Basque Tours

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Basque tours are sure to delight any visitor. The region lies in the northeast of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay, just west of the Pyrenees. Long famous for its ethnic and linguistic distinction from all things European and Spanish, the Basque culture is rich, unpretentious, and vital. The countryside is rugged and wet, yet inviting. The language--Euskera--is a pre-Indo-European tongue that continues to baffle linguists.

Highlights of Basque Tours

The region is made up of three provinces. Vizcaya sits on the Bay of Biscay coast just to the west of Guipozcoa, which borders the Pyrenees. Inland from both is Alava, renowned for its wineries. The three major cities of the Basque region are Bilbao, San Sebastian-Donostia, and Vitoria-Gasteiz. Almost without exception, Basque tours emphasize Bilbao, established in 1300, and its Guggenheim museum.

Traditionally the Basques farmed small holdings--called caserio--around which their culture revolved. Shipbuilders, they were also seafarers who played a large role in Spain's exploration in the Americas. They were, for example, among the first to make the most of the cod fisheries off Newfoundland. Their ethnic closeness and geographic location also made smuggling a traditional activity as well.

Today Basque tours will reveal a thriving and industrial economy, based largely on steel-making, shipbuilding, and shipping. The city of Bilbao is the industrial hub of northern Spain and a great point from which to explore the region. Basque cuisine is neither elite nor elaborate, but is renowned worldwide regardless. Seafood, of course, is a prime ingredient. Beef, fed on the alpine grasses of the Pyrenees, is also favored. Cheeses are a tradition, as are the Rioja wines of Alava.

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