From Gaudí to Gehry - The Changing Face Of Spain

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

When many of us think of Spain’s architecture, we visualise Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Casa Batlló and the Alhambra of Granada, but Spain is changing. With the futuristic Gehry-born Guggenheim in Bilbao and space-age City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, it seems that Spain has catapulted itself into the 21st century and beyond. We explore the country’s most fascinating modern architecture and where to stay nearby.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Between October 1993 and 1997, Bilbao’s skyline began to change dramatically. On the banks of the River Nervión on the site of a former industrial timber company, a glistening colossus began to emerge. A structure of titanium, glass and limestone - architect Frank Gehry’s masterpiece was both complex and awe-inspiring. Working with advanced software once reserved for the aerospace industry, Gehry used 33,000 thin titanium sheets to create the organic, undulating curves we see captivating Bilbao’s skyline today. Once inside the Atrium, you can see a variety of exhibitions and galleries. On the outside, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is decorated with parks and promenades boasting elaborate works by Jeff Koons, Eduardo Chillada and Yves Klein.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Exterior

Credit: Iakov Filimonov

Where to Stay

Perfectly placed in front of Guggenheim Bilbao, 5-star Gran Hotel Domine provides luxury and space within a short walk of attractions. Restaurants, bars and rooftop terraces offer spectacular vistas of the world-famous museum and after a day of sightseeing relax in the delightful Turkish bath and sauna or indulge in a range of deluxe treatments. It’s also easy to access other top Bilbao attractions from the hotel including Casco Viejo - Bilbao’s old town, Museum of Fine Arts Bilbao and La Ribera Market.

The Gran Hotel Domine Terrace

Credit: EQRoy

City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia

Listed as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain, the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia mesmerises onlookers with futuristic architecture and clear water landscapes. Designed by renowned local architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, this amazing feat of modern engineering was completed in 1998. As the name suggests, the city is home to five elements of the arts and science fields with concert halls, planetariums and interactive science stations ripe for exploration. You can visit the largest aquarium in Europe with over 500 different marine species, and when you’ve exhausted all that, take a leisurely stroll through L’Umbracle, an open-air walkway showcasing indigenous plant species of the Valencia region.

View of the City of Arts and Sciences from across the Turia River

Credit: GagliardiPhotography

Where to Stay in Valencia

A short distance from the City of Arts and Sciences, Hotel Balneario Las Arenas is a 5-star luxury hotel on Valencia’s beachfront. Exquisite rooms are spacious with terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows which let in natural light, plus the hotel benefits from bars and brasseries which serve fresh seafood, innovative Mediterranean cuisine and tapas. If you wish to unwind following a day of sightseeing in Valencia, the hotel also features a superb hydrotherapy spa where you can indulge in a range of rejuvenating treatments.

Hotel Balneario Las Arenas, Valencia

Credit: Marco Crupi

Zaha Hadid’s Bridge Pavilion, Zaragoza

Zaha Hadid’s signature style is instantly recognisable in Pabellón Puente, otherwise known as Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain. To the untrained eye, this is just another pedestrian walkway, but look closer and you begin to notice the diamond-shaped interlocking system which connects steel rafters and glass fibre reinforced concrete which envelops the structure. You start to see that triangular truss systems were utilised to distribute the 7,000-ton bridge’s weight evenly, and as you amble across the bridge you see Hadid’s inspiration was the Ebro River itself as its curvaceous shape begins to mimic the fluidity of the water. This bridge was built for the city’s 2008 Expo with ‘Water and Sustainable Development’ as its theme. Today it sits majestically in a city rich in historical architecture, resplendent and bold – a testament to Zaha Hadid herself. The bridge is open during summer months but can be viewed from the riverside throughout the year.

Pabellón Puente, Zaragoza

Credit: joan bautista

Where to Stay in Zaragoza

Located in the shopping and entertainment district of Zaragoza, 5-star Reina Petronilla Hotel is ideally placed to explore city attractions. Luxury hotel suites are modern, airy and decorated in warm shades with natural light and stunning city views. There’s a choice of restaurants nearby which specialise in Mediterranean and Aragon cuisine, and cafes with cosmopolitan menus you’ll want to sample. The city’s top attractions are Aljafería - an 11th-century Arabian palace, Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and Puente de Piedra, and are all a short distance away from the Petronilla. Retire to the 11th floor of the hotel after a long day of exploring where the thermal spa and indoor pool boasts incredible views over Zaragoza.

Zaragoza at sunset

Credit: Adrian Sediles Embi

Hotel Marques de Riscal, Rioja

Another Frank Gehry masterpiece, Hotel Marques de Riscal glistens amongst acres of vineyards and medieval buildings of Elciego. Located in the heart of Rioja, Spain’s famous wine country, Gehry created a contemporary luxury retreat - the Guggenheim on a smaller scale complete with tilted walls, titanium cascades in pink, gold and silver, zigzag windows and bespoke details which seemingly defy gravity. The 21st-century chateau is a work of wonder, effortlessly blending the regions historic legacy with wine, nature and contemporary art. It remains one of Gehry’s most iconic designs.

Hotel Marques de Riscal Exterior

Credit: peizais

Where to Stay in Rioja

When visiting Marques de Riscal in Elciego it would be remiss not to stay in the hotel itself. Not only is the interior eye-catching in full-bodied shades of red, pink and oaky brown, the building also encompasses the oldest winery in Rioja. With impressive guest rooms, a Michelin star restaurant on site and its own extensive wine cellar, Marques de Riscal Hotel is a food, wine and design aficionado’s paradise on earth.

Hotel Marques de Riscal Wine Cellar

Credit: gurb101088

Metropol Parasol, Seville

A modern icon of Seville, Metropol Parasol (locally known as Las Setas – the mushrooms) consists of six linked parasols with a honeycomb-style exterior. The unusual timber design was conceived by German architect Jurgen Mayer and inspired by the vaults of Seville Cathedral. It’s fair to say at first, the structure divided the city, however, since its inauguration in 2011, Metropol Parasol is growing on locals and tourists. The almost 30-metre-high pillars and undulating roof allow for panoramic city views along the walkway. Below are several cafes, tapas bars and even a Museo Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains discovered on the site are displayed.

Metropol Parasol, Seville

Credit: Jazzmany

Where to Stay in Seville

Why not combine the modern architecture of Metropol Parasol with a luxurious stay at Hotel Alfonso XIII? The historic 5-star hotel is ideally located for you to enjoy a romantic cruise along River Guadalquivir, visit Seville Cathedral and the Alcázar. Built by King Alfonso XIII for royalty and VIP’s visiting the 1929 world fair, the hotel still retains all the majesty and charm of yesteryear. Resplendent in traditional Andalusian design with towers, mosaic-covered archways and courtyards brimming with fountains and fragrant orange blossom trees, you won’t find a more authentic place to stay in Seville.

Alfonso XIII Hotel Exterior

Credit: Simona Bottone

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!