The No-Tourists Road Trip Part 4
We’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.
Now 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?