Five ways El Pais Vasco is better than the rest of Europe (and probably the world too…)

I think I have found my favorite region in the entire world. You may say whoa hold on a minute here, for a travel writer this is a bold statement! There are always new incredible places to travel but it will be a tall order to find someplace that is in the same league.

The spanish basque country offers something for everyone, whether you are a hard core adventure lover, a foodie in search of an in-progress food revolution, a culture lover that wants a glimpse inside a culture that has 12,000 year old roots or someone looking for a zen escape to get away from it all (and I do mean everything).

When I say basque country you may be wondering what part of the world I am actually talking about, check it out.

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I have spent the last few weeks walking all across the basque country on the Camino del Norte trail (more on that in a later post) but I can tell you I have covered some serious kilometers in El Pais Vasco and am pretty convinced that everything that makes the perfect vacation can be found in these borders.

Authors Note: Before you read on and look at these pictures, consider yourself warned – you will want the basque country to be your next vacation. 

1. Beaches, cliffs, and other spectacular scenery that truly will blow your mind.

 The Basque country has no shortage of panoramic vistas, charming seaside villages, and dramatic scenery where the oceans meets the cliffs at the base of the Pyrenees.

If you aren’t overwhelmed at some point by this scenery, than you have a heart of stone.

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  1. Pintxos, Pintxos, and more Pintxos!

If you walk down Calle Fermín Calbetón in San Sebastián around lunch time peering in and you will see plate after plate on the bar of tasty small snacks called Pintxos all available for your taking. You can’t go wrong with making your first stop at Bar Goiz-Argi, a favorite with locals.

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 You cozy up to the bar, order a glass of the local sparkling white wine called Txocholi which will be poured with theatrical flair high place to give it more life aka aeration. Don’t like white wine? Order instead the local sidra, a delightfully rustic sour hard cider perfect for washing down fresh anchovy tempura, spicy patatas bravas and muscles pulled out of the sea that morning. Each bar has it’s specialty, so definitely don’t be shy asking for a recommendation from the man behind the bar, you are in the hands of a professional.

If it’s really busy just grab a couple of things that look appealing, settle in for local people watching and get ready for an adventure for your palate. A couple of euros later you come away having tasted delicious food combinations, the bars local speciality and have a belly full of good wine.

For good reason the rally cry of the group I have been walking the camino del norte has definitely been PINXCHO!!!

We attempted the wine aeration in a scenario without a glass, the result was not the same – a glass is recommended.


3. A museum for all of the senses (expect taste – you probably shouldn’t lick the museum)

Even people who don’t enjoy museums can find something to like at Bilboa’s Guggenheim museum.

As the centerpiece of a bold new skyline built on the former site of an industrial wasteland the Guggenheim is more than a museum – it is a symbol for the re-birth of an industrial city into an exciting cultural destination. Although the collection of art is no better than those in Europe’s other modern art museums the building itself designed by Frank Gehry is the main attraction.

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Too cheap for the entry fee? Just sitting outside the building is a cultural experience.

4. The basque people There is a fierce sense of pride in the spanish basque and an overwhelming passion for their heritage and cultural that people really want to share with travelers.

In the town of Pasjales de San Juan, about 20km before San Sebastián I had the pleasure of joining the local party to celebrate the new recycling plan that has been implemented. What other country has a party with lamb and sidra to celebrate a new recycling plan?? In typical Basque style we were invited to take part.

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The fierce independence and famous stubbornness of the Basque showed even at this simple party with some village members protesting the new plan by hanging blue garbage bags out their windows as a sign of defiance.

5. Euskara Ever wanted to try one crazy language? Meet Euskara, the language of the Basque people. Euskara and the Basque culture, which were long suppressed under the regime of Generalísimo Franco are once again thriving and as a result you can hear Euskara spoken on the streets.

Euskara is related to no other surviving languages and has likely been used since neolithic times – making it very likely the oldest european language that is still spoken. Filled with k’s, tx’s and z’s to the un-accustomed ear it can sound like gibberish or a secret code.

These five things are really just the tip of the iceberg, make this trip and I guarantee you will find some of your own magic in El Pais Vasco.