Rick Steves' Europe
Basking in history, beuty in the Basque region
As Europe unites, ethnic regions suddenly seen by established nations as less of a threat are freer to wave their flags, speak their languages and celebrate their uniqueness. You feel that in Basque country — where France, Spain, and the Atlantic come together.
Insulated from mainstream Europe for centuries, this plucky region has maintained its spirit while split between Spain and France. Proud of their language and culture, many locals can switch effortlessly from Euskara (the Basque language) to Spanish or French. Euskara is unrelated to other west European languages. Play Scrabble here and you're into some big scores — the language is filled with k's, tx's, and z's. Restrooms in Basque are "gizonak" for men and "emakumeak" for women.
The highlights of a quick visit to Basque country are France's enticing town of St. Jean-de-Luz, and Spain's resort of San Sebastian, historic Guernica and the Guggenheim modern art museum in Bilbao.
San Sebastian, with easy 60-minute bus connections to each and the best tapas (fun appetizers) scene anywhere, is the ideal springboard. Shimmering above the breathtaking bay of La Concha, elegant and prosperous San Sebastian has a favored location with golden beaches, capped by twin peaks at either end. Its delightful beachfront promenade runs the length of the bay, with an intriguing Old Town at one end and a smart shopping district in the center. It has 180,000 residents and almost that many tourists in summer. With a romantic setting, a soaring statue of Christ gazing over the city, and a late-night lively Old Town, San Sebastian has a Rio de Janeiro aura.Continues...
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