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Stoke’s Brief Guide To The Basque Country
It’s our favourite place, where Stoke Travel began (with surf tours up and down the French and Spanish Basque Country, over a decade ago!), a part of the world that combines European modernity with an ancient culture, perfect waves with cities that rage all night long. The Basque Country has it all, and that’s why we continue to return after all these years — to take advantage of the surf and the food and the beautiful, green hills that spill down from the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Gosh we like it.
Like all special places the Basque Country has unique peculiarities that can confuse the first time traveller.
It’s not Spain, it’s not France
Geographically, yes the Basque Country does straddle the Atlantic Coast of south France and north Spain, and politically, sure the Basques do officially reside in France and/or Spain, but… Historically the Basques have been a separate nation and culturally they still are in many regards. You run the risk of offending some good people if you don’t acknowledge that the Basque Country is a different and unique place within the sovereign states of France and Spain, heck they’ve even got their own language, and it sure is a doozy.
Nobody else speaks their language, nothing even like it
Most languages in the world are descended from, or related to, other languages. Just to focus on Western Europe, there are the germanic tongues — English, Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, etc — and the latin languages — Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, French and Spanish — with the latter group being the result of Roman occupation in this part of the world. Now you’d assume that the Basques, nestled there in between France and Spain, would have a similar tongue to their neighbours, but that would be a big mistake. Let’s have a little look. In French, the beach is la plage. In Spanish it’s la playa. In Portuguese, a praia, and in Italian la spiaggia. They are all similar, and that’s because they are all related to each other and born from the same linguistic parent. But the beach in Basque? Hondartza. Hon-fucking-dartza. The Basques have their own language, and they love it! You’ll see Basque emblazoned on menus and street signs, spoken on the tv and radio, spray painted on walls. Scholars don’t really know where the language came from, but they’re pretty sure that it’s the last remaining pre-Roman language, like a spoken prehistoric artifact that’s our last lived example of what people on the continent sounded like before the conquering started. Anyway, this is all a bit academic. All you need to know is that you don’t say hola, you say kaixo, and goodbye isn’t au revoir, it’s agur.
The greatest food
The Basque Country is a gastronomic dream, especially on the Spanish side where, for a while, San Sebastian boasted more Michelin star (read: fancy) restaurants than anywhere else in the world, bar Paris! And while they no longer can claim that statistic, there are still more world-class fine-dining restaurants than we’ll ever be able to afford to visit, as well as every second storefront being a pintxos (Basque tapas) bar. The Basque Country is famous for its meat and cider, its lightly sparkling txakoli wine, its seafood (cod!) and so much more. You might not dine in any of the fancy restaurants, but you can still reward and challenge your tastebuds in just about every bar. There’s too much to recommend anything in particular, just choose something weird looking (the food is often pre-prepared and presented on the bar top) and dive in. Should only cost you a couple of bucks for a world-class culinary experience.
And there’s so much more! But you’ll have to come and experience it for yourself. The Stoke Travel San Sebastian Surf Camp is open all summer, from June until September, nestled in the beautiful green hills behind the surf beach, and the crew are just dying to show you around their favourite place on earth.