Basque Country

El Pais Vasco, Spain

 

The Basque Country or in Spanish el País Vasco stretches 100 miles from Bilbao north to Bayonne in France.  When, in the first third of the twentieth century, the bourgeoisie of Madrid discovered the pleasures of vacationing at the beach, San Sebastían became one of their favorite sea side resorts.  At that time and even now a days, the Basque Country is one of the richest areas in Spain, the iron mines of Vizcaya generated a great industry and wealth that quickly took to the joie de vivre of neighboring France by enjoying the good life, vacationing at resort hotels, spas, eating at good restaurants and gambling at the casinos.

basque-country-san-sebastianDespite being one of the most industrialized regions in Spain, there remain many areas still untouched where nature is at its best, particularly the natural parks of Valderejo, Urkiola and Urdabai as well as the luscious landscapes along the Guernica River.  All of which lend themselves to extraordinary canoeing, hiking, riding, and a number of other mountain sports for those looking for thrills and adventure.

San Sebastían keeps the charm of yesteryear, a favorite holiday destination of the Madrid elite, its urban beaches wedge between two mountains give way to one of the most popular Spanish tourist postcards.  In the vicinity of San Sebastían are some magnificent beaches such as Zarautz, the Spanish birthplace of surfing and some of the prettiest towns in Spain like Hondarribia located almost on the border with France and its fabulous parador a historic castle on a hilltop.basque-country- guggenheim-museum

Bilbao, the largest and most populous city of el País Vasco was home to the areas industrial revolution, many of the great Spanish fortunes were forged here in the big steel mills and shipyards.  After the financial crisis suffered by these industries in the eighties, Bilbao was reborn and the city transformed,  where once there were industries and factories now are pleasant walks, gardens and museums including the extraordinary Guggenheim Museum, an icon symbolizing the transformation of the city.

Basque cuisine has always been a major ingredient in the Basque culture, its extraordinary seafood (the Basque Country has a large fishing fleet) and the delicacies grown in their farms have led to a food culture that includes some of the best chefs in the world, as Juan Mari Arzak or Martin Berasategui.  Chef Ferran Adrià had this to say “in terms of the average quality of the food, in terms of what you can get at any place you happen to walk into, maybe it is – probably it is, yes – the best in the world”.   The food in Bilbao is amazing it is a must to walk through its old quarter entering the numerous bars to drink some wine, cider or txacolí (an excellent white wine) served with tasty tapas, ir de pinchos or txikiteo, Basque version of a pub crawl.  San Sebastían boasts some of the best tapas renowned throughout Spain as well as Vitoria the capital of the region and home to the autonomous government.

The festivals and fiestas of the Basque Country are among the most joyous in Spain, the tamborradas (drum procession) in San Sebastían, Aste Nagustia or Big Week in Bilbao where over a period of 10 days the city is transformed into a major center of festivities and entertainment for people of all ages  or the festivities of La Virgen Blanca (White Virgin) sum up the best of the Spaniards zest for live, with their bands, people dancing in the streets, singing  and drinking and, of course, eating.

The Basque Country is sure to enchant any traveler with its cities, sea side resorts, beautiful mountains, green meadows, picturesque villages and the existence of a very unique Basque rural culture, a strong personality, with its own language Euskera, and very old traditions.

 

 

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