This article was originally published in the 2019 Summer issue of Invest In Style Magazine.

 

By all means brush up on your Spanish before you go, but rest assured, once you’re in Basque Country, words will fail you. From the cobblestone streets and baroque architecture of the old villages to the curvy, titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, this region successfully embraces its cultural past while it welcomes a cosmopolitan future.

 

 

Tucked around the Bay of Biscay, where cliffs plunge into the Atlantic, the Basque Country is not a country at all, although it does have its own language (Euskara), flag and proud history. The autonomous region straddles the border between northern Spain and southwest France, along the Pyrenees. A ceasefire declared in 2010 ended the violence which marked the region for decades, and ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity. Now the Basque Country, with its breathtaking coastline, contemporary arts scene and many Michelin-starred restaurants, offers an ideal European holiday.

 

Considered by many to be the gastronomic capital of Europe, food in the Basque Country is a mix of old-world cooking and twenty-first century culinary innovation. In San Sebastián there are more than 100 gastronomic societies, where men do all the cooking – and cleaning up. A few miles south of the coast, surrounded by gently sloping mountains, Bilbao’s vibrant cultural scene and extraordinary architecture helped make it the Best European City of 2018. Near Bilbao, Restaurante Azurmendi, the most sustainable restaurant in the world, has its own on-site winery, greenhouse and food lab. Barhopping is a sport in the coastal city of San Sebastián, where proprietors compete for your attention with the freshest and most delicious pintxos (“peen-chose”). These savoury handheld appies (similar to Spain’s tapas) are made with fresh, local ingredients, particularly fish and seafood, set atop a piece of crusty bread and held together by a large toothpick or skewer. While each bar (there are hundreds), has its own personality, most are loud and lively places. Amidst the friendly banter and dozens of colourful dishes, how do they keep track of what you owe? Simple – save your skewers and present them to be counted. Old world trust and new world economies. While you could easily live on pintxos alone, you don’t have to – the city boasts a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Arzak, a three-star, four generation family-run restaurant, consistently lands on the list of top 50 restaurants in the world.

 

 

Luxury beachside mansions and condos look onto La Concha, San Sebastián’s urban beach, framed by an ornate white railing, the iconic symbol of this old and beautiful city. Outdoor festivals, concerts, opera and children’s programming are all reasons why, in 2016, San Sebastián was awarded the title of Europe’s Cultural Capital.

 

 

Rent a car and drive along the quieter roads to appreciate the towns and village of the Basque region. Hondarribia, a coastal village on the border with France, with its immaculate houses and colourful balconies, is a must for food lovers. In the centre of La Rioja Alavesa, the Basque Country’s main wine region, the walled village of Laguardia sits on a hill. The village was built long ago on a series of tunnels and cellars, for military purposes. Now local wineries use the cellars for wine-making and many welcome visitors to appreciate their centuries-old artisanal process. The microclimate in La Rioja Alavesa is almost always sunny in summer.

 

You may already know Gaztelugatxe by its other name, Dragonstone, from the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones. The rocky islet in the Bay of Biscay joins the mainland by a set of steep, curving steps, set into a narrow stone foot bridge. Perched atop Gaztelugatxe, a tiny chapel, rebuilt many times since its medieval origins, offers jaw-dropping views of the dramatic Basque coastline. Make your way to the top, take in a deep breath of fresh sea air… and plot your next move.

Older Blog Posts