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Four reasons to visit Spain’s Basque Country

20th December 2021 Print

Spain might be one country. But it is also a land of many different cultural and regional identities, echoes of the many peoples who have called the Iberian peninsula home over thousands of years.

Travel across Spain and you will come across different languages, different cuisines, different traditions. You will move between autonomous communities, the regional administrations set up to give the different groups who live within Spain a degree of independence.

Arguably the most independent of all are the people of the Basque Country. Occupying the rugged hills and steep wooded valleys of Spain’s northern coast, the ancestors of the modern Basque people are known to have been present in Spain and southern France since well before Roman times.

Tantalisingly, the Basque language, or Euskara, is unrelated to any other spoken in Europe. The theory is that it could be a remnant from the languages spoken before Indo-European languages arrived perhaps 5,000 years ago - making the Basque people very, very ancient indeed.

Today, that sense of history just adds to the romance of the Basque Country. For the visitor, this is a chance to see a different side of Spain - a unique culture, a unique language, even landscapes and climate we don’t normally associate with Spain.

Here are four great reasons to visit.

Dig into some of Spain’s finest cuisine

The Basque Country even has its own unique food culture - and not just the type of food, but how it is consumed and enjoyed. For Basques, eating is not far off being considered like breathing - something you do all day, every day, as just part of the routine of living. 

The typically Basque way of eating is therefore little and often. Pintxos, the Basque equivalent of tapas, are available in every bar you walk into, laid out like a buffet. And the way to enjoy them is to wander from bar to bar, eating a little with a drink over a conversation, and then moving on again. Basically basing your whole social and down time around eating and drinking.

If that sounds like heaven to you, then be sure to head to San Sebastien, a beautiful seaside city in its own right and renowned as one of the finest foodie centres in the whole of Spain.

Explore the truly epic coastline

There’s something about mountains meeting sea. The Basque Country is blessed with a truly dramatic coastline, where the Cantabrian Mountains tumble down more or less straight into the Bay of Biscay.

From hiking the cliff tops to discovering wonderfully secluded stretches of sand, you’ll be treated to a visual feast every step. These photogenic qualities haven’t gone unnoticed by filmmakers, either. Most recently, the ninth century church San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, perched on a tiny outcrop in the sea and accessed via 241 zig-zagging steps, was featured in the Game of Thrones TV series. Epic indeed.

Ride some of Europe’s best waves

Not only is the Basque Country’s coast stunning, it is also renowned for its world-class surf - and has become one of Europe’s premier destinations for surfing as a result. The small town of Mundaka is particularly revered. Its location at the head of a long estuary with a sandbar just offshore means giant tube waves are a regular occurrence, the holy grail for serious surfers. But even if you are a complete beginner, there are dozens of excellent surf schools on more gentle stretches dotted up and down the coast.

Dabble in some fine art history

The Basque Country has some major claims for the attention of art enthusiasts. One of them is the fact that it is home to a Guggenheim Museum, boasting an exemplary collection of modern and contemporary art. Located in Bilbao, the Basque Country’s largest city, the Guggenheim building is itself an architectural masterpiece, a futuristic postmodern pile that helped to transform the formerly gritty docklands of the port city.

Another must-see on the art and culture trail is a visit to the small town of Gernika, once the capital of the independently-minded Basque region. This led to the town being bombed by Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War - with outside help from Nazi Germany. This event was forever immortalised by Picasso in his painting Guernica, one of his most famous works and considered perhaps the greatest piece of anti-war art ever created.

If you’re ready to book a trip to this captivating region of Spain, do be aware that Spain has tightened its restrictions on overseas visitors in response to the Omicron COVID variant. Unvaccinated travellers from the UK will not be allowed into the country until further notice, and fully vaccinated tourists will still have to complete a PCR test before departure.

If the test is positive, you will have to cancel your trip at late notice, making it highly unlikely you’ll get your money back from airlines or accommodation providers. Make sure you cover yourself with appropriate travel insurance. Visit this website to find out more.