The Basque Country is situated along the Pyrenees mountain range and straddles the Spanish-French border, including cities and towns such as Bilbao in Spain and Biarritz in France.
While some parts of this region feel like they belong with their respective countries – beautiful Spanish villas and grand architecture in Biarritz – the Basque Country also has its own unique flavor, with a language and food of its own.
For example, you don’t go out for tapas in Basque Country – you go out for pintxos instead.
Evolving yet traditional
While parts of Basque Country haven’t changed much and the region stays true to its core values, certain areas have evolved to create a new image for the area.
For example, the city of Bilbao was once a place full of declining industrial edifices but now it’s been transformed with structures such as the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum, the Sir Norman Foster-designed metro system, a modern airport and bridge by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and much more.
That said, tradition hasn’t been abandoned in Bilbao and other cities; traditional cuisine and a vast array of Basque festivals and events still thrive.
While some cuisine is simple and indigenous to the area (and extremely tasty), some eateries offer world class fare with international recognition to prove it. For instance,
In San Sebastián there are no less than 16 Michelin stars across nine restaurants.
Other cultural aspects of Basque Country may surprise you: did you realise it’s a prime region for surfing?
Other cultural aspects of Basque Country
Language – the area has its own language; while Spanish and English is spoken, if you’re spending more than a few days here then knowing at least a few phrases of Basque would be a very good idea.
Green landscape – unlike more arid areas of Spain such as the south, you’ll be likely surprised at how green and lush the Basque Country is.
Family and dining – the Basques set great store by time spent with friends, family and children; consequently meal times are very long even in the evenings when stretching past the usual children’s bedtimes we may be used to.
While their parents dine in leisurely fashion the kids will be playing long after the sun sets.
A different take on food and drink
The region has its own identity with certain foods and drink.
You’ll likely be familiar with tapas; in Basque Country they have pintxos – small snacks commonly served in bars.
They differ from tapas in that they’re smaller and aren’t served as a shared food; each person eats their own chosen pintxos. Also, while you tend to order tapas from a menu, pintxos are usually laid out along the bar and you help yourself to whatever you like.
Spain is often associated with surfing, with such areas as Tarifa and the Canary islands of special note. The Basque Country not only offers surfers excellent conditions but hosts many international competitions.
Art and sport
The region has become associated with famous modern art in the last two decades; along with the works held in the Guggenheim in Bilbao, there’s the famous Artium Museum in Vitoria-Gasteiz, and San Sebastián is home to some of Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida’s works. The Basques have their own sport – pelota – a game that’s a type of cross between squash and handball played with racquets or bats and is one of the fastest ball sports of all.
Something for everyone
The Basque region really has something for everyone: lovely countryside; busy and bustling cities in Bilbao, San Sebastián and Vitoria-Gasteiz; a multitude of charming and unspoilt villages and great beaches – for instance La Concha at San Sebastián may just be the loveliest urban beach in Europe.
For somewhere with a strong cultural identity and just a couple of hours from the UK by air Basque Country has much to offer.
Elle, along with Alan, is the owner of Spain Buddy and the busy web design business – Spain Web Design by Gandy-Draper.
Born a “Norverner”, she then spent most of her life “Dann Saff” before moving to Spain in 2006. Elle’s loves are Alan, the internet, dogs, good food, and dry white wine – although not necessarily in that order.