What is the Basque Country?

Located in southwestern Europe, the Pays Basque straddles southwestern France and northwestern Spain. Considering that the first known inhabitants of the Basque Country date back more than 200 years, the country has quite a story to tell and a rich cultural heritage. “Euskara”, the Basque language that unites all Basques, is one of the oldest languages ​​in Western Europe, whose true origins remain a mystery.

The Basque Country is made up of 7 provinces:

French side (department of Pyrénées Atlantiques)

  • Labourd (Lapurdi)
  • Lower Navarre (Baxenabarre
  • Soulé (Xiberoa)

Spanish side

  • Biscay (Biscay)
  • Gipuzcoa (Gipuzkoa)
  • Alava (Araba)
  • Navarre



The first known civilization to inhabit the Pays Basque, apart from the Paleolithic peoples, was the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire collapsed, the Vascons took over. They were in constant struggle with their fellow Europeans.

The intention behind the creation of the province of Navarre was to stifle the expansion of the Franks and Muslims.

In 1515, Fernando (King of Spain) conquered Navarre, placing it under the crown of Castile and definitively linking the Basque Country to France and Spain.

The Middle Ages was a period of major evolution for the Pays Basque.

Besides fishing, maritime transport was a major source of income at that time. Castilian wool and iron ore from the mines were exported from Basque ports. Fabrics and textiles from the rest of Europe were imported through these same ports.

These ports have also served as the starting point for several expeditions:

Juan Sebastián Elkano (first round the world),
Miguel López de Legazpi and Andrés Urdaneta (conquered the Philippine Islands), etc.
The road to Santiago, a major thoroughfare for goods, boosted the economy. Along the road to Santiago, new Basque towns have been built.

Before the French Revolution of 1789, the Basque provinces located north of the Pyrenees were eradicated and replaced by departments.

Since then, the three provinces that made up the northern part of the Basque Country (Labourd, Basse Navarre and Soule) have been grouped together with Bearne to form the department 64.

In the XNUMXth century, the Carlist wars took place in the southern part of the Basque Country, in which the fueros were lost here.

After the death of dictator Franco, there was the democratic transition in the Spanish state, which resulted in a number of political changes in the south of the Basque Country.

In 1981, the Basque government was created. Araba, Biscay and Gipuzkoa received the autonomy status of Gernika.



Basque heritage goes well beyond the physical remains left over the generations.

Heritage encompasses:

  • Expertise: knowledge, techniques, daily actions and actions)
  • Spoken word: language, myths, legends, place names and all other oral traditions
  • Social practices: games and sports, parties, gastronomy
  • Artistic activities: song, theater, dance, plastic arts and literature
  • Geographical peculiarities also have a major influence on cultural heritage. All the peoples of the world are ultimately products of their environment.



Like all literature, written Basque literature evolved from the spoken word. Legends and poems have been passed down and still exist today thanks to oral tradition.

Basque written literature arrived relatively late. The first Basque book was published in 1545. Today, more than 1000 books are published each year in Basque.

Primitive Basque literature was written by clergymen, who were the only ones who could write. The works published in Basque by lay authors and on all subjects did not appear until the middle of the XNUMXth century.



One of the most striking fruits of Basque culture is the improvised song of verses. The singer or bertsulari must improvise verses in Basque, following a predetermined melody, respecting the rhyme and working on a predetermined theme.

This tradition, which is gradually disappearing, has traditionally taken place wherever locals meet.


Basque theater


The pastoral is a theatrical show that tells a story. It takes place in the open air and the show is entirely sung.
Each year, a different village in Zuberoa is chosen to host the pastoral, and it is performed twice in the summer.

This form of theater dates back to the Middle Ages. The plot of the play is to praise the virtues of well-known figures and to commemorate historical events.

The Souletin masquerade

The masquerade is a carnival festival in the province of Soule which combines both dance and theater.

From December to March, traditions mark a time dedicated to the discovery of the old year and lost souls, to the awakening of the bear, to the fertility of the land and animals for a better herd, and to the organization. of marriages, which ensure the existence of future generations.

The Souletin masquerade is the most important and the best preserved of these traditions.



Various traditional musical instruments are played in the Basque Country, and the Basque Country is home to several legendary composers, such as:

  • red
  • guridi
  • Sarasate
  • Fraying


Dance is a major element of Basque identity. Once used for traditional practices, Basque dance is now used for conviviality, but it is certainly alive and well.

Festive dances, ancient rituals and modern innovations are just a few examples of this endless evolution. Generally speaking, Basque dance is considered technical and spontaneous.


The Basque Country is home to one of the most famous wine regions in the world, La Rioja. Besides wine, another popular Basque drink is txakoli - a dry, slightly sparkling white wine often enjoyed with pintxos (tapas).

Some of the most famous foods originating in the Basque Country include:

  • Espelette pepper
  • Sheep's milk cheese
  • Fish and seafood
  • Ham
  • Cherry jam
  • Chocolat


Pelota is the Basque national sport. It's a mix between handball and squash, the players move at a rapid pace. Pelota is traditionally played on the outdoor courts known as “rontónes”, which can be found in almost all Basque villages.

Basque beret

The Basque-style beret was the traditional headgear of the Aragonese and Navarrese shepherds of the Ansó and Roncal valleys of the Pyrenees. Its initial purpose was to protect Basque shepherds from the elements.

Today, there are three manufacturers in France. Laulhère (which acquired the oldest manufacturer, Blancq-Olibet, in February 2014) has been making berets since 1840. Boneteria Auloronesa is a small artisanal manufacturer of French berets from the Bearn town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, and Le Béret Français , in the Bearn village of Laàs.

The beret still remains a strong symbol of the unique identity of the Basque Country and is worn to celebrate traditional events.


The Basque Country certainly has a story to tell, and if you want to be part of a place with such a rich cultural heritage an integral part of your life, do not hesitate to contact O'Plus Immobilier! We would be happy to guide you through your journey of settling into arguably one of the most beautiful regions in the world.