The People. Generous to a fault, the Basque people are always welcoming, and their strength and integrity becomes them. They are a resilient people despite a turbulent past, and their group way of life starts from babies in prams out to see the town to the tightly-knit kuadrilas of friends that are as loyal and caring as family.
The Food. Txakoli, tuna & txuleta are enjoyed sparkling in the glass and fresh off the grill. Our friends invited us over for lunch, and everything on the table was local—vegetables from the garden, anchovies preserved at home, cider from a brother’s orchard, cheese from his sheep. The natural, traditional delicacies that draw food-savvy tourists are everyday delights for the Basque people.
Land & Sea. The deep blue ocean’s salty breeze gently kisses the vine-laden hills. The coastal, mountainous geography both accentuates and defines the Basque lifestyle, and its heartland holds many beautiful and culturally rich places—Donostia–San Sebastián, Bayonne, Iruña–Pamplona, Bilbao, Donibane–St. Jean de Luz.
Small towns. The shepherds graze their sheep in the pasture as my daughter climbs up our fence to watch. The local school teacher gives our little one a huge kiss and hug each morning. And not only does the post office not mind if you forgot your wallet and have to pay tomorrow, they know you by name and ensure your mail follows you despite several addresses changes.
The festivals. With plenty of food, Herri Kirolak rural sports, and traditional music and dress, there seems to be a festival every other weekend, even in the rainy winter! Often a group of flutists and drummers marches through the town to announce the festival’s opening in the early morning, the grills are ignited for the txistorra or mackerel, and the Basque accordion trikitixa players compete while the irintzi yelling competitors warm up.
The Language. The oldest indigenous European language, with no Latin or Germanic roots, its richness lies not only in its complexities, but also the subtle cultural diversities it communicates by the speaker’s pronunciation and choice of words. The encouragement we get for attempting to learn Basque is overflowing, and the patience we find as we splatter our broken sentences, abundant.
Maybe it’s not all roses and txakoli? True, but there are plenty of reasons to linger in Euskal Herria or, at least, come back often!
Photos & Words by Jonathan McCallum