Bilbao, a once-industrial city in the Basque country of northern Spain, started a radical transformation in 1997 with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Architect Frank Gehry's astonishing design, an abstraction of sexy titanium curves, became the supermodel of global art museums and boosted the city's fortunes to such a degree that it inspired a new phrase: the "Bilbao effect". The 50-room Hotel Miro Bilbao, the creation of Spanish fashion designer Antonio Miro, is part of that effect. It opened in 2002, within view of the museum.
Hotel Miro Bilbao is one of two Bilbao hotels boasting a view of the Guggenheim. Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao, also part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts stable, is directly behind the museum, while the Miro is diagonally positioned, offering a better glimpse of the museum's riverfront curves. Considering how different the museum's reflective surfaces and outdoor sculptures – such as Louise Bourgeois' Maman spider – appear at various times of the day, first-time Bilbao visitors will want to admire them more than once. The three-minute, hotel-to-museum stroll offers art-focused guests maximum convenience.
Stepping into the Miro feels like coming home. After an exuberant welcome from staff (many of whom, including head concierge and guest experience manager Ruben Varela, have been here since the hotel's inception), nose around the library/honesty bar and adjoining lounge within the lobby. Corridors and public spaces feature bold contemporary photography. Downstairs is a mini-gym and a spa that can be reserved for individual use.
Upon entering my street-front City Privilege twin room, the first thing I do is throw open a window and lean out to check the view: yes, there's the Guggenheim, with Jeff Koons' beloved floral sculpture, Puppy, standing guard out front. The room is cosy, especially for two friends, but the beds are on wheels so we promptly rearrange the furniture to maximise the distance between our sleeping (possibly snoring) heads. Bizarrely, the bathroom has no back wall – instead, a curtain separates it from the sleeping quarters. Thankfully, the separate toilet is fully enclosed.
The Miro makes much of the fact that it's spurned the traditional breakfast buffet in favour of a la carte options. Breakfast is served on a mezzanine overlooking the lobby. The famed hyper-local continental spread includes honey, cheese, ham, bread, yoghurt and a hot drink. Heftier options include porridge with roasted apple and avocado toast. At other times, consult Varela's pintxos (pronounced pinch-oss) recommendations on the in-room newsletter. Although San Sebastian, 100 kilometres to the east, garners the global attention when it comes to pintxos, Bilbao's bars also serve the artful snacks, the Basque version of tapas. We stroll to the closest of Ruben's recommendations. The convivial El Globo is known for its crabmeat gratin. It's delicious – and so is the sight of the cider long-pour (Basque bartenders pour cider from a great height to produce a light bubble). Our pintxos crawl continues to the more modern La Vina del Ensanche, where we snack on baby squid with pickled onions and seared tuna draped over rice with wasabi mayo.
It's de rigueur to visit the Guggenheim, which features unexpected catwalk-like suspended walkways and interior curves. The Miro's well-informed staff can describe the latest exhibitions. Those who don't want to dive into the museum can still explore exterior works, which include a fog sculpture from Fujiko Nakaya (another of her fog works is at the National Gallery of Australia). Venture onto two nearby bridges and the opposite riverbank for more great museum views. Further afield, the city houses other architectural drawcards including Philippe Starck's Azkuna Zentroa culture and leisure centre.
The hotel's sunny staff, ultra-convenient location and value pricing make it hard to beat.
Hotel Miro Bilbao, Alameda de Mazarredo 77, Bilbao. Rooms from €80 in low season. Phone +34 94 661 1880 or see mirohotelbilbao.com
Katrina Lobley stayed as a guest of Hotel Miro Bilbao and Preferred Hotels & Resorts (preferredhotels.com)