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World map in IKEA under a light bulb
World map in IKEA under a light bulb
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Life > Experiences

5 Reasons You Should Visit Basque Country

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Spanning four Spanish provinces and three French provinces, Basque Country is a highly underrated region of Western Europe. This summer, I spent six weeks studying in Donostia-San Sebastián, the capital of the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, in northern Spain. Here are just a few reasons why you should spend some quality time in this gorgeous city and incorporate this impressive cultural region into your next European vacation.

Cameron Smith-Water Beach Waves Abroad Spain Barcelona Europe Sunny
Cameron Smith / Her Campus

Spain is known for its tapas, but up in Basque Country, you will never hear that word. You will, however, hear the Basque word pintxos. Pintxos are much like tapas in that they are small portions meant to be shared. San Sebastian’s pintxos are most commonly seafood-based – lots of anchovies, squid, cod, mussels, shrimp, and the like. The traditional pintxo of Basque Country is called gilda, a skewer of olive, anchovy, and a hot green pepper called Gernika. Another popular Basque dish is txipirón, or squid, traditionally served in a sauce made from its own ink! I tried it while in Donostia and it was delicious, albeit a bit visually intimidating. Also, did you know the Basques have their own unique cheesecake? To me, it’s a cross between a cheesecake and a custard pie because the inside is intentionally underbaked, so when you slice into it, the middle oozes out and the smooth, rich interior cuts the bitterness of the slightly-burnt outside. It was to die for and its quality simply can’t be replicated. The original recipe was developed in the heart of Old Town, San Sebastian at La Viña restaurant. Making a trip here is a Basque Country must-do for food lovers. This burnt Basque cheesecake, served with a glass of sherry, was a food memory I’ll never forget.

Weather and Natural Beauty

The climate in Basque Country is milder than in popular Spanish tourist regions such as Andalucía, where temperatures soar during the summer months. When I studied in Donostia during May and June, the average temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so there weren’t many days when I felt swamped by the heat. This allows visitors to soak up all the sightseeing in a comfortable way. The region also is wetter than others in Spain, so the greenery is gorgeous and the surrounding mountains are lush with trees. It’s a perfect balance, you can visit the beach or the mountains whenever you please. Surfing in Basque Country is another must-do while visiting the area. I lived just two blocks away from the most popular surfing beach in San Sebastián, la Zurriola. Unbeatable!


Linguistically, San Sebastián is a fascinating place because it’s truly a bilingual city. All of the street signs and public transportation systems are presented in both Spanish and Euskara. Euskara is the native language of the ethnic Basques who have occupied the region for centuries. Euskara is a language isolate, meaning it’s completely unrelated to the common languages of the surrounding area (French and Spanish). Its existence in the region predates the arrival of the Romans, so its survival throughout the years is a remarkable feat, especially as it has faced a huge amount of linguistic discrimination. I was fortunate enough to take a course while studying in Donostia in which I learned conversational Euskara. Open your ears and everywhere you go, you’ll surely hear the word, Agur, which is used interchangeably to mean both “Hello” and “Goodbye” in Euskara. It’s the only word you need to know in order to get by. If you’re curious to learn more, you can pick up Euskara vocabulary from locals as you spend time in the city. They appreciate it when people make an effort to learn their language!


San Sebastián is conveniently located near several major cities. The bus station is easily accessible and is located just across the street from the train station. Tickets are affordable and schedules are regular. You’ll never feel confined to San Sebastián while visiting. Visit the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao or run with the bulls in Pamplona; each city is just an hour’s ride from San Sebastián. You can easily cross the French border to visit gorgeous coastal cities such as Biarritz and Bayonne. Exploring the smaller cities and towns around Donostia like Hondarribia, Irún, Zugarramurdi, and Zarautz helps to encapsulate the full Basque culture. While Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris have plenty to provide, there’s something special about exploring these lesser-known places that also offer an enriching cultural experience. 


Basque culture is completely distinct from Spanish culture or French culture because it reflects a unique ethnic group. It’s important to understand this before visiting the region. Enter with a curious mind and you can learn about the challenges the Basques have historically struggled with and continue to face. Their language has been revived after threats of extinction and other aspects of their culture, such as music, literature, and food, are gaining more appreciation thanks to efforts from local Basque people. Try visiting Ibartubeiti Baserria, a reconstructed Basque farmhouse, or el Museo de las Brujas, a museum outlining the history of witch hunts in Zugarramurdi.

Whether you’re going to try the pintxos, learn Euskara, or experience the incredible surfing, any amount of time spent in Basque Country will be unforgettable. Be sure to work it into your travel plans if you find yourself in Spain. You won’t regret it!

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Grace Bertagna

U Mass Amherst '23

Grace Bertagna is a sophomore at UMass Amherst studying Spanish and Sociology. She enjoys painting, practicing yoga, cooking, and playing ice hockey.