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

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.

Author: Christine

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53 Comments

  1. 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!

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    • Haha, the infamous Basque bangs! That’s how you really know you’ve arrived ;)

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      • And those bangs are associated in my part of the Basque Country with certain parts of the political spectrum!

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  2. 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…!

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    • Thanks! I can deal with the rain, I just have to tell myself the rain is why it’s so stunningly green here! :)

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  3. 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!
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    • 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.

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  4. 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

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    • 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!

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    • That’s the worst..having the smell get in your hair! Yuck. Please let me know if you plan a trip here, I’d love to meet up!

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  5. 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
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    • 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.

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  6. 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
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    • Thanks, Barry! I was in Algeciras for a few years…so you can imagine how it was.

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  7. 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.
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    • Couldn’t have said that better myself! The rain is worth it though, because summer in Seattle is perfection!

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    • I doubt it’s NYC-fast, but it’s a huge improvement from the south of Spain! :)

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  8. The smoking issue really bothers me. I have walked out of Madrid restaurants before because the tables around were behaving like the Vatican’s chimney. I was hoping that the law would have changed this by now.
    Looks like I will get to know el Pais Vasco this year. I am headed to Bilbao, San Sebastian, and St Jean de Luz in September.
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    • 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.

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  9. 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?!

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  10. 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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    • You didn’t fall for Vitoria? Aww :( San Sebastián is on my “must live in” list! :)

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  11. 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!

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    • 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!

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      • 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

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        • 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.

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  12. 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.

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    • 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.

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  13. 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

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    • Eskerrik asko! Hope you’re enjoying your time here in Basque Country!

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  14. You’ve just inspired me to think of the same list for Andalucía, where we live. Will need much thinking though!
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  15. 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

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  16. 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.

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    • That’s why I think I feel so at home in Basque Country…I’m from Seattle and we don’t own umbrellas either! Thanks for reading!

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  17. 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

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    • 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! :)

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      • 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.

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      • 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.

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        • That sounds like an amazing trip. When I go back to Asturias, Covadonga is a must!

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        • 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.

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  18. 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.

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    • 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!!!

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  19. 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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