In early September, 2023, we traveled to Bilbao, Spain, to attend a reunion of Alliance Schlumberger, an organization of retired Schlumberger professionals from all over the world. After the reunion we spent several more days on our own in the area, becoming familiar with Basque Country.
There are predominantly Basque populations in both Spain and across the border into France. In Spain, Basque Country, officially, is one of the semi-autonomous regions of the country and consists of three provinces (Álava, Gipuzkoa, and Biscay). Click here for a map. There are Basques living throughout northern Spain beyond the borders of their region, however.
From Wikipedia: The Basque country is located in the western Pyrenees, straddling the border between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. Euskal Herria is the oldest documented Basque name for the area they inhabit, dating from the 16th century. It comprises the Autonomous Communities of the Basque Country and Navarre in Spain and the Northern Basque Country in France. The region is home to the Basque people (Basque: Euskaldunak), their language (Basque: Euskara), culture and traditions. The area is neither linguistically nor culturally homogeneous, [however].
Basques are genetically unique in Europe, Their language and physical features being two indications. The population was isolated from the rest of Spain since before Roman times and developed separately, according to this article. Politically, their region is part of Spain, and fortunately the terrorists of the Basque separatist movement (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna[, ETA) disarmed and disbanded in 2018.
The area is striking in several ways. First, to us, was the geology. The steep limestone mountains and valleys near the coast give way, as you travel south, to a higher plateau surrounded by mountains. The coastal areas are lush and green, and the southern portion that borders the Rioja wine region and Navarre is hotter and dryer. Secondly, the cities, especially the bigger ones like Bilbao and San Sebastian, are cleaner and appear to be more prosperous than one might expect, owing probably to their diversified, but tourism-driven economies. Third, the food is great. Basques take pride in their culture and food is a major part of it. And fourth is the art, most strikingly on display at the Guggenheim in Bilbao and at Chillida Leku near San Sebastian. But even the smaller towns, like Haro and Gernika, have a lot of art on display.
There is much to see and experience and we only scratched the surface on this trip.
© Tom Lebsack 2023
Banner photo taken at Chillida Leku, Hernani