Living in Basque Country: What I Love and What I Hate

living_basque_country

I’ve been living in Basque Country for awhile now, and I am so happy I’m here! While there are definitely some things I miss about Andalucía, I have felt more at home in Euskadi in a few months then I ever did in the 3 years I spent in Spain’s south. I think every expat has their region in Spain, the place that claimed their heart and is like a second home, and mine is definitely Basque CountryMy years in Andalucía were a huge learning experience for me, full of lots of ups and downs, and moving was just what I needed to reignite my love for Spain all over again. From the people, to the natural beauty, to the Basque culture, here’s why I’m absolutely, positively enamored with Euskadi:

The Landscapes

San Sebastián La Concha

San Sebastián’s La Concha Beach

Rolling green hills, miles and miles of pristine coastline, snow-capped mountains, lush valleys, lakes, rivers, forests…do you realize how stunning this region is? Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but nobody would dare call Basque Country ugly.

The Lifestyle: El Txikiteo

Pintxos San Sebastian

Sampling pintxos in a Basque bar.

I’ve already written about El Txikiteo, the Basque tradition of bar-hopping for pintxos and small sips of wine and beer. I love this about the lifestyle here, and that people of legal drinking age to retirement take part. It’s such a defining part of Basque culture, where the cuadrilla (group of friends) gets together, rain or shine, to enjoy each other’s company over fast-paced consumption of food and drink. 

The People Walk with a Purpose

Cathedral San Sebastián

Most people here walk at a “normal” pace.

Andalucía, I love you, but (the vast majority) of your people walk painfully slow. I don’t expect speed-walkers, but I was constantly stuck behind someone going at a turtle’s pace; conveniently when I had somewhere to be. Blame it on the heat, blame it on the “mañana” attitude, but if you’re in a rush, prepare to be dodging lots of slow-pokes on the street. Meanwhile, here in Basque Country, while you’ll still get the ancianos teetering along the sidewalks, most people walk with a purpose. My kind of people!

The Cheap Public Transportation

trastevere-rome

I wish THIS was my form of transportation!

Bilbao easily has the best Metro I’ve ever seen; it’s clean, there are minimal weirdos hanging around, and it’s fast and efficient. Basque Country is also really well-connected by buses and trains, and the best part is that it’s cheap–especially if you’re staying within the same province. To cross Bizkaia on Bizkaibus will set you back about 3€.

The Basque Cider House (Sagardotegia)

Basque Cider House

A Basque Cider House

I am thrilled to be living in a region that celebrates the Basque cider season by cramming lots of hungry people in a cider house, plopping juicy steaks in front of them, and allowing them to fill their glass with cold cider as they please. I went to my first Sagardotegia earlier this year, and can’t wait to repeat this annually.

The Grandpas in Hats

basque txapela

I heart the adorable Basque grandpas!

Studies show that there is no higher concentration of grandpas in berets (known here as txapelas) than in Basque Country. 😉 I think the abuelitos are just darling in their hats, wouldn’t you agree? My blogging amiga Kaley does!

The Food & Wine

White wine

A glass of crisp, white wine.

This doesn’t require much explanation: I’m living in what’s arguably the nucleus of haute cuisine. And even if it’s not accompanied by a Michelin star, Basque food and wine is damn good, whether it’s traditional or contemporary. No complaints here!

The Basque Language & Culture

The Basque flag

The Basque flag!

I LOVE that I’m living in a region with such a rich history and culture. It sometimes feels like I’ve moved to a different country rather than just a different part of the same country. I’m discovering new things daily, from local fiestas to Basque folk dancing!

The Hiking

Hiking in Basque Country

Hiking in Basque Country

There are so many excellent hikes throughout Basque Country and I’m happily exploring the trails one by one. You can take the girl out of the Pacific Northwest, but you can’t take the Pacific NW out of the girl!

…and What I Hate About Living in Basque Country

I’m going to be honest here. There is really, truly nothing I hate about living in Basque Country. Really! There are a few things I would change if I could, but we can’t have everything, can we? Without further ado:

The Rain

I knew what I was getting into by moving here, but the incessant rain is slowly getting to me. We’re in mid-June and it’s still raining over here! Even my hometown of Seattle tends to get its act together by this time of the year.

Not Knowing Euskara

Just when I felt like I was getting somewhere with my Spanish, I moved to a place where I’m enveloped in Euskara! While in the big cities, there’s much more Spanish spoken than Basque, where I live, it’s definitely more Basque than Spanish. I’m tempted to start learning the language (I know a whopping 15 words/phrases or so) but they say learning Basque is like learning Japanese…that’s not intimidating at all! Anyway, this is by no means anyone else’s fault but mine.

