The Basque Country (Euskadi) is a small size autonomous community with great cultural and social importance. The green mountainous landscapes between the rivers that run to the Cantabrian river basin, offer an Atlantic climate with abundant rain and moderate temperatures. The particular history of this area has shaped the strong identity of the Basque culture, represented by its own pre-Roman language, Euskara that does not have any connections with any other language on the European continent.
The region still conserves authentic natural paradises like the Reserve of the Biosphere of Urdaibai, in the Guernica surroundings. Other Protected Natural Parks are those of Gorbeia, Itxina, Izki, Valderejo, Entzia, Urkiola, Aitzgorri, Lakes of Laguardia, Aia and Pagoeta. Basque Country has 200 km of coast, and numerous surf beaches, like the ones in Zarauz and Mundaka, with waves close to perfection, and every year this area receives numerous visitors from all over the world. The animated forest of Ibarrola is another natural place turned into a work of art, with hundreds of pines forming a natural linen picture.
During the Middle Ages, this land was a route of passage for the Way of Santiago, which provided a great cultural and monumental splendor. The town of Guernica is a symbol of the Basques and is well-known world-wide due to the bombing that it suffered in 1937 during the Spanish civil war, and this event was immortalized in Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.” In the park that surrounds the village the Tree of Guernica, an oak that symbolizes the old foral liberties, can be contemplated
Vitoria is the Basque capital, a modern city filled with green zones where the Bellas Artes Museum is located, which exhibits a collection of cards that is considered to be one of the most important ones in the world.
In the last years, Bilbao has gained a lot of fame within the cultural circuits due to its spectacular Guggenheim Bilbao museum. In addition, the city has other interesting museums like the Bellas Artes, the Museum of Artistic Reproductions, the Bullfighting Museum and the Sacred Art Museum, as well.
San Sebastian is the Basque city for tourism. Noble and elegant, it is located next to Concha Bay and throughout the year it offers cultural events of the first order, like the International Festival of Cinema, and a jazz festival.
Travelling through the region entails crossing diverse mountain ports with impressive landscapes. Practicing trekking, horse riding, or other diverse mountain sports, are some of the attractive aspects of this area. The Basque Country also has a very peculiar folklore, which manifests itself in its popular celebrations, as well as in its totally native sports, like Pelota Vasca. These native sports are an ethnographic testimony of the first order of the singularity of the Basque culture. Most of these sports are related to rural or marine life (aizcolaris woodcutting, stone lifting…).
The traineras are another Basque singularity. These are boats with fixed benches, and the most popular ones are those with a crew of thirteen rowers and a patron. The cities and towns of the coast celebrate these boat races in the summer months. The Concha Bay Traineras boat race is the event of the year and attracts an enormous amount of spectators.
Celebrations are another sign of the Basque identity. In the three capitals of the region, the “Semana Grande” (the great week) is celebrated on consecutive days in summer. Between August 4th and 9th Vitoria-Gasteiz celebrates a particular festive day, the Celebrations of the White Virgin. After 6 days of fun, the celebrations arrive at their final day, the 9th of August, with the Ascent of Celedon.
The “Aste Nagusia” of Bilbao is an must-see for all those who want to discover the festive spirit of this city in 10 days. These celebrations begin the first Saturday after the festivity of Nuestra Senora Begoña on August 15th.
In San Sebastian a Great Week is also celebrated during the summer, but the celebration most characteristic of this city is the Tamborrada. It begins at January 20th and for 24 hours the city is one big party, with drums and barrels. Joy and good humour overflow the city.
In the city of Irun, the Show of San Marcial is celebrated on June 30th, a celebration that commemorates the local victories in the wars against the French neighbors. The citizens, uniformed and wearing red berets, organize themselves in companies and, directed by a horse mounted general, they unload their guns into the air.
Basque gastronomy enjoys great international prestige. It is famous for its richness and variety, with typical dishes like hake cocochas, marmitaco and other extraordinary dishes with fish, prepared on live coal or in sauces of diverse types, like “pil-pil cod,” “Biscayne cod,” “chipirones” or “hake in green sauce.”
To accompany these fine gastronomical suggestions we can take a wine of great quality, the one from Alavese Rioja. Other traditional drinks of the region are cider and Chacolí. While talking of Basque gastronomy we should not forget to mention the Gastronomical Societies, which are spread all over the region. Without them it would be difficult to explain the popular roots of the gastronomic culture in the region. In these Societies men cook for their friends and relatives, in this way making gastronomy the base of social relations. Basque Country has gained fame all over the world for the quality of its traditional gastronomy, as well as for the imagination of its new vanguard gastronomy. In the 70’s, arose, from a group of young cooks eager to innovate and to extend the menu of the traditional gastronomy, what came to be known as the New Basque Gastronomy. Some of these cooks have become authentic media stars.