As I drove away from the pristine shores of Barcelona through a downpour, I figured my trip to Spain had already peaked. What was even waiting for me to the northwest, in Basque Country? Hell, what even is Basque Country?
I neared my first stop, outside Urkiola Natural Park, and the rain started to break. As my eyes adjusted, incredible scenery spilled out before me, with shimmering sun revealing mountains wreathed in fog. I felt like I’d just road-tripped into a religious experience.
Straddling the border between Spain and France, Basque Country (Euskadi in the Basque language) is not even a country, formally. It’s a community bound by distinct language and culture. Foodies know it as a pocket of culinary trailblazers who have racked up a heap of Michelin stars. Linguists know that speaking French and Spanish will get you around, but if you learn some of the ancient, distinct Basque language, locals will be tickled.
Mostly, you’ll find mountains and beaches dramatic enough to appear at first glance to be Photoshopped fakery. Even the Basque cities, resurgent from an industrial past, are reveling in beauty these days. If you go, leave yourself time between meals of cheese and ham to gawk accordingly.