Basque Country is a mysterious region that lies on the border of modern day France and Spain. The denizens of this region were competing with the Vikings for whales and the sea before most European nations had set sail. Although there is no evidence, historians believe that the Basque sailors may well have been to America before Columbus, and help build ships for Spain’s later explorations. This region is often the host of legends for lost treasures and hidden secrets to do with the Knights Templar and lore from that period.
The Basques also speak a language that is unconnected with any other living language- Euskara. This odd language full of k’s tx’s and z’s look like some alien script and is spoken all over the area along side the respective French or Spanish.
This region has always relied deeply on the sea, iron, and of course their own resourcefulness and stubbornness. This stubbornness has allowed them to keep a strong presence and heritage throughout the years that still lives strong to this day. Despite some Basque Terrorism from the ETA (meaning and in Euskara) directed towards the Spanish government this area is a treasure to uncover.
You would never know these people were hostile as the region is comprised of sleepy villages, nestled in the mountains of the Pyrenees where life is slow and simple. Along the coast you will find a similar vibe where you can find fishing villages packed with pastry shops, pintxos (basque tapas), and of course the Beret- symbol of the Basque people.
We managed to skim through several small Basque villages between our stays in the bigger cities of Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Saint Jean-de-Luz across the French border.
Bilbao, usually deemed the industrial city is a delightful mix of a maze-like old city center and a gorgeous new town full of flower and fountain adorned squares and modern architecture, including one of three world famous Guggenheim Museums. Guides to the area don’t give this town the credit it deserves.
San Sebastian is a seaside beauty with a long stretch of sand to enjoy, a modern area called Centro which is a shoppers paradise with a mix of big European brands and boutiques (and thus I spent a day here putting my Euros to good use). Lastly but not least is the large and bustling old city with a busy square full of eateries, roads packed with Basque’s watching the football matches and no shortage of helado (ice cream).
The border jump to Saint Jean-de-Luz takes no time at all and has a completely different feel from the Spanish side of Basque. Life there by the sea is calm and serene. Where the sun is good and the food is better. There are not many landmarks to brag about but this small town was historically important. Napoleon used this port during war times and was also the place where Louis XIV of France tied the knot with Marie-Therese of Spain putting end to years of squalor between the countries. Just soaking in the atmosphere and dining on gourmet quiche and macaroons is enough to make the town worth a visit.
In a nutshell the Basque Country is mix old, new, France, Spain, and something all its own. This region is a great place to go if you want to relax while flooding all five senses with something unique.
Ongi! Tres Bon! Muy Bueno! Very Good!