I went to the heart of the Basque Country, where France and Spain border. For the following hours and days, I was immersed not only in the majesty of the Spanish and French languages but also in that of the Basque (euskara) one. Their coordinated effort to preserve this beautiful language is truly admirable and inspirational.
Needless to say that I sampled their unique cuisines and I got a glimpse of their rich heritage and tasteful architecture. And all of this from a civilisation that is not only not declining, but is instead resisting and flourishing…
The truth is that though you might be moving between Spain and France, you sense from the very first moment that you are somewhere otherworldly, you are in the land of Basque; welcome to the Basque Country.
“Only those who know, the connoisseurs, come here”, said a Spanish friend of mine… And that’s exactly how it is.
I landed on a Friday night in Bilbao (the airport terminal was designed by the famous Santiago Calatrava) and I headed directly to Casco Viejo (the so called old town) and I jumped straight into the bar hopping.. The tapas are called pintxos (small tapas no larger than the size of a big bite) and I could barely wait to sample the authentic jamon again.
The best pintxos bars can be found in the old historical town. Just walk around, let your self get lost in the narrow streets around Grand Via and let yourself be drawn into whichever pintxos bar inspires you.
Do it like the locals: You just enter, try, pay and go (they call it poteo here), you eat a small pintxo, you drink something (ideally txacoli, a tasty white wine) and you just move on. It’s like a show with many parts… And this is just the beginning.
You don’t need guides or trip advisers.
You just follow your heart.
You are in the South.
Your heart guides you.
And here it beats differently…
Must Do: Stroll around the historical centre and visit the legendary Guggenheim museum.
I didn’t stay long in Bilbao because our final destination was Bidart in France. After a 2 hours drive, we arrived in a magical place and as soon as I woke up in the morning I was faced with this:
A large number of people, hubbub, expressive gestures and movements, vivid laughs, small fights… “Southern people”… I thought. “Just like us.”
Getting around: If you are interested in exploring all the small villages and enjoying the scenic routes, the best choice is to rent a car.
Food: If you are a foodie and gourmand then this place will become one of your karmic loves. It probably is one of the very few destinations that each food choice is better than the previous one. (It’s neither coincidental nor accidental that the Basques have the most Michelin-starred eateries in Europe).
My favourite is La Tantina de la Playa. Great fish, unbeatable tastes.
It’s worth watching a match of Basque Pelota, their favourite sport. It’s played with one hand, one ball, against a wall (fronton) and this is their traditional sport that will introduce you to the depths of the Basque soul. We attended an important match (at least that’s what they told us) and we become immediately part… of the game!
One of the first things that I try to do when I travel is to listen carefully to every single word and the melody of the language that is spoken and then I try to put some words in an order, to craft my first sentences…
This time though my ears were exposed to something different. What I was listening to had little to do with the Latin based languages. This was the Basque Language.
And that’s why I tried to greet them with that: Euskara ikasten saiatzen ari nazi. Hizkuntza zaila da (I tried to learn some Basque, but its a very difficult language indeed… )
Agur! (Goodbye!)… We will come back.
Because there is something so charming about the Southern people.
Because when we fall in love with a place, we always return.
The South suits us. A lot.
Big kiss! We are our travels…