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Culinary enjoyment in the Basque Country

3 days in the Basque country stands for: culture, nature, history, but mainly culinary enjoyment


I recently spent a weekend in the beautiful Basque Country. After a vacation in Northern Spain, friends flew back from Bilbao to the Netherlands. A good reason to go on a discovery in this part of the country.

But first some background information. The Basque Country is almost 21,000 km² (half the size of the Netherlands or 2⁄3 the area of ​​Belgium) and has around 3 million people living there. About a quarter of the total population speaks Basque, or Euskara. It is one of the few non-Indo-European languages ​​in Europe. I now speak a nice word of Spanish, but I could not understand anything of the Euskara´s.

Free art
So on to Bilbao, from Leon just three hours by car. While driving, the landscape changes. From the rugged, dry and rocky Castilla y Leon to the green, rolling Basque country. Bilbao is, with more than 345,000 inhabitants, the largest city in the Basque Country and is located on the Nervion River and on the camino del Norte to Santiago. Want to know more about the camino del Norte? Click here.

The city has been one of the four cities in the world since 1997 with its own Guggenheim Museum, the city's main attraction. The museum attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. And that is not surprising, the building of the American architect Frank Owen Gehry, is controversial, innovative and  beautiful. Every moment of the day has its charm. This is due to the combination of shapes and the use of titanium. You can hardly choose what is better: the moment when the sunlight falls from the side and creates rather large contrasts or the moment after sunset when the sky is not yet completely dark. Part of the art can be admired for free, such as the 12-meter high puppy covered with 70,000 flowers and the metal giant spider Maman on the Nervión side of the museum.

241 heavy steps
The next day we continue our journey to San Sebastián, via the highway about an hour's drive from Bilbao. But we take the route along the beautiful green coast of the Basque Country. And of course a visit to the small island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe cannot be missed. Attached to the mainland, you will find on this rocky island a small church. The island is named after John the Baptist, who visited the island according to local tradition. And Game of Thrones fans will recognize the setting, the cast made recordings for season 7. However, the way to get there is not easy. After a steep 1.5 kilometer walk down, you climb another 241 steps. According to the legend you ring the bell 3 times when the church arrives to make a wish and banish evil spirits.

Gastronomic capital of Spain
San Sebastián is known as the gastronomic capital of Spain. No fewer than three restaurants have three Michelin stars (the maximum score) and there are also six star restaurants (one or two stars). Here is also the first gastronomic faculty in the world, where talented chefs are trained. In the Basque Country you do not eat 'tapas' but 'pinxos'. So try it! There is plenty of choice, but as a Bask you take at most one or two pintxos and each bar has its own specialty. With that you drink a glass of Txakolina, the white wine from this region. Almost everyone in San Sebastián is a member of a ´sociedades gastronómica´. These are places, completely furnished with kitchen, where you meet every week. Either with other members of the association or with their families or friends. Cooking is usually done by 2 or 3 of the members. After dinner the costs are calculated and distributed to everyone who eats at the table.

Beach, sea and surfing
The inhabitants of San Sebastián (in Basque the city is called Donostia) are very proud of La Concha, the shell. That is the name of the bay where the city is located. Outsiders compare the beach with the Copacabana of Rio de Janeiro. The city has three beaches. On the west side the boulevard starts at Playa de Ondarreta. Locals who want peace, swim from here to the islet of Santa Clara. Young people and surf enthusiasts prefer to go to Playa de Zurriola, across the Urumea River in the Gros district. Here are the waves at its best. And even if it rains, I see enough surfers in the water. A beautiful spectacle between people and nature. And to talk about the weather: that was the only downside of this weekend. The Basque Country has a maritime climate. And that means occasional showers. But luckily the sun comes out again 5 minutes later.

3 days in the Basque country stands for: culture, nature, history, but mainly culinary enjoyment. And so we returned at least 2 kilos more to Leon. Want to know more about the Basque Country and our offer? Click here.