The No-Tourists Road Trip Part 4


IMG_3370We’re now in the top part of Spain, Basque territory, between La Guardia and Logrono, missing out Bilbao and San Sebastian as I’ve been there before (Catherine Zeta-Jones’s party, if you must know – she was very nice).

Instead I’m visiting the other Frank Gehry building, a winery he built that is now an unaffordable hotel. I’m not convinced about Gehry myself; sometimes I think his buildings are stunning, sometimes they seem overblown and vulgar. This one is disappointing, less breathcatching than either Ysios or Vivanco.

The big surprise for me, still, is the difference between small villages in France, Spain and Italy. While it’s probably true that the ugly ones in all three countries are overlooked, it also seems that French villages are faked-up and over-primped for tourists, and Italian ones consist entirely of designer chain stores, while Spanish towns appear to have been overlooked and left to get on with being ordinarily graceful, sun-silent and becalmed, largely unfussed with tourists beyond the odd town square cafe.

The exception was Salamanca, which got a round of applause when it illuminated its dazzling plaza at 10pm.


Later we get to a village so small that there’s some confusion about its name, which may be Villanueva or something else. It is the quietest place I’ve ever visited. There are swifts and vultures and grasshoppers the size of toasters. Nothing is open. There are no shops or bars or even people in the deserted town square. It was like the start of a very cool horror film. Gradually we realised it was so quiet that you could hear people talking in their houses – no TVs on anywhere, no radios, certainly no vehicles. It was Heaven on Earth.

The village does have one extraordinary feature, however. A beautiful modern hotel, virtually empty, stunningly designed and decorated with original art (ie stuff you wouldn’t see in any other hotel) and a regional style very much its own. It’s called the Viura, and is well worth making a detour for, with a funky roof garden and charming staff.

UntitledNow I’m in Logrono, a solid town with a famous street, Calle de Laurel, which is end-to-end tapas bars serving some of the finest food in Europe. Where else can you order foie gras and a glass of wine for under a fiver?

6 comments on “The No-Tourists Road Trip Part 4”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Last night we watched a program on the constructing of unusual buildings and saw a set of museums/concert spaces in (I think) Valencia. One oval building on the water is actually an eye with the whole long side as its eyelid which rises and lowers to open and shut the eye. Sounds kitschy but is quite dramatic. Another part is a marine display with sea water set to the appropriate temperature for each of the displays and long tunnels and galleries which enable you to watch the different sea scapes and their inhabitants. The concert theatre was much lije the Sidney opera house. The whole complex was built on the bed of the river which used to flow through the city but has been re-routed to prevent the serious flooding they had experienced. Mayor Juba of Winnipeg would be proud, although his just gets called “The Big Ditch”.

  2. andrea yang says:

    Next thing you will be on the Travel Channel between Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    It’s hard to top Anthony Bourdain though as he has no reservations. The weather for two days has been sunny, warm, nice and strange after what was three weeks of rain straight. The flooding in many places was/is bad. Dresden and Grimme are hard it.
    We have not had to turn about on our drives, but have seen the fields awash. All over Central Europe! I have tried yelling out the car window: “You’ve got the wrong country. Chris Fowler is in Spain, damn it. Knock it off!”
    It appears to have worked. Any clouding up in Spain yet?

  4. agatha hamilton says:

    I remember those small villages, and crickets the size of toasters. And when you stop your car, the old women would pounce on it and extract the crickets from the front grille – sometimes they needed extracting with a fork – and then feed the crickets to their hens. It made me feel so weedy I had to lean on something, and certainly not look.

  5. Laurel says:

    You’re not far from me! Where I live isn’t terribly interesting but I can recommend some restaurants if you go to Huesca.

  6. Steve says:

    My grandparents came from a small Italian village about 70 km from Rome. It’s so high up that you look *down* on mountain peaks. Members of my family – the ones that never left Italy – still occupy the same house my grandparents did. The town itself was mentioned in records dating back over 1000 years. So that’s the type of – in fact only – Italian small town I’ve seen. Thankfully!

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