One knows they are in the Basque Country when they see words like ‘egun on’, ‘arratsalde on’ or ‘ikusi arte’ (good morning, good afternoon or until we meet again).
The written words of Euskara seem like a keyboard going berserk. This native tongue of the Basques bears no relation to Spanish, French or any other language. There is a folklore that the Basques can understand the language of the fish in the sea, which may not be too far fetched since they are excellent fishermen.
Two factors conditioned life in the Basque Country; the mountains and the sea. Located in the corner of the Bay of Biscay, where Spain’s curves around to meet France and straddling the Pyrenees, there are seven providences of which four are Spanish and three French and the residents ignore national borders.
Here are the best places to visit in Basque Country.
Previous Vitoria-Gasteiz’s inhabitants included the Visigoths in 581 who had named the town Victoriacum. Founded in 1180 by the Navarrese King Sancho VI, it was very short lived. It was overthrown in 1200 by the Castilian King Alfonso VIII after a long battle.
He immediately ordered that a church be built and its construction continued well into the 19th century in a Gothic motif. The bell tower was erected in between that period. In 1861, the church achieved the rank of ‘cathedral’ and in the 20th century, was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument.
The Santa Maria Cathedral (called the Old Cathedral) is situated on the highest points of the aged walled city. This is commonplace in most Spanish cities that no other building would ever tower its churches.
The ground plan is the Latin cross with a vaulted ceiling. There are three naves, with the central nave being the highest. The main doorway is interconnected to the life of the Virgin Mary. It nurtures the Ascension, Pentecost, the trip of the Apostles, and the death of the Virgin Mary to the coronation of the Virgin Mary by her Son.
Over the years, the church developed structural problems because its design kept changing nearly every century.
Since 1994, the church was closed due to the much needed restoration. The refurbishment process is completed in 2012.
Bilbao, like many other cities around the globe is situated on the banks of a river. The Nervion River was instrumental as a seafaring link to the Bay of Biscay, allowing the center of the city in the 12th and 13th centuries to blossom into a major commercial seaport.
Bilbao also developed large areas of heavy industry and relied upon its industry as its main source of income.
However, the city has reinvented itself thanks to the construction of a modern masterpiece. The Guggenheim Museum, made of titanium sheets, glass and limestone, opened in 1997.
The American architect Frank Gehry, built the museum upon the ruins of an immense shipyard. As soon as the Guggenheim opened, it was praised for its innovative design and is still a wonder to behold. Each and every day its appearance changes due to the reflection of light from the sky.
Housing modern art, the museum is often visited as much for its architecturally interesting exterior as much as the internal artwork.
The real heart of the museum lies in its interior. The immense Atrium is flooded with illumination by a skylight atop of its three levels of exhibition halls.
The museum has close to ninety modern art exhibitions on loan from the Guggenheim Foundation as well as objects within its permanent collection. The Guggenheim Museum has certainly given a boost to the industrial Bilbao and professes over ten million visitors each year.
Getaria is a coastal town that served as a whaling village during the Middle Ages. It is situated approximately 18 miles west of San Sebastián and functions as a fishing village. Two notable figures were born in this village.
Juan Sebastián Elcano (born 1476- 1526) was notable as a Spanish explorer and was second in command to Ferdinand Magellan. Eventually, he became the captain upon Magellan’s death. Alongside Magellan, Elcano completed the first circumnavigation of the world.
The other famous native of Getaria was couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga who accentuated the silhouette figure with his infamous “sack dress” of the mid-20th century.
A namesake museum honors Balenciaga’s sense of fashion and serves as a retrospect of his early years to the House of Balenciaga styles offered today.
A selection of apparel designed for celebrities and high profile women is part of the permanent exhibition. Several outfits of his favorite client, the late Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly are included.
The CB Foundation’s collection contains more than 1,200 items scheduled for exhibit on a rotating basis every 6 to 12 months.
The design of the large museum is just as innovative as the designer’s creativity. Rooted in a sleek black cube, the museum is grafted onto the side of a 19th-century villa.
Laguardia is a well preserved medieval hamlet founded in the year 1164. It is known for its massive tunnel system under the bedrock used for storing the wine of its neighboring Rioja wine country. Its vistas offer views more like that of Tuscany rather than the Spanish south.
The village is surrounded by an ancient wall that dates back to the 15th century and a maze of narrow cobblestoned streets.
The name “Laguardia” translates to “the guard”, most likely for its strategic position in the surrounding countryside.
In 1935, workers discovered an ancient village that apparently was razed to the ground. However, the archaeological researches and excavations didn’t begin until 1975.
The La Hoya Settlement Museum was built in 1986 to coincide with visits to the actual archaeological site, which dates from the first millennium BC.
Since most of the excavation site is in ruins, the visitor has a chance to see an actual dwelling as a life-size model. The recreation is built with adobe and stone and covered with grass with its interior complete with furnishings.
The museum also contains an informative view and highlights the culture, environment, day to day life and haunts of the ancient populace and their evolution between 1200 BC and 250 BC.
The museum utilizes interactive multimedia, photographs, drawings and texts to highlight ancient Laguardia even further.
San Sebastian is 12 miles from the French border and situated on the shores of the Bay of Biscay. The small city has been active since prehistoric times by the findings of unearthed utensil remains, dating from 24,000 to 22,000 BC.
Due to its main direct access out to the sea, it became an important seaport and was used as the main port of commerce to the Americas.
Despite its small size, the city plays host every year to the respected San Sebastian International Film Festival. It once was considered as elegant as Deauville in France for nobles who made it their summer retreat.
Today, San Sebastian remains a bustling beach town and everyone is bound to cross over the Zurriola Bridge. Sometimes called the Kursaal Bridge, it was constructed in 1915 over the River Urumea.
Due to the unremitting beating that the waves pound the city each winter, the original portions of the bridge have been restored several times.
However, it still contains its original lantern crafted in innovative styling that can be compared to Art Deco, even though it was placed on the bridge five years before the Deco era. The Erte-like lamps light up the mouth of the River Urumea making the evening the best time to take a stroll across it.