Saturday, October 23, 2010

FAQ: What is the Basque Country

***Note: To find Mark's Guidebook to the Basque Country, click here***

I’ve been talking about the ‘Basque Country’ in familiar terms so far, assuming that everyone knows exactly what it is.  Let me back up and better explain my subject of interest – the Basque Country and the Basque People.  

Welcome to Basqueland

The Basque Country is essentially an unrecognized country within a country. It is a collection of seven provinces wedged between France, Spain, the Pyrenees and the North Atlantic.  Four provinces are in Spain, three provinces are in France, but no single nation unites all seven.

The Basque Country is one of many sub-cultures within modern Spain, minority cultures that have gradually been dwarfed by the cultural dominance of their larger, more powerful neighbors - in this case, Spain.  Foreigners might not know much about the Basque Country, but the culture here is alive and strong.  

The Basques have a flag, a common language, and a extensive set of traditions distinct from the Spanish and French, but they have not been fully independent for over five hundred years.  Surrounded by the dominant powers of France and Iberia, the Basques have spent most of their history as self-governing subjects of greater powers.  

The Basque Country has always been difficult to define.  It has been described as a no-man's land between France and Spain and each language calls it something different.  The Spanish call it El País Vasco, and the French, Le Pays Basque, from which we get the English name, The Basque Country, or Basqueland.  Many Basques call it Euskadi, but the most accurate term is Euskal Herria - literally, The Land of the Basque Speakers.  
Euskera, the Basque language, unites all seven provinces on both sides of the Pyrenees.  I live in the province of Gipuzkoa (Guipúzcoa in Spanish), the coastal province squeezed between France and the westernmost province, Bizkaia (Vizcaya).  To my south are the interior provinces of Araba (Alava) and Nafarroa  (Navarra).

On the French coast we find Lapurdi (French: Labourd), home of Biarritz.  Following the Pyrennes inland we come across Benafarroa (Basse Navarre), and Zuberoa (Soule).  In total, seven provinces split into two countries, totaling only 8218 square miles.  

It extends from its upper limit at the Ardour River at Bayonne, France up over the Pyrenees to its natural southern boundary at the Ebro River in the dry Spanish wine region of La Rioja.   Unlike most of Spain, it is verdant, hilly, and wet, a land inextricably linked to both the secluded valleys of the hinterland and the open expanse of the North Atlantic.  

There you have the geographical description of the Basque Country, but a simple geographical definition does not do it justice.  For that, we must move to language.

***Click to read more about Mark's gastronomical guidebook to the Basque Country  ***


  1. Thanks so much. I loved this artical. It has helped me a bunch!

  2. Such a wonderful country

  3. I have done a reasonable amount of travel, but not to Iberia. A good introduction to I'm sure a beautiful,landscape and history, in a pocket of Europe not fully understood. May the world live as one.

  4. Mate I'm Australian and had the honour of walking in Basque country on the pilgrimage to Santiago. I was honoured by Basque hospitality and it is obvious to me the Basque people are a proud and unique people. This article is extremely well written, simple, honest and informative.

  5. I am a Catalan and I feel complete solidarity to the Basque people. We share many aspects of our history, such as being wedged between two oppressive greater powers, France and Spain. I hope we are both successful in achieving our indpendence.

    1. I'm a stupid Australian. I love the hospitality mate. oh my gosh, i'm so stupid mate