Basque Country: A Proud, Unique Culture

The independent-minded Basques are notorious
for being headstrong, but as a culturally and
linguistically unique land surrounded by bigger
and stronger nations, the Basques have learned
to compromise while maintaining
their identity. Much unites the Spanish
and French Basque regions. They both share a striking
Atlantic coastline, with communities reaching
far into the Pyrenees. They have the same flag,
similar folk music and dance, and a common language, spoken by
about a half-million people. And both, after some struggles,
have been integrated by their respective nations. The French Revolution quelled
French Basque ideas of independence,
and in the 20th century, Spain’s general Franco attempted to tame his own
separatist-minded Basques. But in the last generation,
things are improving. The long-suppressed Basque
language is enjoying a resurgence, and because the European Union
is interested in helping small ethnic regions
as well as big countries, the Basques are enjoying
more autonomy. So, just who are
the Basques? Sure, you can still find a few
beret-capped shepherds that fit the traditional cliche, but the vast majority of Basques
are modern and relatively prosperous
city dwellers. Widespread Spanish
and French immigration has made it difficult to know who actually has Basque
ethnic roots. Locals consider anyone
who speaks the Basque language
to be Basque. If you know where to look, Basque customs are strong
and lively, perhaps nowhere more so than in
one of their favorite sports, called “jai alai.” Players use a long wicker basket
to whip a ball, smaller and far harder
than a baseball, off walls at more than
150 miles per hour. For less adrenaline,
but just as much Basque culture, there’s the institution of
the men’s gastronomic club. These clubs are common
throughout Basque country and range from
the more working class communal kitchen
type of place to the fairly highbrow,
more exclusive version with extensive wine cellars and gastronomic libraries. The club serves
several functions. Traditionally, Basque society
is matrilineal, women run the show at home. These provide
a men’s night out. It’s also a place
where friends who’ve known each other
since grade school can enjoy quality time together,
speaking Basque and savoring traditional ways
in an ever faster world. And it’s a place where men
cook together and celebrate the famed Basque
culinary traditions.

  1. We do! We offer many itineraries throughout Europe. Please see the description above for the link to our Rick Steves European Tours webpage. Happy travels!

  2. Do you guys work through travel agents or is it strictly within your own company? I'd love to start booking Rick Steves tours 😀

  3. Have been here too! It was amazing! Spent a weekend with some lovely friends and we danced at one of their annual festivals! It was such fun! 🙂

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