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Are there major differences between Basque France and Spain.

Are there major differences between Basque France and Spain.

Old Mar 12th, 2008, 02:03 PM
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Are there major differences between Basque France and Spain.

Other than the French and Spanish language, and I know there is a Basque language as well, will we find many differences between the different towns in the two countries? We will be staying for a week in Guethary near St. Jean de Luz and our interest was mainly directed toward Biarritz, Bayonne and the plus beaux villages in France.

Would the towns in Spain offer something that we could not find in France?

I have already downloaded pages and pages from Maribels wonderful guides and have several books for reference. It would be helpful to have comments from those who have visited both regions.

Thanks for any help you can provide. Deborah
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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 02:22 PM
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I found there were more flowers in Basque France, and liked the countryside better. Enjoyed th food in both.
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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 02:26 PM
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As far as the Basque are concerned, it is one country. A store keeper in Ainhoa said that she was from the Spanish side of the border, and that she moves between the two regularly, spoke Basque, French and Spanish. I suspect that this movement was true even when the borders were not as open. However, I did not notice any tapas bars on the French side, so the food may be different.
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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 02:57 PM
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That's true about the tapas. I stayed in Ainhoa at the Ithurria. Wonderful!
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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 03:16 PM
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The Basque people on both sides of the border are in my opinion a delight. The most noticeable difference was teh food. tappas aside I found the Spanish food to be of more intense flavor. That may just be chance. But do venture across the border to Bilbao, tour the Guggenheim and enjoy the fabulous tappas. Also, be sure to enjoy St. Jean de Luz, dining is casual, the food is grand and the people are some of the nicest I have come across in my travels. On our last night a,ocal reseraunt owner sat down with us opened a bottle of Armangac which the 3 of us drank and had a perfect evening. (the 6 AM flight home was a tad rough!)
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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 07:33 PM
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The villages of the Pays Basque just look very different architecturally to me from those on the other side, and the countryside is primarily farm land.

You'll find the "3 flower villages" there (Sare, La Bastide Clairence, Ainhoa) have a very distinct look.
See pics at

The ancient half-timbered houses are whitewashed, with shutters painted dark green, bulls' blood red, dark blue. Some have lintels above the door with the house name and date. And as cigalechanta says, filled with flowers, very, very astetically pleasing-really pristine. And Espelette, the red pepper town, is done almost completely in red and white. Please don't miss it!

Another important difference is the look of the churches. On the French side, you'll see inside the typical and beautiful, carved two or three story wooden balconies (men sat above, women on the ground floor). Each church has a cemetery filled with Basque discoidal tombstones, and tombs are adorned with both porcelain and fresh flowers (watered constantly). I never tire of visiting the cemeteries there, as the families maintain and decorate their loved ones' resting places so immaculately.

The scenery of the countryside also seems more pastoral, more bucolic (grazing land for those very pretty blond Aquitaine cows), a "softer look". It's not blighted by the heavy industry that was placed on the Spanish side during the Franco dictatorship. And villages didn't suffer heavy destruction during a civil war (like Gernika) or WWII.

Crossing over from St.-Jean-Pied-de Port to Navarra, as we often do, you'll notice the difference immediately. The prettiest villages of Basque-speaking Navarra have a completely different look, as many of their farmhouses were built in stone (Etxalar, for example) with geranium festooned balconies.

I also notice a sharp difference driving from Bearn into the Pays Basque, from drab gray slate to colorful white, red, green & blue.

But what will attract you on the Spanish side that you won't in the Biarritz area or inland is the vibrant tapas (pintxos) culture and exceptionally inventive food.

The denizens of the French cities/towns you'll visit go to bed earlier, there's less nightlife, and you won't find the Old Quarters packed with pintxos bars as you will in San Sebastián's Parte Vieja, in Bilbao or in Hondarribia on the border, where French flock to on wkds. for great eating.

While I like Bar Jean across from Biarritz's covered market (the liveliest bar scene Biarritz has), it hardly qualifies as a true pintxos bar compared to those amazing spots over on the Spanish side.

I have an American friend who lives in Biarritz who delights in going to San Sebastián for the city's liveliness. She finds her home city too quiet at night. But you'll find beautiful Belle Epoque architecture in both.
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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 07:49 PM
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Hi DeborahAnn,
Forgot one more difference, food wise.

You won't find on the French side the plethora of atmospheric cider houses (there's one in Biarritz, Cidrerie Hernani) or the famous "asadores" (grills, or roasting taverns, that serve up the best "chuletón" or T-bone in the world!).

For world-class museums Bilbao holds the edge with the Guggenheim and Museum of Fine Arts (both must sees!), but Bayonne has the fascinating Basque Museum, one of the finest ethnographic museums of Europe (another "must see" for me).

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Old Mar 12th, 2008, 08:22 PM
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thanks Maribel, I was hoping you would find my post. I had my husband copy your guides to all the Basque, Madrid and Rioja regions. He had to do it at his office, my home printer would have melted under the pressure of so many pages What a fantastic resource you have made available to us.

Thanks, Deborah
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 06:28 AM
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Save room for the Chocolates in Bayonne! I enjoyed
Le Muse'e Bonat there also. On the Spanish side do not miss the Txakoli white wine with your seafood.
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 08:17 AM
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Maribel, I have no words, youŽve made a perfect description of the differences and similarities of the two sides of the Basque Country.
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 08:50 AM
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 08:54 AM
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Kaixo mikelg,
I'm honored that you said that. And...we're very much looking forward to that lunch at Txakolí Simón sometime this summer with you and your family!

You have a wonderful resource here in our two incredibly wise Basque fodorites, mikelg and cova. Any info you need to know about Bilbao and environs, they can certainly provide! I've learned a ton from them.

I was thinking about books that you might want to read in English before your Basque trip, and The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky came to mind.

Also for the French side, works of Robert Laxalt (brother of Senator Paul Laxalt), an American born Basque whose sheepherder father immigrated from Soule to Nevada:

Sweet Promised Land
The Land of My Fathers (part memoir, part traveloge)
Tea in Pamplona (about smuggling across the Pyrenees which the smugglers called "night work")

And a web page created by a Basque friend of ours that's an encyclopedia of things Basque.
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 09:12 AM
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By the way, I had several American friends from CT three weeks ago and we went to Txakoli Simón...they loved it!! It was a lovely day and we had our meal outdoors...iberic ham, morcilla, chorizo, chuletón (t-bone steak), cider and red wine (Lan Crianza 2004), finishing with a huge valenciano (orange juice, vanilla ice cream and Drambuie).

Simple, but great. ItŽll be a pleasure to have there a meal with you in your next visit.
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Old Mar 13th, 2008, 09:16 AM
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One side looks like Spanish towns the other French

the language seemed to me the only difference and street signs
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