Pintxos, two campervans and a Wallcreeper

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We know! It has been quiet on the blog for a long time, but finally, there is a new post! As the title suggests, it’s about food, cars and of course birds. We turn the time back to the summer of 2021 when we visited northern Spain. It was a much-needed trip and the first “real” one since our Latin American Timeout – and that was more than two years ago. Due to the corona pandemic, some things were different than we are used to: various restrictions such as social distancing and the use of masks.

We can definitely recommend taking an extended weekend in Bilbao – especially if you like culture and good food. Most people probably associate the city with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the many pintxos bars and restaurants. In addition, it is the small but very cozy capital of the province of Vizcaya.


Did we taste and eat pintxos? Yes, we did. It’s right up our alley. The whole atmosphere around it is almost an experience in itself. If you are not familiar with the pintxos culture, it may seem a little confusing. But once you understand the concept, it is a really nice and cozy way to “pass” the time, or if you just need a “snack”. Pintxos goes well as lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner, or supper.

But what are pintxos? It is a northern Spanish tapas variant that originated in the Basque Country. Typically pintxos consist of a slice of bread with “something” on top. It can be goat cheese with jam, it can be croquettes, some are with ham or sardines. In other words, the topping can be anything. It is all held together by a wooden pick.

A couple of pintxos and a cold beer to get started.
A couple of pintxos and a cold beer to get started.

One of the advantages of pintxos is that it is small dishes, so there is ample opportunity to try many varieties. But it can be hard to choose when looking at the tempting selection in the bars’ glass showcases. Another good thing about pintxos is that you can settle for a few pintxos and a glass of red wine at a restaurant, and then taste some others with a cold beer at another restaurant – and possibly continue to the third…

A variety of pintxos
Pintxos. The variety is large and it can be difficult to choose.

Bilbao are more than Pintxos

When not eating pintxos, you can move around the city, not least the narrow cozy streets of the old town. If you take a walk along the river Nervión (also called the Estuary of Bilbao), you cannot avoid seeing the Guggenheim Museum, as you undoubtedly pass the spectacular building. In fact, from the outside, you can see some of the museum’s most famous works, such as the giant spider, the perhaps even larger dog, which is decorated with flowers and which bloomed in the most beautiful colors when we were in town.

Guggenheim Muesum Bilbao
Guggenheim Muesum Bilbao.

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After a few days in the city’s vibrant life, a week’s road trip lay ahead of us. There are more environmentally friendly modes of transport, but a car provides flexibility and freedom that many other modes of transport do not. And this is something that is important when looking at birds and you want to go to places where local public transport can rarely take you. If you drive in a campervan, you get more flexibility and more options. And on this trip, the plan was exactly to test the possibilities a campervan offers.

We have long been considering acquiring a campervan because then we would not have to sleep in a tent, we can spend the night in many different places and we would have shelter when cooking in the rain – or we could “just stay a little longer”, as we would have everything we needed. Also, you want a little more comfort as you get older.

There are basically two options when you want to get a campervan. Either you buy a factory-made one that is ready for camping life, or you buy a used van and convert it into a camper. The first option costs a lot of money (even used campervans hold their value well). The second option costs a lot of time and hard work and requires some craftsmanship. And since we know ourselves fairly well, we do not think that the second option is for us. That leaves only the first option. Although it was tempting to buy a ready-to-drive campervan, we decided to rent a campervan first and try out “the vanlife”.

Two campervans

Marco Polo campervan
For six days we had the pleasure of this Marco Polo we had rented from Roadsurfer.

Before leaving home, we booked a campervan with Roadsurfer, a German company that specializes in renting campervans. They have several stations in Europe, including Bilbao. The one we booked was a Marco Polo, which is Mercedes’ competitor to Volkswagen’s California. After a few days on the road, we knew we also had to test drive a VW California. We hadn’t made any plans for the second week of the trip anyway, so when we returned to Roadsurfer, a VW California was waiting for us for the next five days.

Roadsurfer California
When returning the Marco Polo, this California was ready for us.

After almost two weeks of traveling in two different campervans, we were convinced that it is a really nice and practical form of travel that is perfect for birding trips. You have freedom and flexibility, you can get pretty much where you want (campervans are significantly smaller than actual motorhomes). In fact, we already knew this before we left, as many years ago we tried the vanlife in Australia. But there are still a lot of boring financial and practical considerations in everyday life that come into play.

