Bilbao: not only a vibrant destination in itself, but also a gateway to the charms of the Basque country.

Drawn by the Norman Foster underground system, Santiago Calatrava bridge and the iconic Frank Gehry titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum, tourists are flocking to Bilbao, and this people-packed, multi-cultural Basque city is fast catching up with neighbouring elegant San Sebastián as the region’s main tourist destination.

But there’s no need to stop at the coast! Hire a car and head inland to Vitoria, the city which houses the autonomous region’s parliament and has recently appeared more prominently on the radar due to its ‘right on’ green initiatives, including the promotion of city cycling. It’s a 45 minute drive from Bilbao and worth the trip.

From now until the end of August, Vitoria’s Tourist Board is offering tours of the impressive ‘Palacios’ located around the old centre. Visit the Casa del Cordón where famous Kings have slept and the Palace of Montehermoso, seat of Joseph Bomaparte’s government in the 19th century. Other famous buildings include the 14th century Santa Maria Cathedral and the city’s Medieval Walls. Visit www.vitoria-gasteiz.org for more information.

Of course it’s not all about culture! Head for the Plaza de España for ‘pintxos’, the Basque name for tapas, and a drink. Basque cuisine is famous and you’ll find some wonderful bars and restaurants where you can see why. There’s also a jazz festival on this week (www.jazzvitoria.com) so if you’ve booked a flight for Bilbao, you’re still in time to catch the grand finale!

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