Basque Country [Euskal Herria]: A Must Visit Destination

A corporate incentive experience for the seven senses

Basque Country (Euskali) is an autonomous community in northern Spain with strong cultural traditions, a celebrated cuisine and a distinct language that pre-dates the Romance languages. Basque Country crosses EU borders and is also referred to as Pays Basque, on the French side near the Atlantic Coast, with distinctive geographic and cultural landscapes.

Thanks to the management and staff of GoBasquing [www.gobasquing.com] we were taken into a region like no other. The heavily industrialised city of Bilboa is something of the past as the city undergoes rapid transformation to an artistic and tourism centre of experience.

Seven Senses

# one – vision
cities and towns are a museum of new and old architecture
# two – sound

the sounds of music and dance in the street and one of the oldest languages in the world


# three – smell
the salt air of ocean and agriculture of the land permeates the lanes, passages and streets with the aroma of the fine food, beers and local wines of the bars and restaurants.

# four – taste
the pintxos, Michelin star restaurants, local Txakoli and Rioja wines and an array of seafood, Iberian jamon, specialist French, Spanish and Basque cuisine.
# five – touch

the texture of the old town, the roughness of the industrial era and contemporary sculptures of things the ocean, the land and the modern world bring to the region.

# six – passion

of the people and pride of the Basque community in all things

# seven – feel

feel (not touch), the feeling Basque Country inspires within you as you experience all the above senses in the seven regions of Basque lands.

To experience new lands and cultures is an adventure in language, geography, architecture, culture and gastronomy. Pays Basque in France and Euskal Herria in Spain are no exception. Lonely Planet describes the Basque region from fairy tale-like villages and modern architectural landmarks to world-class food and wine, which once experienced you want to go back for more.

San Sebastián [Donostia] is revered as one of the best gastronomic destinations in the world and is recognised as a capital of culture located in an ideallic setting in the Bay of Biscay embraced by mountains and the beaches, Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta.

The city has a full and diverse calendar of events and activities throughout the year, from concerts and film festivals to art exhibitions, live performances of opera and theatre, creative workshops and courses, and cooking classes.

Wine and food


Basque Country cuisine is built around an abundance of fresh and seasonal local produce like grilled lamb, cured meats, salt cod, sheep’s and goat’s cheese, piquillo peppers, artichokes, and fresh anchovies, often served as pintxos [a small snack] at a bar or in a traditional cider house, a sagardotegi. The wine includes Rioja from the southern region and Txakoli a local white wine.

Basque Country’s premiere wine-growing areas are Samaniego, Laguardia, Elciego, Labastida and tempranillo from the Rioja Alavesa wine region. The region is also home to nearly thirty Michelin-starred restaurants, operated by world famous chefs and local restauranteurs.

Bilbao [Bilbo]

The fascinating vibrant city of Bilboa is on a growth trajectory with many artisan and incentive facilities available and under plan for further transformation of the region. The city has a true heart, opening its gastronomy of fine food and wine especially in the medieval old town [Casco Viejo] abundant with pintxos bars, cafes and restaurants overflowing into the cobblestone streets for visitors to enjoy.

Bilbao, was a heavily polluted industrial port city, but now has transformed to a tourism mecca in northern Spain, surrounded by green mountains and famed for the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which houses prominent modern and contemporary works.

Bilbao started 2018 being named the ‘European City of the Year 2018’. Some 85,000 rugby fans came to celebrate the European Championship Grand Final and summer began with the Annual World Culinary Festival. In October the city welcomed government officials and social agents from all over the world for the Global Social Economy Forum and in November was home to the 25th anniversary of the MTV European Music Awards with a huge festival at different venues in Bizkaia.

Santiago Cathedral is a 14th-century landmark rising to a dramatic Gothic spire, and Teatro Arriaga draws well-dressed crowds to opera and dance performances.

Basque Coastline

An unforgettable road trip along the Basque Coastline leads you through a string of traditional fishing villages from tiny Elantxobe to drop-dead gorgeous Lekeitio to Getaria, hometown of the fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga. Many of the breaks are a surfers dream, with Mundaka, offering a sandbar formed by an estuary, regarded as the best wave in all of Europe.

Getxo sits on the mouth of the Bilbao River [Ria del Nervion O de Bilbao] and is the site of the UNESCO world heritage listed ‘hanging bridge’, the Vizcaya Bridge [Bizkaiko Zubia].

It is a small journey, getting to the ninth-century religious site of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – a zigzag walk down a steep hill, passage across the Bay of Biscay via a picturesque stone footbridge, and a hike up 241 steps, with spectacular views from the top of the island. It translates to ‘castle rock’ which is an apt description of this quintessentially Basque landmark, and a site used in the 7th series of Game of Thrones. It is also known as the Stairway to Heaven.

Unique identity

The history of the Basque People can be traced back to the Cro-Magnon era whose people settled in the Basque Country some 30,000 years ago.

The nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte studied the Basque language and published the Seven Provinces of Basque Country, and mapped the 8 dialects of Euskara in 1863, which is accurate to this day. However, the map may not be politically correct for France and Spain because the territory does not observe today’s border between the two European countries.

St James Walk [Camino de Santiago]

Puente la Reina, “the crossroads of the ways”, is a medieval twelfth century town where the two main routes on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela converge. It is one of the enclaves with the greatest affinity with Compostela in Navarre.

The constant transit of pilgrims, the scallop shells and the walking sticks all form part of the urban landscape of this town, a magnificent example of a “street-based” town just 24 kilometres south-west of Pamplona. The Romanesque bridge across the river Arga is the most amazing sight of all. It is one of the most beautiful and distinguished examples of Romanesque architecture on the way to Santiago in north-west Spain.

Vitoria-Gasteiz and Gernika

The Basque capital doesn’t see as many international visitors as Bilbao or San Sebastián. With cobblestone streets and pintxo bars the picture-perfect historic centre is considered the best preserved medieval centre in Basque Country, with the 13th-century Cathedral Santa María, a Gothic landmark perched at the summit of the old town.
The remains of the tree of Gernika, under which noblemen gathered in the Middle Ages, is a symbol of the plight of the Basque People. Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s powerful mural depicts the violence and chaos of war. It’s widely thought to be a response to the 1937 bombing of Gernika during the Spanish Civil War.

Basque Sport

Football is as popular here as in other parts of Europe but there is a game unique to the Basque People. Pelota [pilota/ fronton] is a game of ancient origins, played by the Mayas, Greeks and Romans. The equipment is made up of wicker work rackets [txistera], leather gloves and a net [xare].

Variations on the game exist. Wood-chopping [Aizkora], stone-lifting [Harrijasotze], tug-of-war [Sokatira], rowing with up to 13 oarsmen and a cox, are another popular Basque sport activities.

Incentive Destination

As a corporate destination for Australia it isn’t on the radar for most companies but should be!

It is on the map as a popular region for leisure travellers, the surfing community and our youth on their pilgrimage to explore Europe. The northern walk of the Camino de Santiago also known as the Way of Saint James is the route which passes through Basque Country as pilgrims travel on their journey to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The more popular and main routes go through Puente la Reina to the south in the Chartered Community of Navarre, Nafarroa, a region where most dialects are spoken.

We know of companies and their Australian affiliates that have enjoyed incentives and conferencing in the cities and countryside.

Photos courtesy of GoBasquing

In October 2018 our travels took us through France from Switzerland until we reached Bordeaux and then south to Pays Basque, a spectacular region under the shadow of the Pyrennes and close to the Atlantic Coast near Biarritz. The town of Espelette, famous for the Piment de Espelette [chillies] is a centre of Basque language and culture in the region in French territory.

We were welcomed on the Spanish side of the border by the local DMC GoBasquing to explore the possibilities of the region for corporate groups.

We stayed in the Hotel Grand Bilbao on a hill in walking distance from the old town and serviced by public bus and tram, or taxi which was no more than Euro10 from anywhere in town. The hotel offered contemporary style and excellent facilities for corporate meetings including an amphitheatre-style meeting room. There is a range of boutique and larger hotels closer to the city centre and adjacent to the city’s historical and contemporary icons.

Bilboa has transitioned the industrial past to a tourist and commercial centre, while still appreciating its past as a steel producer and major port for export.

Incentive Venues and Activities

There are impressive venues for corporate meetings both in the city of Bilbao and regional areas which were showcased, including:

Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry is the most emblematic building in the city, towering above the river like a undulating titanium ship.

Torre Iberdrola was designed by prestigious Argentine architect César Pelli, with Accenture, AON, Booking.com, Canon, EY, Iberdrola, KPMG, Marsh, PWC, Schneider Electric and Zurich to mention a few better known companies in residence.

Askuna Zentroa
an iconic multi-purpose venue designed by French designer Philippe Starck in collaboration with Thibaut Mathieu and opened in October 2010.
Museo Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum)
located inside the city’s Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park.
Teatro Arriaga
an opera house built in Neo-baroque style by architect Joaquín Rucoba in 1890.
Euskalduna Conference Centre
a venue purposely designed for meetings and events.
San Mamés Arena
Bilbao football stadium “La Bombonera” [chocolate box] of Europe

In the country-side close to Bilbao and San Sebastian incentive groups can experience … :

Laguardia (medieval village in the heart of the wine region) surrounded by the most famous bodegas (wineries) of the Rioja region.

Casa Primicia in Laguardia is a small bodega in the most ancient building of Laguardia also available for meetings and events.

Haro village and “Barrio de la Estación” [tren station district] with some of the most famous wineries of the region.

AND what about staging a regatta from Real Club Maritimo del Abra sailing club in Vizcaya in the town of Getxo OR going fishing for local white Northern Albacore from Lekeitio (fishing village), using traditional and sustainable methods, and visiting the fish market AS WELL AS visiting Bodega Berroja as a venue for a meeting,Txakoli wine and MICE activities, while enjoying the Biosphere UNESCO reserve of Urdaibai and the sunset from the winery.

CREDITS

Iñigo García-Valenzuela – Managing Director – GoBasquing
Stéphanie Grené – xxxxxxxxx – GoBasquing
Tanja Sauer – xxxxxxxx – GoBasquing
Raul Amestoy Lara – Subdirector – Hotel Gran Bilbao
Beatriz Martinez – Guest Experience – Hotel Gran Bilbao
Jose XXXXX – xxxxxxxxxx – Bodega Berroja