THE BASQUE COAST
Our journey begins on the shores of the gulf of Gasgone where the Basque have been settled for millennia. After an overview of Biarritz and the Basque coast and the very popular French Basque Country, we seek to discover the characteristic small villages nestled between steep cliffs. These active fishing ports continue the tradition for which they are famous: fishing. Each of these areas has preserved their lively traditions, and we are witnesses to these colourful events.
We stay for some time in San Sebastián, the most sophisticated of the Basque’s cities, located on an exceptional seaside site. We explore its renowned dining scene with the young chef Edorta Lamo, who guides us through some of the most famous “pintxos” bars in the city. After this well-watered tour, we discover an authentic market and buy our provisions before participating in a lovely meal in one of the gastronomical societies of San Sebastián. Our tasting tour finishes with a stop at Arzak, the famous restaurant where Juan Mari and Elena Arzak present us with their culinary masterpieces.
The Basque Country metropolis opens its doors to welcome us. Bilbao, the city of steel, has recently been converted into a city of innovation and is full of contrasts and surprises. We explore the Nervion River, the city’s backbone and a genuine open book that reflects the city’s turbulent past. After a stop at the unmissable Guggenheim Museum, we head to the heart of the old town to enjoy the festive atmosphere and watch the show of Kepa Junkera, a famous Basque artist.
The Basque Country open its soul to us in the verdant hills of the interior. In the morning, we find Jon, a young Basque shepherd seeking his sheep. He shares with us the secluded way of life that he lives along with his small family. In his humble mountain cottage, he prepares, before our eyes, a cheese that has made the Basque shepherds famous. It is a memorable meeting in the heart of the Pyrenees.
There are more than 3,000 celebrations per year in the Basque Country, and we attempt to participate in as many of these festivities as possible. We visit a fair where the strongmen compete in traditional games, then dive into celebrations of the Fiestas Patronales in the small town of Tolosa. The atmosphere is jovial and we witness impressive processions full of surprises involving all of the city’s inhabitants.
Spotlight on the frontón of the small town of Bergara. We are witnessing a game of basque pelota with bare hands, a spectacular sport that is probably the best-known sign of Basqueness in the world today. We are impressed by the game but also by the fervor of the crowd, that places bets on each game in a jumble of signs with the attendants. A jump to the quiet village of Iparralde allows us to discover rebot, one of the oldest variation of the game of pelota. We take this opportunity to meet members of the famous Kalakan trio, who show us the txalaparta, an typical Basque Country instrument.
We head towards the south, beyond the mountains of the Sierra Cantabrica, to the great plains of Alava and Navarre. We discover a different part of the Basque Country, where Latin influences are strong. We explore the beautiful vineyards of Laguardia and their avant-garde bodegas. Beautiful fortified villages welcome us with colourful festivals, reminding us that we are still in the Basque Country.
We arrive at the gates of the Kingdom of Navarre. While the north of the province is culturally very similar to other Basque regions, the south reveals an area similar to a Spanish plateau where the Castillian influence is strong. Magnificent castles and fortified villages speak to the glory days of Navarre. In Pamplona we discover Navarre’s fervor for bullfighting culture, shown during the celebrations of San Fermin. Around Tudela, the magnificent Bardenas Reales desert reveals itself to us in all its splendor.
EUSKARA, THE BASQUE LANGUAGE
The journey ends in the French Basque Country, where we meet those who continue to teach the Basque language. During our trip, we were intrigued by how this minority population, both in France and Spain, have successfully kept their language alive, along with its culture and traditions. It is the in the Ikastola, the Basque school, that we find answers to our question. The meeting of passionate teachers and their students reassures us that life in the Basque language will continue to thrive in this little corner of the world.