The People Who Smoke in Bars

Ok, ok, you got me. This one I HATE. I’m really sensitive to cigarette smoke (makes me nauseous and bitchy) and every time I go out, there’s some jerk lighting up inside the bar, like he’s above the law or something. This drives me crazy! I would change this in a heartbeat.

 Photo of Cider House via Johnny Hunter and photo of Basque grandpa by a friend.

Comments

  1. says

    Yes, Yes, Yes, I agree with everything. Each time I visit Gipuzkoa I need to see see/smell three things before I feel like I’ve really arrived. 1. The strong and frequent smell of weed in the air, 2. The girls with the uncommonly short, blunt fringes (bangs) and 3. The old men in their black berets.

    If you like cider then check out Astarbe near Donostia. They celebrated 450 years of continuous operation last month. Now that was a party!

  2. says

    I was in San Sebastian and was completely taken! I love it there. I do agree that the rain is a bummer. All the rest is amazing though! loving your fotos and blog :) thanks for sharing…!

  3. says

    Love love love this! I definitely agree with you about the rain-it get super depressing, especially when you go weeks without seeing the sun. But it’s definitely worth it once you see all that green. And as for Euskara, one of my friends there who was taking classes said you have to pass 13 levels in order to be certified fluent! Crazy! My bf taught in Lekeitio and picked up a fair amount in 2 years, but it’s really, really challenging. You’ll get there!
    Liz recently posted…Favorite Pics From My Time in SpainMy Profile

    • says

      It’s so worth it for the green! And it IS possible to get tired of the sun. I know I missed the rain after living in Andalucía all those years. I didn’t realize your bf taught in Lekeitio! I didn’t realize they assigned auxiliares positions here.

  4. Richard says

    Hi, Just wondering about the surfing. Is it very crowded? What is the water temp range? Best time to go for a wave? Great piece and photos by the way!
    Rich

    • says

      I’m not a surfer, but I do know that the Basque Country has some great surfing spots. The most famous are Mundaka and Zarautz. As for best time to go/water temps, no idea I’m afraid!

    • Edu says

      Hi Richard! We love surfing here! As Christine said Mundaka and Zarautz are great spots but there are many others. Day by day there are more surfers in the water but there are also nice moments for relaxing surf with only a couple of mates. In winter the waves are much better, with big swells coming all along from the Northern Atlantic. But the water is for a 4/3, 11or 12 celsius degrees. During summer is time for small waves and crowded beaches… time to enjoy de local JAIAS! (the local festivals!)
      Come and enjoy the ride! 😉
      PD Love your post, Christine! Ongi etorri! Cheers!

  5. says

    I adore the Basque Country too. I was very curious as to what you would find to hate about it. But yes, the rain is a bit of a problem! There’s a reason why no Basque ever goes out without a big black umbrella.

    If I lived there I’d definitely want to learn at least some Euskara, but we found that Basques are generally very cool about speaking Castillano to strangers, unlike in some parts of Spain ::cough::Catalunya::cough::

    And the Basque haircut! I love it :) It’s everywhere, viz:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/larecettedujour/5404396163/in/set-72157625946683572
    Veronica recently posted…Pot-roasted wild boarMy Profile

    • says

      It’s hard to find anything to not like about living here, but those are all minor things that I can put up with. Basques are really cool about speaking in Castellano with foreigners. I’ve never once had a complaint.

  6. says

    Hey Christine,

    Sounds like you’re having fun up north. I’ve been in Sevilla for about 8 years now and there’s a few things I hate, mainly the heat, closed minded and generally moany locals, and the taxi drivers! I’ve been up north a few times, loved Santander, Oviedo, Gijon, and La Coruna and I’d easily live up there. Agree with you about the slow walkers of Seville…especially coming from London. Funny watching them wait at the traffic lights even when no cars are coming. Anyway, great blog. Love the layout too.

    Thanks

    Barry
    Barry O’Leary recently posted…Living the Dream in OaxacaMy Profile

  7. says

    Yes, the weather’s crucial. Seem to remember a UK chat show host Jonathan Ross, who’s also a renowned film critic, interviewing a Hollywood star who had some connection with Seattle. Ross, “Seattle would be the most beautiful city in the world if it wasn’t for its climate.” Hollywood star, “You’re not wrong, Jonathan.” I paraphrase rather than quote.
    Matthew Hirtes recently posted…Playa del InglesMy Profile

    • says

      It bothers me too. It’s actually been outlawed here for a few years, but people just tend to not have a lot of respect for this particular law in smaller towns. That’s awesome that you’re coming here! You’ll love it, I’m sure.

