Part of “Green Spain” and one of the autonomies to receive a special status as a “historic nationality” in the Spanish Constitution, “País Vasco” in Spanish (Euskadi in Basque) is set against the Cantabrian Sea to the north. The region of Navarre and France border to the east, La Rioja and the Ebro River, to the south.
The origin of the Basque people, like their language, is murky to the point of mythical. The arrival of the Romans saw local men join the legions that defended the empire, as well as bagaudae (peasant insurgents) who sought to overthrow it. Since then the Basque influence on the rest of Spain’s language and food has been immense.
The top five cities in terms of population are:
- Bilbao (354,145). The home of the Guggenheim Museum, whose construction helped transform this industrial city into a popular destination. On the third Saturday in August starts “La Semana Grande” (The Big Week; Aste Nagusia in Basque). Come see the strong man competition, musical performances and nightly fireworks show, that vary each year.
- Vitoria-Gasteiz (226,490). The capital of the autonomous community, whose locals are known as babazorros (“bean eaters” in Basque). It’s home to the international jazz festival every July and parties dedicated to its white virgin: “Fiestas de la Virgen Blanca”, the 4th – 9th of August.
- San Sebastián-Donostia (186,122). Both names mean: “saint”. More Michelin stars per square meter than any other city makes it a must-visit for food pilgrims. Picturesque, with a hopping night life, the city on the southern coast of the Bay of Biscay (Cantabrian Sea) also hosts an international film festival in September.
- Barakaldo (100,369). Part of “Greater Bilbao” , the city on the Bilbao Estuary is distinct, with a botanical garden and “Las Fiestas del Carmen” in July.
- Getxo (83,000). Accessible from Bilbao by metro, its beaches are increasingly becoming a popular spot for surfers the world over. To get to the multicolored sand, first you have to leave the views and walk down wooden stairs from the top of a cliff.
The Basque landscape and climate depend on location, making it difficult to generalize. There is: the Atlantic Basin, the mountains in the middle with the high plateau, Llanura de Álava (Álava plains), or the Ebro Valley, the cradle of “Las Lenguas Hispanas”.
The local language, of course, doesn’t share the same Latin roots as its neighbors, its genesis still unknown. Basque call their native tongue, Euskara and themselves, Euskaldunak. In Spanish, a language everybody there speaks, they are “Vascos” and speak “Vasco”, in addition to “Castellano”.
In the Basque Country you can find both traditional “pintxos” and those inspired by nouvelle cuisine from neighboring France. Meat and fish are the ingredients for many main dishes and stews. Unpasteurized sheep’s milk is cured into “queso Idiazábal“, which is best washed down by a sparkling wine, “txakolí“, or sagardotegi (Basque cider).
A short Guardian video that delves deeper into these mysterious people.