Urgull Mountain. San Sebastián. Ignacio Muñoz-Seca / © ICEX
The Basque Country, located in the north of Spain, includes the provinces of Álava, Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya, the last two being on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The region spans an area of 7,230.33 sq. kilometers / 2,791.6 sq. miles and has a population of 2,193,093. The capital city is Vitoria.
This autonomous region encompasses two large agricultural areas: on the one hand, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa, where the climate and land are suitable for livestock breeding, and on the other, Álava, where grains and vineyards are predominant.
The beef and milk produced on Basque farms are highly appreciated throughout the country. The region has large herds of sheep, whose milk is used both for artisan or industrial cheese making, as well as its sale at local markets.
The Basque fishing fleet consists of over 257 vessels and catches reach 83,700 tons a year. In fact, 12% of the Spanish fish preserving industry is located in the Basque Country.
The greater part of wine production is concentrated in the south (Rioja Alavesa) and is encompassed in the Qualified Designation of Origin Rioja (DOCa), while the predominant wine made along the coastal areas is a young, acid white called txakoli (which is likewise protected by its respective designations of origin: Txakoli de Vizcaya, Txakoli de Álava y Txakoli de Guetaria). There is significant cider production, particularly in the provinces of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa.
Read more: Wines from Spain
Basque Country was visited by 1.330,036 foreign tourists in 2012.
Bilbao is the home of the Guggenheim Museum, located in the revolutionary building designed by Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry, and housing artwork belonging to the world-famous New York collection.
Just a few kilometers from the Guggenheim Museum is Bilbao's Puente Colgante (Vizcaya Hanging Bridge), an outstanding work of 19 th-century civil engineering, built to link the two banks of the Nervión river. In 2006, it was named World Heritage by UNESCO.
San Sebastián is a charming city facing the sea at the spectacular beach of La Concha. The city was previous the Civil War (1936-1939) the favorite summer holiday retreat of the Spanish Royal Family and today still preserves its appeal as a beautiful, quality tourist destination.
In the interior, Álava is presently witnessing a rapid rise in wine tourism, promoted by the wineries of the area. Elciego and Laguardia are two beautiful towns, laid out in medieval times, which are home to some of the oldest wineries in this traditional wine-making area known as La Rioja Alavesa, as well as other new ones with avant-garde architecture.
The Basque Country is a region of vast wealth in ecological and natural beauty. The Urdaibai estuary has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO, and the area also is home to the natural parks of Valderejo, Urkiola, Aralar, Pagoeta and Aiako Harria.
In 2012, the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) awarded the beaches in Basque Country 4 blue flags, and one for a marina.
More info: Euskadi…made in
The Basque Country preserves its traditional language, Euskera or Basque, as well as a marked cultural identity with a rich and diverse tradition manifested, for instance, in its literature, gastronomy and certain rural sports.
During the summer months (July and August), the Basque Country becomes Europe's favorite haunt for jazz-lovers, with jazz festivals in Vitoria, San Sebastián and Getxo. And San Sebastián turns into the capital of the best cinema for the two weeks of its International Film Festival, held annually in the month of September, mainly at the Kursaal Congress Center.
In the field of sports, the Basque Country has made efforts to preserve its traditional sports, one of which is pelota, taken by Basque emigrants across the Atlantic to Florida and Mexico, amongst other places.
The list of universally famous Basques includes: Saint Ignacio de Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Compañía de Jesús (Order of Jesus); Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), philosopher and writer; Pío Baroja (1872-1956), novelist; and Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), sculptor.
During the month of August, local holidays are celebrated one after another in the three Basque capitals: Aste Nagusia in Bilbao, the Semana Grande in San Sebastián, and the fiesta of the Virgen Blanca of Vitoria.
Many gastronomic fiestas celebrating traditional products and dishes take place throughout the year all over the region.
The Basque Country has one of the richest and most innovative cuisines in Spain, based on a solid gastronomic tradition, and a wealth of internationally famous restaurants such as Arzak, Akelare (belonging to chef Pedro Subijana), Mugaritz (Andoni Luis Aduriz) or Martín Berasategui.
Fish dishes include cod, tuna, hake, sea bream, sardines and anchovies. Marmitako, a fisherman's stew of tuna and potatoes, and little cuttlefish cooked in their own ink are typical Basque recipes.
Restaurants specialising in roast meats (asadores) are very popular, and the arrival of autumn brings with it a vast array of seasonal mushroom dishes.
Desserts generally feature milk from the numerous livestock herds of the region: leche frita (deep fried custard slices), mamía (curdled sheep's milk), intxaursalsa (milk pudding with cinnamon and walnuts), cuajada (milk curds)... and the outstanding Idiazabal cheese .
It is essential to note the three basic institutions of Basque gastronomy: the txiquiteo or poteo (which consists of having tapas, going from bar to bar in the old quarters of any of the region's cities); the cider-houses of Guipúzcoa, which serve cider directly from the barrel and fixed menus including cod omelette and large T-bone steaks; and the sociedades gastronómicas (dining clubs) or txokos, private clubs of friends who are food-lovers and gather for meals together.