What is the Basque Country?

Since we are on our way there next year I thought it would be a good idea to give you a little more information about our destination. The Basque Country sits on the Bay of Biscay, mostly in Spain but also in France as you can see on the map above. We’ll spend the majority of our time on the Spanish side but will head over to France on the final full day of our trip for a visit to Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz. It’s a special place for me because I lived and worked there for a couple of years as a recent college graduate. I’m 43 years old as I write this, so that was a while ago, but the geography, cuisine and the culture of the Basque Country left an indelible impression on me. I am thankful for those experiences and welcome the opportunity to share this special place with my fellow travelers.

The Basque country is known as one of the greatest food destinations in the world and we’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s talk about geography, which is one of the things that makes this place so unique. Think about green mountains that come nearly right up to the coast. The shoreline is rocky, but in between the rocks you have some amazing beaches, and you’ll find a few of them in San Sebastian proper. Add to that some haystack mountains in the bay and you get what looks like a mini Rio de Janiero, complete with the Christ statue overlooking the city. The famed Camino de Santiago has many variations but one of them runs right along the Basque coast and right through the city of San Sebastian. We’ll spend an afternoon out on the trail for those who wish to join the hike.

Do they speak Spanish? Yes. Everyone in the Basque country speaks Spanish but they also speak their own language that they call Euskera. In English we call it Basque and in Spanish Vasco.

What does it mean to be Basque? It’s a complicated question. Basque people have been there since before Spain was Spain and France was France. They’ve been there for so long that people are still trying to figure out where they came from. Academics have their theories but nothing has been proven to date. Basque people are most proud by their heritage, their culture, their language, their love of the sea, and their cuisine.

San Sebastian, where we will spend the majority of our time, was once a summer playground for Spanish Aristocrats, and is now an international culinary mecca. There are more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else on the planet and this love for everything food trickles down into every corner bar and restaurant throughout the city. It’s nearly impossible to find something bad to eat there. A typical night out in San Sebastian means moving from bar to bar or restaurant to restaurant, eating pintxos and drinking a small glass of beer, wine or cider. Some people compare pintxos to tapas but to me and most Basque people, they are so much more. One of the most fun parts about taking people to San Sebastian is be with them for their first pintxo experience, when they see all of the food elegantly displayed on the bar like a myriad of tiny works of art on plates. The locals grab them at will and then tell the bartender what they ate before they pay and leave. Tourists take a plate around and pick a few at a time. I could eat pintxos every day of my life and have no complaints. While we are there we’ll even make our own pintxos under the supervision of a Master Chef. We’ll then be served our own creations in his restaurant with wine pairings.

When eating pintxos you don’t want a lot to drink because you plan to move on to the next place after a bite or two. Two of the more common beverages are a young white wine called Txakoli and a hard cider that is much more acidic than it is sweet. We’ll visit a Txakoli winery on the trip. Both are poured from a height into a glass to create an effervescent effect by bartenders with years of practice. If you don’t like wine or cider you can always order a tiny beer called a zurito or a glass of red wine that costs less than water in the U.S. Don’t care for alcohol? Then try a mosto or white grape juice served with an olive and an orange slice.

Okay, so what about the weather? The weather is a constant topic of discussion among local residents because it’s so unpredictable but in general October is a great time to visit. The summer crowds have died down, it’s still warm both in the day and at night, and there should be plenty of sun.

Want to know more about our trip? Find more details, view some photos, and request an itinerary here.

What else do you want to know? I’m available for questions at any time. Just send me a message – craig@carolinalanguage.com.




Craig Snyder is the Owner and President of The Language Academy of the Carolinas, Inc.

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