      • bnanno says

        Actually since the law came into force, we have never once come across anyone smoking inside a bar or restaurant. We are usually in Bilbao, Barakaldo, Getxo, Leioa, Cantabria as well. Have always said how wonderful it is not to be smoked out.
        Maybe its the different age group. Hmmm, just checked with my son, he doesn’t recall anyone breaking the law either.

  8. says

    Timing is everything – I just watched a portion of Rick Steves’ Hidden Europe series and he visited the Basque Country and then I came across your post. Maybe the universe is trying to me something?!

  9. says

    I agree! There is something especially charming about the North that I’ve fallen in love with both Asturias and Euskadi. I like Andalucia but there is something I can’t quite put my finger on that I just love. It’s different and maybe that’s why Basque’s would say Basque Country isn’t España…lol. Though, I didn’t fall for Vitoria-Gasteiz I liked the surrounding provinces and would love an opportunity to live in Bilbao or San Sebastian!
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  10. Tony says

    Nice blog! My only problem is that you keep mentioning Spain when you talk about the Basque Country. I am sure you are aware that, yes, officially Spain, but not a lot of people will tell you they are true spanish at heart…

    Apart from that, loved it. And the nice photo from the top of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe…. impressive!

    • says

      Hi Tony, I’m not sure where I mention Spain in reference to Basque Country, but trust me, I’m well-aware of the sentiment toward Spain in this area. In fact, if you read this post, you’ll see where I write about this and how Basques aren’t even genetically similar to Spaniards: http://christineinspain.net/interesting-facts-basque-country/ It does get a bit confusing for some of my readers who are mostly located in the U.S.A. and aren’t familiar with this, so if I ever mention Spain, it’s not me being insensitive to Basques, but rather saying an all-encompassing thing so I know I’m being understood. Thanks for reading!

      • EMP says

        Love your blog and I read it quite often as Im a spanish who lived in Seattle…

        But wanted to remind you that you should also be respectful about the Basque who are happy being spanish

        • says

          You’re the opposite of me then! Thanks for reading and your input, but I have never been disrespectful to anyone who is Basque and feels Spanish. Is there anything in particular that you’re referring to, which you’re drawing these incorrect conclusions from? As an outsider to the culture, that would be absolutely ridiculous to have any say on the matter–I really couldn’t care less either way.

      • DC says

        The trick is to say ‘Bay of Biscay’, or Atlantic Pyrenees, or Wascony….or f*** it Spain and/or France. Trust me, I am a basque and even I struggle to be P.C. It ends up being exhausting, just say whatever you feel like and don’t dare apologize with anything that comes out. Loved the blog.

  11. LIsaJ says

    Love your blog! We are coming to the Basque country in August. We recently moved to Madrid. Can you recommend some hikes in the area? Are there some good books in English you can recommend? Thank you in advance.

    • says

      The Camino del Norte (Camino de Santiago) runs through here, try the route from San Sebastián to Zarautz. I’m not sure of any books, as I just use the everytrails website.

  12. Melanie Williams says

    Love your blog! I just moved to Basque Country as an au pair! I’m in Lekeitio with my host family for holiday right now, but I will be residing in Vitoria. Your blog is giving me a lot of inspiration for future trips around Spain! Thank you! :)

    Melanie

  13. says

    Hi Christine, following you on twitter! What a lovely blog. I’m Basque too but living in Southern California! Grandparents live in Gernika. Enjoy the food on my behalf! lol – take care! Nydia

  14. Mikel says

    I was born and raised in Bilbao and I have to tell you that I agree with your list. But the rain for me is essential here. It is a part of the Basque experience that (as I see it) makes us Basque people, in a way, what we are. I can’t imagine my city without rain; in fact, I don’t own an umbrella. I lived in Finland for a year and I always recommend to visit that country in winter, though the finnish summer is a must-see. Anyway, I like how you write about the Basque Country.

  15. Todd Bouwkamp says

    Christine,

    wow! Great site love the ease of read and layout. I have recently traveled to Madrid, Barcelona Puerta Banus over the past three years. I am amazed with the food, people culture and amazing architecture. Thanks for your wonderful insight to Basque country. Here in the US there is not very much interest in Spain and no magazines to speak of. I will be joining your efforts to educate Americans in hope of influencing their interest in traveling to experience some of the things I have.

