We know this region like the back of our hand because Totally Spain started out in the Basque Country and we were one of the first tour operators arranging trips into the region after the Guggenheim opened in 1997. We know and have worked with all of the best hotels, restaurants and pintxos bars in the area and thought, we’d explain what visitors here can enjoy….
The Gastronomy of the Basque Country – the Best in the World
It’s never been a better time to visit the Basque Country and taste some of the wonderful Basque cuisine in the city’s many tapas bars and wonderful restaurants. As you know, San Sebastian is home to three of the World’s Best Restaurants in 2014 – Mugaritz (number 6), Arzak (number 8) and Martin Berasategui (number 35). Don’t forget that you also have Azurmendi (number 26) and Asador Etxebarri (number 34) in the Basque Country. San Sebastian is also well known for its brilliant tapas bars which are groaning with some of the nicest and most handsomely presented pintxos you’ll ever see.
The Wines and Wineries from and near the Basque Country
The wine-regions of La Rioja and La Rioja Alavesa are literally sneezing distance away. You can visit the Frank Gehry designed Marques de Riscal winery, Calatrava’s Ysios winery and of course lots of the smaller more traditional spaces. Many of the wineries offer tastings, tours and you can also dine there too. What could be more romantic than a special meal in one of Spain’s top wineries? Oh – and you have to try the Txakoli dry white wine from the Basque Country. Less well known internationally but very nice too…
The Big Basque City – Bilbao
Although Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Country, Bilbao is the largest city and the location of the international airport. Best known for its stunning Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao is one of Europe’s popular city destinations. Once a declining industrial city, it is now wonderfully modernised – and you can easily spend a few days here exploring the new and old architecture, enjoying some art, shopping and great food again. Architecture fans have a lot to admire – we especially love the Fosteritos – the metro stations entrances. And the walk from the Guggenheim by the riverside into the old quarter is brilliant.
Basque Culture, Traditions & Festivals
You probably know that there is a Basque language – Euskera. And you may have seen pictures the traditional ‘boina‘ or beret. You’ll find there are fantastic festivals celebrated and traditions marked in this region. The Basques were a sea-faring nation and you’ll see this today – in the strong rowing traditions and in the cuisine. But inland, there is just as much to see and celebrate. Basque rural sports such as stone carrying and wood chopping and the tug-of-war always attract a crowd. In every village and town you’ll see regional sports such as the Basque pelota and you may come across ochotes – choirs of eight men – especially popular in Bilbao.
When to Travel? Tips for Trips?
Whether it’s a long weekend (we did one of those in Vitoria recently) or the beginning of an extensive journey around Spain or a short trip before connecting onto Portugal, we have lots of suggestions. Or maybe you want to walk some of the Camino de Santiago – well it passes through the Basque Country. Check out our Basque Country suggested tours – some of the most popular of our suggested tours.
Where to Stay?
If you are looking to stay near Vitoria, we recommend the parador at Argomaniz which is just 15 mins by car from the airport. It’s been recently renovated (as we saw on our recent trip) and is a wonderful old palace and a great touring base for the region. Get in touch with us for details of the best hotels in the cities of Bilbao, San Sebastian and of course, the handiest hotels for visiting the wineries in Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja.