Basque Country straddles southern France and northwestern Spain, offering stunning seaside views, beautiful, tree-filled inlands, and the Pyrenees mountains, and even encompasses a stretch of the famed Camino pilgrimage walk. Basques are wholly distinct from both the French and Spanish, though of course modern borders mean that not everyone who lives in Basque Country is also Basque. The food is unique and simple – from tortillas, croquetas, and calimotxo, and with the Guggenheim in Bilbao, there’s even plenty of the modern world to see amidst this incredibly traditional landscape. Immersing oneself in Basque history and culture can be a vacation from the ordinary greatest hits of Europe, and one can do it even from an armchair with the following books!
Beginner’s Basque To give the incredibly unique Basque language a shot — it’s not related to any other language on Earth! — can be a fun challenge, with the reward of making instant friends in a small pocket of the world (though the Basque diaspora is alive and well not only in Brooklyn, but also in Boise, Idaho!). Hippocrene’s Beginner series are an easy, fun introduction with simple dialogues that rope in just the amount you need at the right time, without overwhelming you with excessive grammar from the first.
Basque History of the World Kurlansky’s fun, engrossing history shows the many surprising contributions of Basques to world history.
For a dive into the historically and religiously significant Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, which curves through Basque Country, try Paris to the Pyrenees by David Downie and On the Camino by Jason are both two takes on the path from pilgrims themselves. The former incorporates a good deal of history, the latter is a graphic novel memoir with plenty of humor.
For travelers on the hoof in the heart of Basque Country, there’s Bradt’s The Basque Country and Navarre, a guidebook for the adventurous, with plenty of suggestions for out-of-the-way hikes and birdwatching, as well as what hotels and restaurants to check in the cities. Even Michelin has you covered as far as maps go: you can pick up regional map #573 for Northwestern Spain and the Basque Country.
And if you’ve just got a weekend, Bilbao, the largest city in the region has it all: seaside, food, architecture. Guidebooks Footprint Handbook: Bilbao and Basque Region and Wallpaper: Bilbao are good bets for the outdoorsy type (the former) or the trendy designer (the latter).