tel: 34 94 416 2200
Bilbao's Beaux Arts grande dame sits right on the grand Plaza Moyúa. Ever since 1936, when it was the provisional seat of the regional government (complete with basement bunker to protect Basque leaders in times of civil unrest), the building has epitomized Old World luxury. It has been carefully maintained and kept in beautiful shape; you'll find no fraying around the edges here. Even basic double rooms (there are 135, along with seven suites) are spacious and elegant, with sumptuous chairs and sofas upholstered in silky striped fabrics. The service is everything you'd expect at such a sophisticated property, and includes 24-hour room service and an on-call doctor. If money is no object, stay in the sixth-floor Imperial Suite, an enormous space that includes two bedrooms, one large salon, two bathrooms (one with a Jacuzzi), a wet bar, a workout room with a private sauna, and a spectacular wraparound balcony.
51 Avenida Zugazarte
Tel: 34 944 803 100
Situated just outside Bilbao in the town of Getxo, where the Nervión River meets the sea, Hotel Embarcadero is a 27-room property housed in a stately 1900 neo-Basque-style house. The common areas are modern minimalist, with steel-gray walls and black, white, and red leather chairs. Guest rooms, on the other hand, are more traditional, with cream and black floral wall coverings, antique wood desks, and cushioned window seats. Some rooms have a small terrace overlooking the garden and sea, but we suggest corner room 22, which looks out on both the water and the impressive mansion next door. For near 360-degree sea views (including from the bathroom), room 11 is also a top choice. Downstairs, with direct access to the garden and the beach beyond, there is a quiet bar and small restaurant serving traditional Basque dishes. For those looking for the best of both worlds, this is the place: a seaside retreat that's only a 15-minute subway ride to central Bilbao.—Guy Fiorita
Tel: 34 943 89 61 34
Set atop a verdant hill 15 miles west of San Sebastián, this country retreat is a seductive reason to leave the Basque city behind. Outside, vineyards lead down past traditional Basque farmhouses and the odd grazing cow to a coast carved with dramatic rock formations and dotted with lighthouses. Indoors, the view is no less idyllic. Well-appointed public areas—filled with inviting sofas and interesting art—make you feel like you're in the home of a friend with very good taste. The illusion continues upstairs in the hotel's eight rooms. The Art Nouveau zinc fireplace turned bathroom sink in the Zarautz Room is a good example of the hotel's eclectic aesthetic: intriguing antiques combined with the occasional piece of modern art. Not everything is perfect—on a recent visit, one towel heater didn't work and the Wi-Fi connection was spotty—but the warmly attentive staff make up for any glitches. The hotel lacks a restaurant (though a restorative breakfast is offered in a sunny dining room).
2 Obispo Orueta
Tel: 34 944 235 500
This centrally located Bilbao hotel is just a five-minute walk to the Guggenheim (Frank Gehry stayed when he was working on his initial sketches for the museum). It has 53 rooms and suites with varying decor according to category, such as a monotone approach in the standard rooms that includes black carpets and ceilings against white leather upholstered headboards and floral wallpaper, also in black and white. At street level there is the Ambigu Lounge, with wood-paneled walls and heavy leather armchairs. The space doubles as a Champagne bar by night and breakfast room by day. The hotel does not have a restaurant, but in central Bilbao you're never more than a few steps away from excellent eateries. Oh, and the room Gehry chose while here? Suite 501, with lots of exterior light and plenty of workspace.—Guy Fiorita
4 Republica Argentina
Tel: 34 943 437 600
Designed in 1912 by the same architect as the Ritz hotels in London and Paris, this ornate hotel caters to those that love old-school pomp and pampering. (More casual types may find the courtly, formal service a bit over the top.) Its 136 rooms, 27 of them suites, are expansive, with marble baths, dark-wood antique reproductions, and rich-colored fabrics; some have Juliet balconies overlooking the Urumea River. There's an indoor pool and spa, which can get a bit crowded in September when visiting celebs come for the annual film festival; as the fanciest place in town, this is their lodging of choice.
1 Calle Torrea
Tel: 34 945 180 880
In the heart of the Rioja wine region (about an hour south of Bilbao) this 2006 Frank Gehry-designed hotel has titanium curves that echo those of Bilbao's Guggenheim. From the outside, the main structure, with its 15 irregularly shaped rooms, shimmers like a large present that's been wrapped in crinkly, shiny paper. Inside, the rooms are airy and light, with contrasting white-linen and blond-wood furnishings, and slanted windows with views of the surrounding vines. (There's also a second building, which contains 29 slightly larger, less quirky accommodations.) The Starwood chain seems to have pulled out all the stops for this place: Besides the rooftop lounge with its open fireplace, there's a restaurant helmed by talented chef Francis Paniego, serving traditional Rioja cuisine; the hotel also houses the swanky Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa, where you can be soaked and slathered in products containing wine. If consuming vino is more to your taste, that's an option, too, at the in-house wine and tapas bar. Guests are guaranteed a reservation for the 90-minute tour of the famed Marqués de Riscal winery, which would otherwise need to be booked months in advance.
