Basque Country

Natural beauty and unique culture in the land of pintxos

Overview

“If you want to know you’re truly alive, go to a Basque festival, bursting with sound and vibration, the heartbeat of drums throbbing through you, the noise of hollering and the squeal of accordions”. The Basque people really revel in their power, passion and commitment to an ancient culture and it’s a hard soul indeed who won’t be drawn into the magic.

Between the Pyrenees and Atlantic, the Basque homeland stretches from south-west France into northern Spain as far as La Rioja wine region. You’ll find a patchwork of lush green mountains and blue seas, a naturally wild landscape dotted with remnants of a strong industrial heritage and the scent of home-cooked meals. For a while, this rich culture was under threat but now, although integrated to some extent into the geographic folds of France and Spain, the Basques can proudly celebrate their unique language, rural sports and age-old customs.

For the best experience, we recommend a low season journey from November to March when the summer tourists are long gone and towns and villages revert to a more traditional way of life. The weather will be cooler and you’ll no doubt get showers between sunny days. Generally though winters remain mild enough for you to sit outside the many bars, cafés and restaurants, connecting with locals and taking part in traditional events, sport competitions and rural fairs that occur at this time of year. Enjoy a city break or explore the picturesque villages without the higher prices and reduced availability of peak-time travel.

Urban adventures
City breakers can choose a long weekend exploring vibrant cosmopolitan centres on both the French and Spanish sides of Basque Country. Pretty Bayonne is small and compact with gorgeous architecture and beautiful scenery, set as it is at the confluence of the Rivers Adour and Nive. Spend time at the luxurious beach resorts of Biarritz which retain a particular charm once the glamorous summer set has moved on. The vibrant riverside city of Bilbao has transformed in recent years from an important industrial hub of factories and shipyards to a cutting edge cultural centre with a revitalised waterfront. Elegant San Sebastian remains timeless with its cobbled old town, historic buildings and endless rows of pintxos bars.

The Bay of Biscay
The ocean plays a vital role in Basque landscape and history. Low season is the perfect time to hit the waves if you are a decent surfer. Or soak up the sensations of the local fishing ports. Saint-Jean-de-Luz, originally the home of whaling, cod fishing and pirates, and now a tourist hub, while lovely Bermeo is a typical fishing village. Try some freshly-caught fish washed down with a local txakoli white wine. Discover San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, connected to the mainland by a bridge, or the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve an area of outstanding natural beauty and diversity, protected by UNESCO.

The Cleanest Freshest Air
Travellers through the ages have reached this area to walk the renowned Camino de Santiago, with little towns like Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees forming strategic points on the pilgrims’ route. There are many other hiking routes though where the tourists just don’t go. For example, if you explore the many mountain trails of the Aizkorri, Urbasa and Gorbeia natural parks, you’ll find mainly Basques. If hiking’s not your thing, low season is a great time to hire a car and take a road trip through the pretty villages like Oñati, Lekeitio, Elorrio, or Espellette with their timber buildings and red roofs. Take time to taste the best homemade food, meeting local shepherds and trying Basque idiazabal cheese.

Low Season Months

Jan
10°C
15mm
3hrs
Feb
10°C
14mm
3hrs
Mar
12°C
13mm
4hrs
Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
12°C
17mm
2hrs
Dec
11°C
15mm
2hrs

Featured Hotels

Top Experiences

Opening of Cider Season

From January to March, join the locals for the tasting of the new season’s cider. This unique social activity is accompanied with lots of food tasting. The region’s most popular drink, Basque cider is made only from Basque apples in the 11th century tradition.

Bilbao’s Guggenheim

The centre piece of Bilbao’s urban renaissance, Frank Geary’s ground breaking modern museum design sports a titanium-clad exterior and a giant terrier made out of live flowers and that’s before you’ve even checked out the excellent exhibits inside.

Basque Rural Fairs

Meet the locals, eat delicious talo with txorizo, and buy unique products for those back home. Try the fair in historic Gernika in October, the amazing St Thomas fairs on the run up to Christmas, and January’s 24hr non-stop Danborrada in San Sebastian.

Insider Tips

  • Similar to tapas, pintxos are delicious morsels of Basque specialities with different venues boasting their own signature version. Competitions are even held to find the best. Cold picks are on countertops, but see the blackboard for delicious hot options.
  • Low season sees village rural games competitions, a fun atmosphere with unique displays to be enjoyed for free. Basque rural sports have a long history and include a series of events like stone lifting, wood chopping and the super-fast pelota.
  • Basque language, Euskera, is the older than all other languages of Europe, and is very complex to learn. Forbidden by Franco to be spoken out loud, it now claims a respectable half a million speakers. Try “Kaixo” (kai-sho) for hello or “Agur” (alloo) goodbye.

Good To Know

  • Low season sees earlier sunsets and dark evenings, so get out early to explore the great outdoors - hiking trails, villages and beaches - during daylight hours and save city visits and museums for later on or to while away a rainy afternoon.
  • Try to have a flexible itinerary and be prepared for the weather to change suddenly. The weather apps are rarely 100% accurate and it is not unusual to experience sun, rain, wind and sun again in the same day. Layer up and so always have a plan B.
  • For ultimate flexibility hiring a car is not a bad idea. Driving is pretty straight forward, the road system good, traffic jams rare and you’ll have independence to plan your route between cities. It’s the best way to explore the villages off the usual tourist trail.

Food & Drink

Squid in Black Sauce

This classic Basque dish looks a bit peculiar but tastes delicious. The freshly caught baby squid are simmered in their own ink with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Txakoli white wine, Spanish brandy or fish stock can be added. Works well served with white rice.

Marmitako Tuna Stew

A traditional fisherman’s meal, wonderfully flavourful, and a delicious choice for low season dining. Peppers, potatoes, onions and garlic are cooked in a cauldron like pot with the freshest tuna, not the canned type, added right at the end so it remains tender and moist.

Asador Etxebarri, Atxondo

Voted the 3rd best restaurant in the world 2019, Asador Etxebarri serves exceptional local fine dining in a rustic stone building. It’s set in the foothills of the mythological Basque Amboto mountains, home of the Basque witch, and specialises in dishes chargrilled to perfection.

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