The Basque Country is always an interesting area for a visit, not just for its natural
beauty but also for its fascinating history and culture. The Basque region
comprises of the provinces of Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa and Alava. Its people are
well-known for their independent spirit and have a unique culture and language
(Euskera) which is now spoken by a third of the population and growing in popularity.
The language bears no similarity to any other language, and written "euskera" was
described by one commentator as looking like a bad hand at Scrabble. The Basques
love to celebrate on a large scale (any excuse for a party, then!). Music and
dance are important in their culture and traditions, as is storytelling. And
as if you need another incentive to go to this area, the Basque cuisine is
considered to be the best in Spain.
Bilbao, capital of Vizcaya, is a large shipping and ferry port. Its origins
are 14th Century and the old town still exists, including its gothic cathedral
and attractive town hall. But Bilbao is probably better known today for its
masterpiece of late 20th century architecture, the Guggenheim
houses exhibitions of modern art. Whilst in the area we suggest you visit Guernica,
especially if you are interested in history. Guernica is an important city
to the Basques and home to the Casa de Juntas (Assembly House). Originally
meetings of the General Assemblers took place around The Tree of Gernika (which
is carefully preserved outside the Assembly house) and which has become the
universal symbol of all Basque people. The Basque Country Museum was set up
to offer a permanent exhibition to help visitors understand the political and
cultural importance of the Basque Country while in another museum there are
displays and old photographs of the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish
civil war, and the original sketches and studies for the famous painting by
Picasso 'Guernica' which immortalizes the event can be seen here. (The original
painting is on display in Madrid).
Situated on the coast, surrounded by a stunning beach called "La Concha",
is the lovely resort town of San Sebastian, capital of Guipuzcoa. It's very
popular with Spanish holidaymakers who flock to the town in the summer months
and enjoys international fame with its Film Festival which takes place each
year in September. A few miles west of the town superb views can be enjoyed
at Monte Ulia across the surrounding countryside and the Bay of Biscay.
The third province of the Basque Country is Alava. Its capital Vitoria is
famous as being the site of a British victory during the Peninsular War. Close
to the border of La Rioja lies the charming walled medieval town of Laguardia capital of Rioja Alavesa, an important wine-producing area. Here you can see
many fine buildings among which is the Casa de la Primicia, the oldest house
in the town, and perhaps stay in a bodega hotel.
Close to and closely associated with the Basque Country, Navarra is an old medieval kingdom which lie south-west
of the Pyrenees. Navarra's capital is Pamplona which is well-known for its
fiesta of San Fermines and the famous 'running of the bulls' which takes place
6 - 14 July. Apart from non-stop partying, the highlight is when the bulls
are left to charge through the old town while crowds of young men run in front.
The city is also worth visiting outside of this time. Apart from being easier
and cheaper to get accommodation, there is much to see: the main attractions
being its Renaissance Cathedral, old walled quarter and imposing citadel.