Tel: 34 943 426 663
Hotel Niza offers affordable, no-frills comfort in San Sebastián's most sought-after location overlooking the Concha beach. The 40 guest rooms (18 with a sea view) are spacious and simply decorated (all white, with tasteful floral drapes), free Wi-Fi, breakfast, and, if you are lucky, a balcony with the best views in town. Other services include a restaurant serving regional dishes and a café with a terrace directly above the beach. But there are some drawbacks: Only street-facing rooms have air-conditioning (in seaside rooms you'll have to rely on a cooling sea breeze to beat the heat).—Guy Fiorita
27 Goiko Galtzara-Berri
Tel: 34 943 210 071
If you crave peace and quiet and don't mind renting a car, head for this hotel in a sedate hillside neighborhood of San Sebastián. Opened in 2002, the property is named for a nearby royal palace (a landmark that once served as a residence for royalty—and infamous dictator Francisco Franco). The 75 rooms have wood floors, clean-lined IKEA-type furnishings, and your choice of pillows; the soundproof floor-to-ceiling windows (some with balconies beyond) provide views of the lush Basque landscape. The top floor has a small fitness center, sauna, and solarium with chaise longues. Even if you have a car, you should make the trip downtown on foot at least once; during the 20-minute downhill trek along the Paseo de Aiete, you'll get a beautiful view of the city, the coastline, and some precariously perched houses.
Calle Mayor S/N
Villabuena de Alava
Tel: 34 945 60 90 00
It lacks the shimmering (and steeply priced) splendor of the Frank Gehrydesigned Marqués de Riscal hotel down the road, but the Hotel Viura is a fine choice for wine tourists who like affordable architecture with their Rioja. Set deep in a crook of the tiny, bodega-heavy town of Villabueva de álava, the 33-room hotel looks like nothing so much as a falling tower of blocks. Its public areas are disorienting, its slate-lined hallways open at unexpected angles. Inside the rooms, however, it's all soothing stabilityas soothing as poured-cement walls can be. The cool industrial feel of the room is tempered by warm wood furnishings that vaguely evoke wine crates, nightstands that double as glowing lamps, and grape-colored glass in the open bathroom. The rooms are large and have gorgeous views of the charming town and the mountains beyond. The restaurant, its ceiling covered in wine barrels, does a credible job with local specialties like roast lamb and vegetable stew.
29 Lehendakari Leizaola
Tel: 34 944 280 000
Meliá Bilbao is a soaring, rust-hued property designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta as a tribute to the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. The hotel sits on the banks of the Nervión River, with incredible views of the Guggenheim (request a riverside room on the seventh floor or higher). The 211 spacious rooms, built around a ten-story atrium, come in red, yellow, and orange and are bathed in light from large windows. The marble fitted bathrooms are also spacious, and those in the suites come with a hydromassage tub and separate shower. Other highlights include a heated outdoor pool on the sixth floor, and the award-winning Aizian restaurant. Snacks and light meals are also served in the Café Chillida, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking the Doña Casilda Park.—Guy Fiorita
77 Alameda de Mazarredo
Tel: 34 902 117 777
Set between the Guggenheim and the Museo de Bellas Artes, this 50-room boutique hotel is both superstylish and a great value. The room interiors, conceived by Barcelona fashion designer Antonio Miró, are all mod white-on-white, with beige leather sofas, velvet curtains, recessed lighting, flat-screen TVs, and sliding wall panels that conceal hidden office nooks, entertainment centers, and wet bars. The property includes a convivial pintxos bar and separate hot tubs and saunas for men and women. The hotel's best asset, though, is its welcoming, friendly staff; they'll assist you with everything from directions to dinner reservations to finding a doctor who makes house calls.
14 Plaza de Armas
Tel: 34 943 645 500
Located in the storybook town of Hondarribia, this 34-room hotel began life as a 10th-century fortress that protected Spain from France, which lies just over a mile up the coast (the exterior walls are still marked by cannon fire). Inside, you'll find exposed stone walls, lots of heavy wood furnishings, 14th-century tapestries, and numerous spears, swords, and suits of armor. A large outdoor terrace offers spectacular sea views to one side (be sure to request a room here) and looks to the stained-glass windows of the city's cathedral on the other. The guest rooms have antique furnishings, wood-beamed ceilings, and heavy stone walls. The parador opens onto Hondarribia's postcard-perfect old town square. From here, a maze of narrow cobblestone streets leads down to the sea.—Guy Fiorita
61 Avenida de Ategorrieta
Tel: 34 943 297 970
The city's hottest boutique hotel, this 25-room property occupies a renovated 19th-century villa that's been designated a historic landmark. The rooms, both in the main building and the adjacent brick carriage house, are outfitted with plain, no-nonsense furnishings in muted colors, and could use a little cheering up. Still, the king-size beds have plush linens, the roomy bathrooms have separate showers and tubs, and the amenities include bicycles you can borrow to ride around town, a wonderful breakfast served in the glass-enclosed patio, and minifridges stocked with free nonalcoholic drinks and snacks. There's also a stately common lounge and a mellow bar where you can get an aperitif before heading out to dine in the city. The location outside the city center—a short bike ride from Zurriola Beach and Gros—may put off those who like to be right in the middle of things.