When the metallic structure of the Vizcaya Bridge, better known as the Puente Colgante (Hanging Bridge), is in our view, it is difficult not to think in a Jules Verne novel. This wonder is one of the few remaining transporter bridges in the world, and you will do well to get on its platform to fly over, almost magically, the waters of the Nervión.
Waters that, by the way, have been crossed by countless ships, from the merchants that went to London or arrived from Antwerp to the first battleships that the world saw. Portugalete also took refuge of characters as dubious as the Dutch Adrian Adriansen, whose ship, anchored here around 1673, looked like a real pirate ship with all its works.
But now that you have reached the other side of the river and put your feet on the ground let’s jump a couple of centuries ahead. At the end of the nineteenth-century, the people of Bilbao who had become wealthy, realised that living in this area, with its sea breeze and its incredible views of the Bay of Biscay, was a bit more pleasant than living in the middle of the workers’ noise and breathing the smoke of the city fumes.
So the wealthy copied others, Las Arenas became fashionable, and soon this seashore was splattered with manor houses and frequented by knights with a starched collar and ladies buttoned up to their chin. It was the Belle Epoque, and Getxo competed with San Sebastian, Deauville and Biarritz in sophistication, snobbism and summer glamour.
You will notice all that while you go up to Neguri and check, as well, how the houses and the farms are becoming more and more ostentatious the higher you get. The fact is that the Bilbao tycoons kept building in the area and surrounded themselves with things such as the statues that line up the hill like streetlights between modernism and Art Deco.
Finally, you will reach Neguri. That is a word created for the occasion by the philologist Resurreccion Maria de Azkue, and it means “winter residence” because the rich people weren’t happy enough to live here just in the summer. They also wanted to spend the cold months here, so they built more mansions, more gardens and more Villas with a British air that flooded everything with luxury and power.
Today, these homes have been hidden among more modest houses built in other times and with different urban speculations. You will have to discover them by yourself one by one unless you prefer to follow the sea walk leaving behind the old mill converted into a restaurant.
This way you’ll find yourself in the Fort of La Galea, a military construction that was placed at the mouth of the river to be able to control and to have a shot at anyone that tried to pass. It was erected in 1742 when the war against the English had all this area entertained, and the firing angle that gave its strategic position was, apparently, handy to deter enemy ships.
But the fort ended up being outdated in front of new marine weapons like the monitors, small armoured boats that were very effective despite their appearance of tuna tins with canons. You see: also in matters of war, it was necessary to be fashionable.