The unspoiled atmosphere of Fuenterrabia

With stair-stepped rooftops and pastures on different levels on the rolling foothills of the Pyrennies, the Basque countryside near Fuenterrabia, or Hondarribia as it’s commonly known now, are reminiscent of Italian villages near the Alps. But the Basque countryside has its own harshly beautiful character. The people here are fiercely individualistic, and do not take well to being lumped in with the Spanish.

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Vitoria – Blending today with history

Vitoria, 45 miles south of Bilbao, is the capital of Alava province in the Basque region, but was founded as Gasteiz by a Visigoth king, Leovigild, in celebration of a Basque defeat. Like many cities dating from the Middle Ages, it stands on a hill. The cathedral of Santa Maria, first completed in 1180 AD and rebuilt in the 1300s, rises high over the city from its perch on the apex of the hill. It is near this cathedral that you’ll find the older part of the city.

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San Sebastian – Modern town of history

In 1845, Queen Isabella II made San Sebastian a popular resort when she spent the summer there, and later made it the summer residence of the royal court. Its popularity did not dwindle with the opening of the casino in 1887, and it was a popular hideaway for European artistocrats during World War I. With wide beaches, blue ocean, and high green mountains all around, it’s no wonder that the haut monde have found San Sebastian a bewitching place.

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Guernica y Luno – Picasso’s inspiration

Located just northeast of Bilbao, Guernica is the center of the Basque country and the Basque heart. Under the Tree of Guernica near the Meeting House, the councils of Viscaya met for the settling of defense policies and acceptance of royal charters. And under these branches Guernican fighters led the agitation for Basque independence in 1932. In 1937, the city was heavily bombed by, the Spanish government claimed, German planes; but the Basques have always believed it was the Spanish government that did it. At the heart of Guernica is rebellion and passion.

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Bilbao – Shipping center of Spain

Bilbao was founded on the shipping of iron, somewhere in prehistory. Today, it’s the capital of Biscay provincia, and the largest city in Basque Country. In many ways, it’s an unattractive city; it’s heavily industrialized and rather gray. But it is also the home of the Guggenheim Museum, a bizarrely shaped building resembling nothing so much as a fallen stack of boxes. The heart of the city is heavy with skyscrapers, and nearly a half-million people live here.

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