    Todd

    • says

      I think there’s a great interest in Spain in the U.S., but only on Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and maybe Granada. That’s why I love writing about Basque Country and the north as a whole, and letting people in on this wonderful secret! :)

      • Bilbao citizen says

        The basque country is located in the Northern Green Spain, It has also british influence, the richest and one of the most developed region of spain, land of noble, kind and gentlemen men, land of spanish navy´s heroes , nature´s lovers and also land with most feminist women in spain. In the basque Country, the women has the “trousers”.
        The case of the smoke cigarretes its true, in spite of being forbidden and I feel the same I don´t like it.
        The basque language don´t worry its very difficult to speak even for me that Im basque.
        It easy to love Basque country but the politicians don´t help.

      • Philma says

        You’re right. People in the U.S. are only interested in Madrid, Barcelona and the bigger cities. My sister and I have driven from Lourdes, France to Lisbon via Northern Spain and we did stop in San Sebastian. It is beautiful place. We journeyed on to Limpias, Garabandal, Covadonga, Oviedo and on to Santiago de Compostela. It was our spiritual journey. I hope to go back and really take in the Basque culture and the wonderful cuisine.

        • Bilbao citizen says

          You will never expect whats going to happen to you in this trip. I have a neighbour that never had any success finding girlfriends here in Bilbao but One day, when he was finishing his studies and was very worried about his future, one friend invite him to a party. In this party, this guy change his live totally. I mean, He met an american girl that change his live.
          Nowadays, my neighbour is living and working in Los Angeles with his american girlfriend.
          If you don´t believe me you can see in youtube as a couple “luzu y lana”.
          The american girls speak fluently spanish after leaving several years with the basque guy. Its a funny couple.

  16. Pedro Meca says

    hola Christine, hadn’t come across your blog until yesterday, it’s really interesting!

    it’s refreshing to see north americans who discover other places, i mean, tourists seem to only think of Barcelona, Madrid or Granada…then they leave those places and discover the reality and lovely divergences of Spain, which you find it in rural areas of regions like Castilla, Asturias, Galicia, the Basque, Andalucia, etc not in large and touristic cities.

    it really upsets me when i hear or read foreigners only talk of bullfighting and flamenco when Spain is brought up. I bet they don’t know how green the north is, or that there is a huge bagpipe culture up there just to show an example.

    just another thing, not all Basque people dislike or hate being considered Spaniards, and while the Basque country is dramatically different from Andalucia, it is similar to Galicia, Asturias or Cantabria.

    • Helen says

      Right! Basque Country is not very different from another two regions I love in Spain, Cantabria and Asturias. I lived in Bilbao for 4 years and most people have a house in Cantabria!!!

  17. says

    I just found your blog, and this is great! As someone from America but with a Spanish boyfriend (from the Basque Country) it’s wonderful to see you’re living there. It SUCH a beautful a lively area with rich tradition and history… let alone a language that knowingly related to any other ( and I believe even predates Latin). I only know a few words myself but hope to learn someday. It is a bit rainy there, but when I was there (around the same time as you) my boyfriend and his friends were complaining about it because they say it’s normally over by June maybe early July… and this year it was going into August! So this year was an odd one to say the least, as they as now saying its crazy hot there for fall… Enjoy your time there! :)
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  18. joana says

    hello,
    yes you are all the time talking as if you were in Spain, for instance: “I LOVE that I’m living in a region with such a rich history and culture. It sometimes feels like I’ve moved to a different country rather than just a different part of the same country. I’m discovering new things daily, from local fiestas to Basque folk dancing!”.
    Euskal Herria is not a region, is a NATION, and yes, you should feel like you moved to a different country, this is the concept. Ah, the name of the city in the picture is DONOSTIA.
    By the way, I think your tone is despective, for example talking about the walking rhythm in Andalucía…what is the problem with you?? It is enough anoying walking under that sun, they don’t need anyone forcing to walk faster.
    Etnocentrists go home

    • says

      Joana,

      Interesting comments…I’m well-aware the Basque name for San Sebastián is Donostia, however, most people who read this blog do not, hence why I referred to it in the Spanish name (as do the majority of travel blogs written in English, including the Basque Country’s own tourism website). I’ve also referred to Bilbo as Bilbao for the same reasons. Hopefully that’s not too offensive for you.

