Basque Country is like a whole other world; it essentially is another country. It is on the northern coast of Spain and stretches into southwest France. Essentially many, many years ago, when the borders of Spain and France were created the Basque country was not taken into consideration so they did not become a country and were split between the two countries we know today. This didn’t ruin the Basque culture or change who the people were. We quickly learned when entering the beautiful town of Donostia-San Sebastian for the weekend that the Basques speak an entirely different language, which is not even remotely similar to Spanish or French! They have their own flag, which is very common in various autonomous communities throughout Spain, and also many symbols of peace for their country. Their culture and cuisine is rich throughout the city in many different ways, and today many Basques still desire independence to be their own country.
Donostia-San Sebastian is a city that has three peninsulas(I guess that’s what you can call it lol) that stick out to create two bays with two very popular beaches. We were lucky enough to stay on the middle one in what they call the core of the city that is the “Old Town” or “Antiguo”. The streets are filled with restaurants and shops full of people at all times of the day, singing, laughing and enjoying each others company. Despite it being a noisy area to stay, it is the best location in San Sebastian. The buildings spoke of the history that we were surrounded by, especially the white, iron railings lining The Concha Promenade, which overlooks the popular Concha Beach.
Close to the promenade and still in the same Old Town area is a small bay for docking the fishing boats that bring in what might be some of the greatest seafood.
Past the bay, you can walk around or start your hike up Mount Urgell, a hill that is at the very end of this middle peninsula. As you ascend up the hill, you can see old military cemeteries and barracks, and the views become more and more breathtaking. The top of Urgell has a large stature of Christ that overlooks the entire city for the absolutely unbelievable views. We also had troubles finally coming down the hill and exiting the park area…the cops stopped us and made us turn around because the King of Spain was in town and occupying one of the exits out of the park!
Mount Ulia is the hill to the east of San Sebastian, but is unfortunately closed due to conservation efforts. We at least got to see the city from a whole new view and watch a surfing competition!
On the west side, we had an interesting and exhilarating ride up Mount Igueldo. We are so, so, so, SO lucky we rented motorized bikes for the day, which are one of the coolest modes of transportation, but without those bikes we probably would not have made it to the top! It was extremely steep on all of the winding roads and the rain would have made the biking a little difficult. Despite some rain and clouds, when we finally reached the top it was completely worth the hard work we had put in. Then coming down the hill was the easy part:)
Last but most certainly not least, the cuisine and gastronomy of the Basques is completely out of this world. Pintxos, which are very similar to tapas, are a staple in the Basque country. They are small dishes usually with a skewer stuck into them laid out across bars, and essentially you just walk right on up to the bar and put whatever you want on your plate. They range from seafood bites to vegetable bites and so many combinations of different things. Many sheep and cows are also raised in the hills of the Basque country, so cheeses are often enjoyed in this area along with some amazing steaks(sorry Iowa!). A popular dessert, which we were able to enjoy many times, is cheese with apple marmalade(also made in the Basque region) and a walnut on top. It’s the perfect combination of savory and sweet, and a must-try if you ever visit the Basque country! Finally, the Basques are very well known for their apples and the hard cider that is made from them. The cider must be poured from very high to aerate it before it hits the glass, which was a fun thing for us to try! We were lucky to not only have cider on our last night, but also enjoy a traditional cider house dinner, which usually consists of a cod omelette, a cod dish, steak and of course cheese/apple/walnut dessert:)
UPDATE: Spain won their second game on Friday night against Turkey, 3-0!! That means we are moving on!