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Culture of the French Basque country

Rolling green hills dotted with small forests in the Basque country, France

The Basque Country straddles northern Spain and southern France, near the Pyrénées. It is an unofficial land and has no official borders. In France it’s known as the Pays Basque.

The people of the Basque country have a unique culture, language and traditions. Although flavoured with the culture of their Spanish and French neighbours there are many differences and and Basques, euskaldunak in the Basque language, are fiercely proud of their heritage.

Euskara, Basque language

Bay in Biarritz lined with tall buildings and chic cafes

Called Euskara, the Basque language is one of the oldest living languages still spoken today. It’s estimated that around a million people speak Euskara. Whilst it’s an official language in Spain, it’s not recognised as such in France. But if you go to French Basque country, you will hear it commonly spoken, especially in small villages, in Bayonne, regarded as the capital of the French Basque country, and even in glitzy Biarritz.

The flag and the festivals

Red and white houses on a cobbled street in a Basque village, France

The Basques have a distinct and lively culture. Every village has an area for playing the national ball game pelota. It’s one of the oldest ball games still played and its origins can be traced back to the Romans. Players crack the ball against the walls of an enclosed court using a curved ‘glove’ at such a velocity it’s one of the fastest ball sports in the world with a speed of ball fling averaging 170 miles an hour!

The people have a love of festivals, traditional dress and folklore. You’ll spot the Basque flag flying – a red field, a white vertical cross and a green diagonal one) throughout the region, as well as another common Basque symbol, the lauburu (like a curly four-leaf clover), signifying prosperity, or life and death.

Did you know? There is a sizeable Basque community in the USA. Basques migrated to Canada and South America in the 16th to 18th centuries for marine-based work. From the mid 19th century, America lured many for work and a better life. There’s even a Basque museum in Boise, Idaho where there is a community of some 15,000 Basques who continue to revere the traditions and culture of their heritage.

Head to the Basque Museum in Bayonne to find out more about Basque culture.

The food of the Basque region

Street decorated with bunting in Basque colours, white, red and green in Bayonne

And, just as for their French neighbours, eating is a national pastime in the Basque culture. There are an abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s claimed more per kilometre than any other country. There are an incredible 1500 secret gourmet societies known as txokos scattered throughout the Pays Basque. Members cook elaborate meals for each other at least once a week.

This pickled in the past region is deliciously authentic…

More on the area

Discover the Basque country

Bayonne ham fair

How to make gateau Basque

Join a tour of the Basque country

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