What comes into your mind if I say ‘Spain‘? Just flamenco and sangria? Well, open your mind and allow me to tell you a fascinating story which I hope will charm you as it did with me!
Up in the North of Spain, where the borders are marked by the French Pyrenees, there is a small region with an ancient history behind it. I am talking about the Basque Country, in Basque language Euskadi or Euskal Herria – which includes four Spanish and three French territories. The country has uncertain origins and its language – which the Basque people are very proud of – is the oldest in Europe.
Speaking euskera in this region may open many doors, also in the career field, and that’s why in the last few years a great effort has been put towards the appreciation and conservation of this language through academic courses: even the Basque government worked along, allowing their language to be used not just in the field of political struggle, but also as a key factor of economic growth.
The Basque Country is a charming place, with ancient history and traditions. It’s not just a recollection of past times, it’s a vital and dynamic feeling which constantly renews itself and allows small changes from time to time. You will find picturesque cascos viejos – old city centres – where tradition is strongly felt, beside modern cultural areas where progress rules and imposes its pace. All linked together by an efficient public transport service.
Bilbao, particularly, is renown for the Guggenheim Museum and the struggles for independence, for football team Athletic Bilbao and pelota. It’s a town with many faces: on one side the casco with its siete calles and small squares – Unamuno and Plaza Nueva – where the atmosphere is enriched by pintxos, cidrerias, kalimotxo and icurriñas (Basque flags); on the other side the ensanche, where an actual urban revolution took place by hands of architects and engineers, who accurately placed their creations, making impressive scenes out of streets, squares and railways.
Looking at the natural landscape, Bilbao is affectionately known as Botxo because of the encircling mountains, which make it appear as a ‘hatch’. Mountains and ocean allow the climate its typical Atlantic coolness, with a light rain called zirimiri which will follow you for most of your journey. But don’t think about carrying an umbrella with you: a light hoodie is more than enough. You may find yourself ready to spend a sunny day on the beach in Sopelana when this kind of fresh rain may surprise you: just hang on, it’s nothing unusual; enjoy the sight and wait until it’s gone!
Beside mountains and ocean, close by lies the charming Bosque de Oma, in Kortezubi, where Basque artist Agustín Ibarrola painted on the woods fragmentary masterpieces, recognisable only from a fair distance and certain points of view. Moreover, it is also worth to visit Guernica and San Sebastian – for many years a royal family’s holiday destination – where at the romantic sea point Peine del Mar – “Sea Comb” – the wind actually combs the waves over the ocean. And if you have the chance don’t forget to take part at the San Fermìn festival in Pamplona, an unforgettable experience that engages every year thousands of enthusiasts from all over the world. A final remark goes to the quite pueblos, where time stopped decades ago and the sounds and smells of Basque tradition will thrill your senses.
The Basque Country really is an amazing place and it doesn’t fail to impress whoever visits it. My judgement may not be very objective, because I already fell in love with it, but spend a visit yourself and you will share my same feelings for sure!