Address: Paseo Campo Volantin / 11
48007 Bilbao „
The hotels in Bilbao seemed to have very mixed reviews, and since flight times were necessitating a 5 night / 4 day stay, we decided to book two places in the city and spread the risk of ending up somewhere dodgy for the best part of a week. This Barcelo, one of several in the city, was out first base for 3 nights and I chose it based on its proximity to the Guggenheim, and the odd passing comment praising its breakfast buffet on other review sites.
We arrived about 9pm on a Sunday and were checked in within 5 minutes. This being civilized Europe rather than the oddity that is Latin America, we only needed to provide one passport for the group, not one for each traveler. They didn't ask for the booking confirmation and found us based on surname (and, I imagine, the fact that most other arrivals that day would already be there). The hotel was nicely alive without being too crowded: people were on the sofas in the reception, and at the small bar off to one side, but we didn't have to wait to be seen. I had sent in a special request for a non-smoking room with twin (not double) beds, and noted out late arrival at the same time just to be on the safe side. We got two keycards in a handy wallet with the room number written on, and that was that. We weren't even told where the lifts were (though it was obvious) and though there was an odd comment about the floor we needed to be on (using, I think, American numbering systems for us, despite my speaking Spanish to the guy on the desk and despite my British passport) there were signs in the lift even if we hadn't been able to work out that numbers starting with 2 were likely to be on the 2nd floor and do on.
The lifts were small but there were 3 of them which helped, and none were ever out of order during our stay. We squeezed in, and it did feel like a bit of a squeeze even with only the one suitcase, and rode up. The keycards worked first time - always a bonus, never a guarantee - and we opened the door to a lovely spacious non-smoking, twin bedded room. So far so good.
The room had two oversized single beds made up with blankets and sheets, appropriate for northern Spain in March. There was a good gap between the beds with a large bedside table though to increase the available surface space we quickly ditched their signs telling us that the 2 bottles of water were provided free of charge. Aside from this there was virtually no information in the room. A room service menu say on the main desk alongside a pizza menu for an external company, but we had nothing about the hotel's facilities, food service times or similar - we later found this in the keycard wallet but it wasn't obvious.
There was an old style wardrobe in the corner but not a whole lot of storage space, especially for things you didn't want to hang up. The wardrobe also didn't have a safe in, though on our last day we discovered that deposit boxes were available down at reception, had we wanted them (again, no in-room info to this effect).
The TV was large with a range of channels in Spanish, Basque, French, Italian, German and English though I couldn't help thinking of Latin America where you'd get things like Sony and the WB, not just BBC World (a step up from CNN, but still). There didn't appear to be any pay per view options - movies or porn - on offer, and after a cursory flick through the channels the set stayed off for the rest of our stay.
The bathroom was just that - it had a tub which was nice. The shower overhead was wonderfully powerful and beautifully hot in an instant. It may just be because I've been traveling in less developed countries of late, but this delighted me immensely. The towel situation changed daily: on day one we had two bath towels and two hand towels, which remained on day two but were then supplemented by 2 additional bath ones. By the third maid service we were down, oddly, to 3 bath towels between us. A bath mat was provided too so we didn't have to delegate a hand towel for that purpose. Toiletries were green wall mounted ones (a yummy aloe vera hair and body conditioning shampoo, which sounds like it should take the place of 3 distinct items, but really can't) but almost as if they realized some of us like things to take away, they had provided goodies too: a comb, a shower cap and so on. I don't mind not having little bottles but I did think the one mounted in the shower was a bit poorly positioned, as if you squeezed it it hit the side rather than making it down into the water, so you still had to decant it onto your hand first if you wanted to use it for bubbles when running a bath. The bathroom was perhaps the most worn looking part of the room. It was very clean but some of the tiles just seemed a bit older and lived in than the rest of our space.
The walls in the hotel aren't thick but aside from a few moments of loud TV (when I suspect a child had perhaps stolen a remote and was pushing the 'up' button) it was quite a peaceful stay and although we were only a few doors along from the lift, we weren't aware of much foot traffic going past. It's perhaps worth nothing that the room had neither a safety chain nor a peep hole, but this didn't bother us in the slightest.
The hotel has very few facilities, but does offer breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets in the main dining room. There's also that bar I mentioned earlier, and conference facilities too. There's a vending area on the mezzanine which amounts to a few machines selling hot and cold drinks and sandwiches, crisps and chocolate. Our room came with an empty mini-bar, and the option to request one of two packs to fill it, but for individual items you would have to go down to the vending area.
Our rate included breakfast, because once I'd selected the hotel I shopped around to find a site which included it in the rate. I love breakfast and have high standards but was thrilled with the spread on our first morning, and still eating an hour later. They had all the regular suspects for Europe: cold meats and cheese; fruit; cereal; yogurts; bread; pastries; hot food (eggs, sausages, bacon); hot drinks and a variety of juices. All of these came in a massive variety - it wasn't just one type of bread, for example, it was 5 or 6 - but the biggest excitement came from the extra, unexpected items. They had Spanish and French (potato) tortillas. They had roasted Mediterranean vegetables. They had baked beans. They had garlic bread. Yes, garlic bread. Not just garlic cloves (and olive oil and tomatoes) so you could make your own, though they had that too, but actual baked in garlic bread rolls.
With the pastries as well as croissants they had vanilla buns, donuts, chocolate pastries, cream pastries, apple pastries, those round swirly ones they love in Spain, dusted with icing sugar.
In the 'diet' section they had 5 or 6 flavours of yogurt...in two different fat ranges, so you could have 0% natural yogurt, or a 3% one, the same with strawberry, coconut and so on. They also had cookies. On a breakfast buffet. In the DIET section of a breakfast buffet. # winning!
It was one of the best buffets I'd ever seen, and the quality was excellent. I've never had such fresh tasting tomatoes and on an oven-warm roll with a thin slice of cheese it was heaven on my plate.
We didn't try their other buffets because I was sure I'd feel let down after their substantial breakfast offerings, but they seemed popular with others. We did find a great, cheap buffet restaurant in town, but that's a story for another day.
In the dining room I was able to take advantage of the hotel's free wi-fi - technically this was available in the lobby only, but the signal reached me as I munched my way through the buffet which was handy. The signal was ok though not very fast and it was a bit of a pain not being able to access it in the bedrooms. Randomly they had 3 different unsecured networks with 'Barcelo' in the name that came up on my phone, but reception told me I should only be using one of them.
The hotel is well located directly on the river. It has a narrow entrance on the street but is deceptively large inside, although this explains why so few rooms have river views (ours looked onto a random gap between buildings), so we only really looked out of the window once. A lot of people have stated the hotel is not located in the Old Town, and it's not, but it's barely 5 minutes walk from there so you can't really complain. On the flip side, you're also 5 minutes nearer to the Guggenheim and the Fine Art museum which are about a 15 minute stroll away. There were few obvious eateries in the immediate area, but cross the river and Gran Via is not far away - lots of streets running off here boast restaurants of all kinds while the Old Town is over run with Pintxo (= Tapas) bars. The best ice cream place we found is right next to the best souvenir shops we found, right behind the Guggenheim so nice and close by.
Booking 2 months in advance through Alpharooms we paid £168.99 in total, which is about £56 per room per night including breakfast for two. If you're after a swanky hotel bursting with leisure facilities, this is not the one for you. But, if you're looking for a well located hotel with comfortable rooms and a breakfast to die for, and can cope without in-room internet, the Barcelo Nervion offers good value for money in a city that's not all that cheap to start with.