BILBAO - My home base during a recent visit to Bilbao - the biggest city in northern Spain's Basque Country - was the stylish Hotel Melia, a branch of Spain's Sol hotel chain. It's a fine central-city hotel, not quite as geared up to welcome international visitors as homegrown ones, but fine nonetheless.
You know how they say location, location, location is key to the success of brick and mortar businesses like hotels, yes? It's certainly key to the success of the Melia, comfortably located between compact, nice-to-look-at Dona Casilda Park and the Nervion River, which flows through the heart of Bilbao. Frank Gehry's brilliant Guggenheim Museum, the emblem of Bilbao since it opened in the 1990s, is a five to 10 minute walk away, depending on how often you stop to gaze at the high-quality sculptures along the riverside promenade and how long you linger. A modern, clean, swift and efficient public tram system runs right outside the hotel.
My room was on the ninth floor of the 10-story hotel - an angular, massive, modern building softened with glassy banks of windows. My room overlooked the park, which was bordered on the other side by a nondescript commercial district and beyond, in the middle distance, by rugged hills that shoulder onto the outskirts of town and help contain urban sprawl. The spacious terrace outside my room gave me a better look at the outdoors and was painted hot-pink.
My standard room had a so-so-size desk set up for Wi-Fi connections (which cost extra), a clean, mid-sized bathroom, a minibar, a good King-sized bed - in short, the amenities one would expect from a four-star business hotel, which is what the Melia is during the week. At night and on weekends, it becomes more of a social destination with a trendy bar that opens at 7:30 p.m.. One minus: There is no dedicated business center in the hotel. Rather, there are two PCs set up in the lobby at a raised desk at the entrance to the bar. Good luck if you want to work there late, unless of course you have a good deal of tolerance for noise. Newspapers can be delivered to your room for a fee, though I found none in English.
Aizian, the Melia's prime restaurant, is a good place to have breakfast, offering views of the park and a buffet. In summer, the restaurant spills out onto a terrace at the lip of the park, a well-kept greensward good for people-watching. Just down the road, toward the Guggenheim and its swooping titantium roofs, a highrise under construction takes shape, designed by 'starchitect' Cesar Pelli.
Indeed, this riverside area, which served as the main port of Bilbao until the mid-1980s - the port is now on the Atlantic at the river's mouth - is a brilliantly redeveloped central city. It is walkable, safe, clean and pretty, with several nearby bridges spanning the Nervion.
The Melia, located across the street from a large, engagingly designed (but not fully occupied) shopping mall, fits in seamlessly to this brightly renewed urban fabric.
Hotel Melia can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by telephone from outside Spain at 34 94 428 000, on the Web at http://www.melia-bilbao.com/.