Internationally, the Spanish Basque country is known for two things outside the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian (pictured): food and separatism. The latter dates back to the mid-1800s and covers the regions known as the Basque Country and Navarra. Basque nationalism also extends to France in the Bayonne region but French Basques are not known for the same separatist notions as their Spanish counterparts. Despite the fact that the Spanish government has granted the Basque country some of the continent’s most autonomous rights, the separatist strain remained strong for decades.
The formation of ETA, the militant Basque separatist organization formed in 1959, brought the separatist movement to international attention as ETA committed terrorists acts that claimed over 800 deaths and thousands of wounded over a forty-year period. The United States and the European Union recognize ETA as a terrorist organization and hundreds of ETA members remain jailed.
As public opinion turned against violent acts in recent years, ETA declared a number of ceasefires and offered to completely relinquish its arms and dissolve the organization in 2012.
The ceasefire can only be good news for the Basque country’s other trademark - it’s delicious cuisine! Locals and visitors to the region alike pack Basque restaurants to socialize and sample the wide variety of pintxos, fresh seafood and drinks.
Pronounced “chacoli”, the young, sparkling wine is drunk as an aperitif and comes in white, red and rosé. The drink’s carbonation is very light and must be drank normally within one year of bottling before spoiling. Traditionally made at home, certain regions received official classification in the late 1980s which has led to an improvement in the drink’s quality. The light carbonation allows the drinker to pour txakoli from an elevated height which locals tell you brings out more of the wine’s flavor.
Izarra bottles “the sun and snow of the Pyrenees”. Made on the French side of the Basque country, the sweet liqueur dates back to the mid-1800s and its name means “star” in Basque. It is made by infusing herbs from the region’s mountain range in a spirit and comes in the yellow almond-driven flavour and green peppermint-flavoured variety. If you like peppermint, try the “Emerald Coast” cocktail, equal parts armagnac, gin and Green Izarra with a squeeze of lemon shaken on ice and poured in a cocktail glass.
If you need more local drinks and pintxos when you’re visiting the Basque country, be sure to stop into a sagardotegi, or “cider house”. Made from local apples, Basque cider is not carbonated unlike most alcoholic ciders around the world and is served by shooting it directly from the cask into your glass. The traditional pouring method aerates the drink to stimulate its flavors.