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Europe is once again on everyone’s radar now that travel restrictions have been fully eased and normalcy restored, but while most new arrivals will flock to the continent’s Mediterranean coast this year, other lesser-known parts continue to be largely ignored.
That’s the case with this not-so-popular vacation spot, at least from the point of view of your average American, which unlike most European summer destinations doesn’t straddle the ancient Mediterranean, but surely doesn’t suffer from any shortage of gorgeous beaches or pretty cobblestone towns.
This season, it’s time for you to be introduced Basque Countryan increasingly fashionable summer getaway and one of Europe’s most culturally charged regions:
Why have I never heard of a Basque Country?
Despite its name, the Basque Country is not a sovereign state. Although it has its own defining language, customs, and folklore, it is not a unified national political entity in the contemporary era.
Instead, it comprises parts of northeastern Spain and western France, where both areas join to form a contiguous cross-border Basque « country. »
Although they share a common heritage and (as mentioned above) a language, the Basque peoples are of Spanish or French nationality, since the territory is divided between Spain and France.
Historically, the Basque Country is most notorious for its uniqueness.
A Unique Cultural Heritage
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If you come across an example of a Basque text (or Basque) on the web, you’ll soon realize that it bears no resemblance to Spanish or French, or indeed any language derived from Latin, the language group that surrounds it.
It is what we call a ‘language island’: Basque is not closely related to any other language. in the Indo-European family, and its origins are hotly debated. In fact, it may well be the oldest language in Western Europe.
There are more interesting facts about the Basque Country and Basque culture, besides mere linguistics: the Basques, both on the Spanish and French sides, have their own folkloric traditions and ancient culture, which have shaped a kind of nation within the countries in which they are found.
Whether they be tales of giants called gentiles who once roamed the territory until the coming of Christ, or every timehis version of Santa Claus, and a straw figure commonly found strewn across the countryside, you will be hypnotized because of their different culture and belief system.
The delicious Basque cuisine
Basque cuisine is also easily distinguished from the rest, although over the centuries, as a result of integration with other Iberian groups, particularly within Spain, it has been influenced by external agents.
However, when strolling through the lively streets of Bilbao, the largest city in the Spanish autonomous community of the Basque Country, you will find dishes unique to the territory, especially grilled meats, a fish stew called I’m sorrytraditional basque pintxos (his version of caps), French Basque join the fighta toothfish soup made with asparagus and peas, and many more.
Still feels somewhat Spanish (or Iberian), but with something extra special.
With its rich past, incredible culture and delicious cuisine, it should come as no surprise that an increasing number of travelers are choosing the Basque Country for their holidays.
An underrated sunny hotspot
Not only is it a fascinating destination, the Basque language is an enormously underrated sunny getawaystraddling the beautiful Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic coast of Spain and France, and with endless miles of sandy beaches.
Biarritza charming little Basque town on the French side, has been named for Fashion this summer’more boisterous‘ vacations city.
It is a highly developed luxury destination with a high concentration of five-star properties and casinos lining the waterfront. It’s the kind of place you’d go to if you’re craving those high-end, exclusive, southern French summer vibes, but don’t want the amazingly disruptive crush of the Côte d’Azur.
The old town of Biarritz is particularly charmingwith its enviable offer of elegant cafes, with terraces that spill into the narrow streets and medieval monuments.
On the Spanish side, easily where the culture of the Basque Country can be felt strongest, the main tourist city is San Sebastián (or in native Basque, Donostia).
Although the entire Basque coastline is simply spectacular, with towering cliffs and rugged coastal patches interspersed with crescents of sand and traditional fishing villages, it is San Sebastian/ Donostia which really steals the spotlight as the trendiest bathing spot.
The crescent-shaped beach of the shellwhich borders the Donostia promenade, is famous for its golden sands and serene, brilliant blue waters, which are not as warm as those of the Mediterranean – after all, this is the Atlantic – but still feels refreshing in the Spanish summer, when temperatures can easily exceed 40 degrees.
In high season, it is very frequented by locals and visitors alike, who love to sunbathe (pun intended) and take a dip in the blue ocean.
The historic center is another major attraction, dotted with stately neoclassical buildings and much older structures from the 15th century. The Cathedral of San Sebastián, completed at the end of the 19th century, rises above the Old part.
The main Basque tourist destination, however, is Bilbao, one of the largest cities in northern Spain and a metropolis home to more than 900,000 inhabitants.
Seeing that it is so cosmopolitan, with a multicultural community, it can be more difficult to hear that Basque is spoken on the streetsas Castilian (Spanish people in fact to lingua francabut you’ll still find that you belong in a completely different realm to other Spanish cities, with the Basque-language road signs, the quirky traditional restaurants and the Basque national flags hanging from the civic buildings.
Last year, Bilbao reached its milestone millionth tourist in a year for the first time, and its popularity as an alternative destination to the overcrowded Barcelona and Madrid, two of Spain’s main cities, has been growing enormously.
With more accommodation options – it had 8,580 beds spread over 79 properties and last year it had already increased to 9,945 and 85, respectively – and a strong increase in foreign tourism, it is set to become a one of the most requested city breaks in Spain.
charming quaint towns
However, if you’re based in Bilbao, be sure to get out of the city for a taste of the ‘real’ Basque Country, best experienced in smaller towns like Gernika, which served as the inspiration for Picasso’s masterpiece. guernicaand the city of Vitoria-Gasteizthe historical capital of the Basque Country.
Basque is more commonly spoken in the Basque hinterland and cultural identity is generally stronger.
Aside from Gernika, Vitoria-Gasteiz, San Sebastián/Donostia and the Bay of Biscay resort towns, popular day trips include Saint John of Gaztelugatxewhich Game of Thrones fans will instantly recognize as the filming location for Dragonstone, and fuenterrabiaa pretty coastal town on the Spanish border with France.
Learn more about other lesser-known regions of Spain here.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com