TAGS: Old hiking paths, rioja, fish stew
It’s all about fresh and simple here. Linked by the common language of Euskara, the 7,978-square-mile Basque region borders the Bay of Biscay and spills from southwestern France into northern Spain. Even more important than the linguistic bond is the Basque peoples’ deep love of pintxos (tapas) and marmitako (fish stew), knocked back while visiting pintxo bars on ambulatory night adventures. Start in the Spanish coastal city of San Sebastián, less than 20 miles from the French border, which has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any city in the world. Request a room at Hotel Niza with a terrace overlooking La Concha Beach (doubles from $150 per night), then pintxo-bar hop through Old Town. Reserve a table weeks in advance at Arzak, the world-famous restaurant of Juan Mari and his daughter, Elena, who cook “reinvigorated Basque cuisine” like red mullet with newborn broad beans.
To link the two countries on foot, hike the GR34, an ancient footpath that starts in Spain, follows the Basque coast into France, and ends 360 miles later in Brittany. Or go with Culture Xplorers’ eight-day Basque Country Bonds eating-and-hiking adventure (from $3,090). You’ll hike, meet local farmers, and, if you’re lucky, eat and drink with the male members of Gaztelubide, San Sebastián’s most prominent txoko, or “savory society”—one of many ancient clubs where men still don’t allow women to prepare the food. Women can, however, eat it.