    • Iker says

      Oh come on man! She comes from the US and you shouldn´t be that hard on her!! Besides she doesn´t have to take sides on anyone or any position, and I´m someone who regards himself as exclusively Basque. If you want respect from others start by showing some yourself!

      So glad you´re having such a good time here. I´ve always wanted to go to the Seattle-Vancouver área, it lures me way more than the usual NYC-LA thing all tourists seem to have in mind. After all the US isn´t all skyscrapers and Hollywood.

      Lovely blog, it´s always nice to read nice things others say about you 😉

      • says

        Basque Country really feels like a home away from home for me now. I hope you’ll make it to Seattle one day, I’m sure it will remind you of this area in some ways. Thanks for reading!

  19. joana says

    Hello,
    ok I see your intention wasn’t offensive, then I would like to apologize. Maybe is because it (almost)always happens the same with tourists. I hope you keep enjoying of travelling.

    • says

      Hi Enda,

      Yes, I know it’s illegal to smoke in bars. However, in several small towns I’ve been to, people ignore the law and smoke anyways. It’s unfortunate.

  20. Luis Sarria says

    I’m so glad more people are going to the Basque Country. In my opinion it is the greatest place on earth I lived there for almost three months and I can’t wait to go back!

  21. says

    I love this article! And I totally agree with it! I think I miss the old men in their hats the most, haha! I also loved the cider houses and the hiking in pais vasco has to be the best hiking in Spain.

    For me, San Sebastian would be perfect if you just take that never-ending rain away!

  22. says

    Hi, by some pure luck I found your blog. I’m currently wondering what to do with my live. And just looking at maps I imagined – yeah, that is a nice place. But then I do not know any single word in Spanish, and not a single word in local language, only English. That is one question: is it hard to live there without knowing language. I mean does it means it’s hard to communicate with people, to find friends, to deal with some bureaucracy etc.
    The second question I have – I’ve been just trying to find out how expensive it’s to rent some flat or anything. I’ve been trying to ask google, but it shows me only things little above my abilities ( let’s say about 700euro/month including bills). But anyway great most of the answers was about short time holiday renting. Can you help me a little bit and show few links where I could learn little more about that?

    • says

      Hi Adam,

      Basque Country is one of the most expensive areas to live in Spain, so I would suggest looking elsewhere if you’re on a budget. If you’re interested in living in the north, try Galicia…and in the south, Andalucía. I would highly recommend that you take some Spanish lessons before coming as it will make your life much easier. Spain doesn’t speak as much English as other countries in Europe (however that’s slowly changing), but don’t rely on your English to get around. If you want to look at prices of apartments, try idealista.com. Suerte!

  23. says

    I am 1/2 basque (rest is Romanian and a whole lot of other stuff) and have been speaking the language for quite some time. However, I do not live in Spain but wish to some day. That makes you very lucky. But my main comment is that you should learn Euskara. It is such a nice language when spoken. Putting behind that the language is very much complex, it is fun to speak. When I am going to visit the Basque Country after College, it would broaden the amount of people I can speak to in that language. I like the pictures in your article of the culture and land that is the Basque Region. Your blog is very neat and interesting to read. I hope you pick up Euskara sometime. But as you may know, it will take you a LOT OF TIME.

  24. Fiachra says

    Hi Christine, I find your blog very interesting and enjoyed reading through it and the images you have taken, i would be pleased if you could advise me on what to do in the basque country in mid april for 3.5 days my pal and i are planning to spend two days in san seb, one in vitoria, and .5 in bilbao, would this be advisable also have you any suggestions on good pinxtos bars in the region and cider houses to visit, also what about nice villages and coastal regions. I know this might be a lot to ask but would appreciate your knowledge of the region, keep up the good work. Thanks. Best Fiachra

  25. Felicia says

    What a great post! I don’t think you said before, but how expensive is it living in Basque Country? Like for housing, food, clothing, fuels, etc. (you did say public transportation is reasonably priced).

    • says

      Hi Felicia!

      The public transport is subsidized by the Basque government, so yes, it’s very reasonable. Other than that, the cost of living compared to the rest of Spain is higher — it’s on par with Madrid and Barcelona. I can’t tell you exact figures because housing, for example, depends on many things – neighborhood, how many bedrooms, etc. Supermarkets are more expensive than when I lived in Andalucía, but a cup of coffee is about the same everywhere in Spain.

  26. says

    The Basque country is situated partly in Spain and France and I just wondered if you find the people in the Spanish Basques differ much from their counter parts in the France region?

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