Biarritz is Basque country. San Sebastian is Basque country, too – the heartland of it. Yet Biarritz is very French and San Sebastian very Spanish. The cast-iron balconies with red flowers, the music loud in cars and cafés, the chaotic lunch hour in a pintxo restaurant – it is all so quintessentially Spanish. Where the French are elegantly laid back, the Spanish are loudly casual. Where the French love white and light houses, the Spanish in San Sebastian use more heavy, dark colors to make a town lively, energetic, and a little chaotic, but equally beautiful as France.Strolling down the streets of San Sebastian old town (or Donostia as it is called in Basque language), I found it hard to believe that we were still in the same ethnic and cultural country, as so much has changed after the border between France and Spain split the ancient Basque country in two. It is a strange thought how insensitively Spain and France divided the country, dividing at the same time an ethnic group in half. Perhaps a little similar to Ireland and Northern Ireland; or when Sweden and Russia tossed the Finnish borders around. Nobody asked the Basques, but they ended up in the middle, without a choice. Their language, food, culture, and way of life was suddenly divided. Families were divided (although EU now allows an open border). And in one way worst of all, the Spanish Basques have, with their sometimes unjustified actions through armed conflict, reached a level of autonomy that the French can only dream of. In France one must become French it seems. Nothing else is really acceptable in the long run. And so nobody seems to care about the Basques – except that they make nice cakes and goats cheese, and pretty colorful striped weaves. But we were simply ignorant day tourists who cared more for the lovely Belle Epoque time architecture, digging our toes into the sand of the La Concha beach, and the pintxos. Oh, the pintxos! I have no idea of what I ate half of the time, but goodness me it was delicious. Although, what can one expect when the San Sebastian night sky is bejeweled by Michelin stars, more than anywhere else on the globe compared to population count. It is weeks since we returned from San Sebastian now, but I can still taste every single pintxo I had that day. Oh what simple beings we humans are. (San Sebastian, Spain; July 2016)
August 11, 2016 at 2:35 am
This is a fantastic article! I have dual US and Spain citizenship and love Basque Country. Check out our California wine country blog at http://www.topochinesvino.com and follow us if you like what you see.
December 26, 2016 at 4:08 am
San Sebastian indeed is a pintxo heaven. I luckily have some friends who grew up there and gave me a long list of what to try. Still drool thinking about it. You can check out more on my blog here https://travelmoreorless.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/san-sebastian-for-foodies/
December 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm
Lucky friends of yours!