A beginner’s guide to the Basque Region


Guggenheim, Bilbao

Of all the regions in Europe, nothing is perhaps more perplexing and charming than Basque Country. With its rugged coastline, verdant landscapes and unique personality, the region located on the south of France and north of Spain is an enthralling place to visit.


The obscure and complex history of the Basques is intriguing to many Scholars. Although much is still unkown, they believe that the region’s inhabitants date back to 200,000 years ago. The region in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains is officially named Euskadi, which means “collection of Basques.” It refers to the three prominent regions: Guipúzcoa, Viscaya and Alava. However, there are also four regions in Navarre, France. Throughout its occupancy, there has been a succession of rulers – the Romans to the Vascons to the Navarre – until the Spanish King Ferdenand conquered it under the crown of Castille in 1515.


Unabashedly proud and resilient, the people of Basque Country are seemingly a breed of their own. They are the oldest surviving ethnic group in Europe, yet, their exact origins are indeterminable. Their very distinct language, Euskera, predates all of the Romance languages, and it’s extremely hard to understand, even for the most fluent of Spanish or French speakers. The other official language is Spanish. To express their pride, many often wear a beret (boina) of blue, white or red. Jai Alai, the“fastest sport in the world” according to Basque government, is a national pastime.


Over the years, incessant political conflicts have plagued the region. Oppression during the reign of General Franco has yielded much resentment towards Madrid’s government. In 1968 the French organization Enbata and the Basque separatist movement fought to have the region united as one. Today, the fight continues as many nationalists wish to have a single autonomous state.


Saint Jean de Luz – Maison de l’Infante by Daniel Villafruela


Tourism has increased drastically, as travelers worldwide come to explore the colorful culture, culinary creations and inherent beauty. San Sebastian, with its beautiful scenery, charming old town and tasty tapas, serves as the perfect home base. The city is home to 15 Michelin starred restaurants, which are well worth the steep price. If money is a concern, just sell some unwanted electronics on musicMagpie.

Formerly an industrial city, Bilbao has been revived as a cultural hub of art and architecture. It is the home Frank Gehry’s stunning architectural masterpiece – the Guggenheim Museum – which displays an impressive collection of artwork. The dramatic history of the nearby market town Guernica is exhibited in Pablo Picasso’s famous painting of the 1937 Nazi bombing.

To experience the French side of Basque Country, check out St. Jean de Luz, the half-way point between Madrid and Paris. Take a romantic stroll down the cobbled stone streets in town or spread out on the warm beaches.

Although the diverse landscapes, impressive architecture and innovative culinary concoctions are a sight to behold, there is much more to this region than what meets the eye. A day spent with locals provides insight into the culture and heritage of this proud region.

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