Basque Country - An Individual Part of Spain
The Basque Country and its population distance themselves from the rest of the country because of their own language as well as their individual culture and traditions. A trip to the País vasco promises unique and cultural impressions in the middle of a breathtaking nature.
Geography - The fourth smallest Spanish region
Politically speaking, the Basque Country has been an autonomous community in the north of Spain since 1979 and consists of the three provinces Gipuzkoa, Biscay and Álava. With regard to culture, however, the Basque Country exceeds its national borders and also encompasses parts of France and its neighbouring region Navarra. Besides France and the Atlantic, the Spanish communities La Rioja, Castile and León, Cantabria and Navarra border on the Basque Country. Its capital is the environmental city Vitoria-Gasteiz. With an area of 7,324 km², the region is the country's fourth smallest community and one of the most wealthy ones because it contains Madrid. The climate in and around the Basque Country is Atlantic at the coast and continental in the heartland. The weather at the sea is relatively humid and mild, while the mountains have hot, dry summers and cold winters.
Nature - The Costa Vasca and a mountain range
The region's nature is characterised by harsh coasts, beautiful sandy beaches and low mountainous landscapes. The latter constitute the transition of the Pyrenees to the Cantabrian Mountains. Their highest peak is the Aitxuri, which is 1,551 metres high. You find wonderful beach and cliff sections as well as a bright green hilly landscape at the coast of the Basque Country, which is about 246 kilometres long and called Costa Vasca. One of the best-known Spanish beaches, the Playa de la Concha near San Sebastián, is also located here. Despite the many industrial areas, the region contains untouched nature as well as several national and nature parks. One of them is the Urkiola, which is a paradise for hikers and mountaineers. Other popular natural attractions are the Parque natural del Monte Gorbea at the foot of the mountain of the same name and the Urdaibai, which was declared a biosphere reservoir by the UNESCO in 1984.
Culture - An isolated language, unusual sporting activities and traditional dances
The ethnological origin of the Basque population could not be determined yet. It is, however, known that they referred to themselves as Euskaldunak and must have been living on the Iberian Peninsula before the Indogermanic population. The Basque language is the oldest European language and one of the oldest worldwide. It emerged before the Indogermanic language family and is not related to any other language on earth. Therefore, Basque (Euskara) is an isolated language, which is only spoken by about 800,000 people worldwide. After the Basque population was oppressed in the past, by the dictator Franco among others, the Basque traditions and their language are now promoted. The Basque inhabitants are generally individual with regard to traditions and their culture and folklore differs considerably from the culture of other parts of the country. The simple way of construction of their farmhouses as well as the sporting, musical and dancing traditions are not only preserved for the sake of tourists. They are an important part of the Basque identity. The Basque sports (herri kirolak, which has 16 disciplines altogether) such as the ball game pelota, the cutting up of wood logs, the mowing of lawns, the lifting of stones or tug of war are basic constituents of regular features of many celebrations and events. Furthermore, Basque songs and folklore dances, which are still performed today, are important elements of many events. National dances (for example the fandango and mutxiko) - which are often dedicated to work, religion or politeness - are not only folklore but also a way of saying thanks to someone or greeting them. The most beautiful and worthwhile cities of the Spanish community are the coastal towns San Sebastián, Zarautz and Getxo as well as the towns Vitoria-Gasteiz and Bilbao in the heartland. The latter accommodates an impressive cathedral from the 14th century as well as the internationally known Guggenheim Museum, which displays extraordinary architecture. Near this town, you find the world's oldest transporter bridge which is still in operation, the Vizcaya Hanging Bridge, which has been declared a World Cultural Heritage site by the UNESCO.
Experience - Pinxos, bacalao and international festivals
Not only the local sports, dances and songs but also the food and celebrations are part of the cultural identity of the Basque population. The region's cuisine is greatly influenced by sailor's traditions, the proximity to the coast and France as well as the life in the mountains. Local specialities like the bacalao (stockfish) or the pinxos (Basque tapas) as well as the wine from Rioja Alavesa are a must for every visitor. Another culinary experience is the Idiazabal cheese, which is made from sheep milk, matures for at least two months and has a protected designation of origin. The numerous local and international celebrations, which take place throughout the year, are lively events. Besides the athletic competitions and events, there are several religious celebrations like the Corpus Christi procession in Oñati and festivals of the Basque community. The best-known and most popular one is the Film Festival in San Sebastián.
Activities - Hiking in the Pyrenees and surfing at the Costa Vasca
Especially hikers, mountaineers, horseback riders and golfers get their money's worth in the Basque Country. The wonderful mountains and the unspoiled landscape of many nature parks offer great conditions for varied hikes. Water sports are also possible in this region. A popular meeting place for surfers is the wind surfing centre in Mundaka at the Costa Vasca.
The most important airport of the region is located in Bilbao. Both expensive and more reasonably priced airlines land here. You only reach smaller airports like those in Vitoria and San Sebastián by regional airlines. From Madrid, you can rent a car or arrive by bus or train.
Who does not fancy beautiful beaches, harsh and green coasts, mountains as well as a unique culture and language? The Basque Country offers all that. Although the region belongs to Spain, it has its own customs and traditions and displays a different side of the Spanish nation.