The car test

Now you’re probably thinking, “but which campervan was best?” The following review may not appear in any car magazines, but we tested two comparable campervans from two different car manufacturers, albeit with slightly different equipment packages. With a few exceptions, we drove the same route in both cars. We drove on highways, along small winding mountain roads, on gravel roads, and on ordinary roads. Our conclusion is that if your preferences goes towards luxury driving characteristics as a passenger car, then you should consider a Mercedes Marco Polo. But if you are more into charm, nostalgia and “camping”, then you should choose a VW California. There are definitely pros and cons to both cars, and it’s down to minor details and personal preferences which one is for you.

Camping Fuente Dé
In Fuente Dé we spent the nights at the small cozy campsite.

Picos de Europa

Virtually all of our travels include bird watching as a very important part. This time was no exception. We visited several different areas along the coast but also further inland. But it was especially the Picos de Europa National Park and its very impressive mountains that made an impression. So much so that we visited the area on two occasions (in the two different campervans).

You find Picos de Europa a short three-hour drive from Bilbao. The mountain range forms part of the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. The highest peak is Torre de Cerredo, at an elevation of 2648 m (8,690 ft). The mountain range is located in the three regions of Asturias, Cantabria, and Castilla-León.

Our main focus was on the alpine species that live in the area. These are species you can only find at high altitudes, and therefore not in Denmark. Luckily, most species were reasonably cooperative, so we saw Alpine Accentor, White-winged Snowfinch, Red-billed Chough, Yellow-billed Chough, Eurasian Crag-Martin, Water Pipit, Eurasian Griffon and a single Golden Eagle. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to see Bearded Vulture, which has been reintroduced in the area. Especially interesting to us was the fact that Wallcreepers breed in the mountains – one of the most beautiful birds imaginable – and one we have never seen!

Alpine Accentor
Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) with food for its youngs.

The Wallcreeper

The Wallcreeper is a species the size of the Eurasian Nuthatch. It can best be described as a gray, black and red bird with white wing spots and a long curved beak. When it flies, it almost looks like a butterfly. It was one of our target species on the trip, but knowing that it requires both luck and patience to see it, we were prepared for the fact that we might not succeed.

But where to look? We chose the easiest and fastest way to go from an elevation of approx. 1200 to 1900 m – with the cable car in Fuente Dé. It takes approx. 4 minutes, and you have a nice view in a free span of 1.4 km – when it is not foggy. And then it was just a matter of looking. We spent many hours searching for obvious cliff sides along a few hiking trails, but without success. No Wallcreeper.

Video: The fastest way to get up and down is with the cable car in Fuente Dé. Picos de Europa.

A few days later when we were back in the area, we chose a different strategy. We found a place near the cliffs we thought were the most obvious. Found a place from which we could survey the rocks and the area with binoculars and telescope. Time passed. We saw many of the other exciting species, all the tourists walking by, but no Wallcreeper. The day had started with hazy weather, but now we had sun and clear blue skies – everything was perfect. After four hours, we agreed that we should probably give up and accept that it was not going to be this time either. We had no more food, and we were also beginning to feel the need to answer the call of nature.

While we wait for Wallcreeper
While we wait for Wallcreeper. Picos de Europa, Spanien.


We packed our things together and Uffe got up, stretched his body to get the circulation going. As he turned his head to the left…. a butterfly-like bird flew across the hiking trail! Wallcreeper! Bente jumped up got the binoculars on the bird that landed on the rock wall not far away. Uffe quickly fired three photos off, they would probably be three lousy photos, but hopefully good enough for documentation. What a beautiful bird. It moved a little around a small cave and after less than a minute it took off and disappeared up around the cliff – and it was gone.

Documentation of Wallcreeper
Documentation of Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria).

We tried to find the Wallcreeper again, but it was not to be found and could be anywhere by now. So, very happy and satisfied with the new species – a “lifer” we chose to go back to the campsite and celebrate the experience with a good glass of Tinto de verano.

Yes, we saw a Wallcreeper!
Yes, we saw a Wallcreeper!

All photos and video © Bente Steffensen & Uffe Damm Andersen unless otherwise stated.