Each of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain is proud of its uniqueness, but none is so fiercely nationalistic and culturally disparate from the rest as the País Vasco. The name itself, “the Basque Country,” embodies the proud, bold, individualistic spirit of the people here. For a land that has been historically isolated, whose people have fiercely resisted outside influence since Roman times, the years of cultural suppression under Franco, when the Basques were forbidden from speaking their own language and practicing their cultural traditions hit hard. The struggle to be heard, the outcries for sovereignty have spawned fear, as a result of the terrorist organization ETA, which, since its inception, has killed over 600 people in the name of independence. Frustration is apparent in the miles of graffiti damning Spanish culture and government and, since the demise of Franco, a re-flowering of Basque culture.
Euskara, a language unrelated to Castilian Spanish, is fundamental to the Basque way of life. Like the Basque people themselves, this tongue derived from unknown origins. It remains to be proven whether the language of Euskara arrived with nomadic tribes from the Caucasus Mountains in Africa and, for that matter, whether or not the Basque people are truly descendants of Europe’s earliest inhabitants, Cro-Magnon man. Far from a dying language (though Franco tried his best), Euskara is once again taught to schoolchildren beginning at an early age and commonly heard in the streets among teenagers and adults alike. Unlike the Catalans, who prefer to speak their own language to the scornful exclusion of Castellano, the Basque people do speak their own language but don’t mind speaking Spanish to foreigners. While other Spaniards consider them to be guarded, even introverted, you’ll likely come away with the feeling that the Basque people are complex but not unfriendly, intelligent and certainly idealistic.
The País Vasco (Euskadi) is the easternmost autonomous region of what is known as Green Spain, a verdant swath of land along the northern Atlantic coast that, some say, resembles Switzerland more than it does Spain. Rain and clouds are common and the weather is generally breezy and cool, though the summer months do allow for a stretch of skin-scorching beach days. The region is bordered in the west by Cantabria and in the east (from north to south) by France, Navarra and La Rioja. It is divided into the provinces of Guipúzkoa, Vizkaya and Alava. The two main cities, Bilbao with its famous Guggeneheim Museum and San Sebastián with its picturesque setting, are located on the coast of the Bay of Biscay.
Though there are plenty of opportunities for hiking in the empty inlands of the País Vasco, coastal sports like surfing and boating are the main activities, along with the unique Basque game of pelota and, of course, the adventures of eating. The País Vasco, with more gourmet restaurants and Michelin stars to its credit than any other Spanish region, is truly a culinary delight. To get away from Spain without leaving the country, there is no better choice than the País Vasco.
“In the Basque Country the land looks very rich and green
and the houses and villages look well off and clean.”
- Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta
Cuzco is the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, and the epicenter of the Andean Quechua culture. It has a monumental... Read More
Thimphu is the seat of the last of the Himalayan kingdoms. It sits in splendid isolation in a long, high valley in the... Read More
Mostar is where Christians converted to Islam, and where moussaka – consisting of sliced eggplants sautéed in... Read More
Santiago is Chile's capital of cool. It's mostly a modern metropolis, but with more than 500 years of history and relics... Read More
Tampere is a city of rock. In fact, Tampere, Finland, like Manchester, England, evolved from a market town into a major... Read More
Ischgl is a small mountain village turned hip ski resort, with massive appeal among the party-hearty young crowds. It is... Read More
Andorra la Vella is its own little world, and not just because it’s a 290-square-mile independent principality (a fifth the... Read More
Bariloche (officially San Carlos de Bariloche) is the place to be seen. It is to Argentina what Aspen is to the... Read More
Aspen is America's most famous ski resort. And that's an understatement. For, as a ski complex, Aspen is unsurpassed. Its... Read More
Zermatt is a small but glamorous mountain resort town, with a population of approximately 5,700. It is one of Switzerland's... Read More
St. Moritz is a glitzy, alpine resort town in the celebrated Engadin Valley of Switzerland, with huge notoriety as the... Read More
Lake Tahoe is the premier lake resort of America, and the largest alpine lake in all of North America. It is an absolutely... Read More
St. Anton, Sankt Anton am Arlberg in German, is Austria's premier ski-bum resort! It's actually a small village cum... Read More
Kitzbühel, a small, Tyrolian resort town in the Kitzbüheler Alps, comes with international renown and huge snob appeal, and... Read More