Bilbao, in the heart of the Basque Country in northern Spain, was put on the American radar in 1997 by the opening of the Guggenheim, the scaly titanium-clad museum that made its architect, Frank Gehry, a household name.

The city, with a population of about 350,000, is an urban success story, still being written, with improved transportation, green spaces, plans to renew forgotten neighborhoods, and sleek towers shooting up beside grand old icons, themselves glowing from recent spit and polish. Bilbao has become a design town marked by its Fosteritos, the metro stops designed by the English architect Norman Foster that look like giant shrimp. It’s also a serious food town with Michelin stars and Thermomix billboards to prove it.

And since tourists tend to stick near the Googen (the local nickname for the Guggenheim), there’s an unspoiled culture and quality of life just waiting to be explored.

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