Basque Country and Rioja Valley in Spain

Planning our Fall holiday, we wanted to go to Spain, but not the "usual" places. This led us to the Basque region and Rioja Valley, where we spent a lovely week over Thanksgiving. 

Although located within the borders of Spain, the Basque region bordering the Atlantic ocean is a completely unique culture, with its own language and heritage. Signs throughout the beautiful cities of Basque - in Getxo, Bilbao, Guernica, San Sebastian and others -- proclaim their desire for independence.

On the other side of the intimidating mountain range separating Basque from the rest of Spain, the Rioja Valley unfolds across fertile plains. Wine region!

Free Basque!

Free Basque!

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Basque: Getxo, Bilbao, Guernica, San Sebastion

I stand waiting outside of the Air B&B in Getxo at 10:00 p.m. in a light drizzle. It's a weeknight and laughter fills the air. On the other side of the building across the street, I can hear kids playing, glasses clinking, and music. I will come to understand that Spain has its own unique rhythm: slow and lethargic in the morning, a burst of energy in sidewalk cafes during lunch, followed by a mass disappearing act in the afternoon. During siesta, the streets empty and the shops close. It's when the sun descends that Spain comes alive. Bright faces, loud laughter, friends sharing pinxtos, drink, and stories until the wee hours of the morning. 


I head out for coffee at 8:00 a.m. and don't return for 10 hours. I am in love with the cliffs, quaint town center, beachside mansions from a by-gone era, rolling waves, surfers and sailors.

Getxo, basque, spain


Bilbao is home of the Guggenheim museum and world-class pinxtos. Across the bridge, an aggressive hike to Parque del Funicular is worth the fantastic bird's eye view of Bilbao! 

Guernica, Zumaia, Getaria and snippets of the El Camino Way

Basque has an interesting history, especially in the area known as Biscay. From medieval times, the town of Guernica was the central meeting location for Biscay's General Assembly of provincial leaders. Two representatives from each town would gather near a tall oak tree to discuss important civic matters and develop laws. This early form of democracy was noted by the philosopher Rousseau. Guernica's Assembly House and the Tree of Gernika remain symbols of the Basque people's history and the town is still a meeting point for Euskal Herria (Basque Country) territories. Guernica is also infamous for the 1937 bombing by the Nazi German Luftwaffe, acting to support Francisco Franco's efforts to overthrow the Basque government. The small city was almost entirely flattened and perhaps a thousand people were killed. Picasso memorialized this horrific attack in a painting.

San Sebastian and Hondarribia

We awake this morning to roosters crowing. Soft orange light filters through golden autumn leaves still clinging to the trees shedding their brilliant foliage. Carrying fresh-pressed coffee to the porch, we share a view of the rising sun with a horse. Bobbing ships dot the harbor below and the dawn inches across empty beaches. It will be hours before the rest of Hondarribia stirs. In the meantime, we get an early start to San Sebastian.

Rioja Valley

Rioja is wine country and our local expert guide, Inma from Rioja Wine Trips, helps us make the most of it. Through her patient teaching, we discover the religion of wine (hint: it's a meditation).

  • Instructions for stopping the endless monologue inside your head: Pour a glass of burgundy bliss. Swirl it gently and observe the color and viscid nature. Inhale. Ponder the notes you smell. It's ok - there's no judgement (do I smell pear? or maybe that's tobacco? am I doing this right?). The description will be unique for everyone because what we bring to the experience of smell and taste are our own memories and our own reminiscence. Take a sip. Try again and this time pay attention to the sensation on your tongue. Let it spread across your palate and then slowly swallow. What do you taste (no judgement)? What mental image arises? Does the taste evolve? What is the texture of the after-taste? How does the wine feel in your belly? Notice the point at which the experience has receded and you are ready to start anew with another sip. What is your current mental state? As you continue to enjoy your glass of wine, how does your mental state change? If you are eating food, how does the experience change when the wine mingles with the food? Pay attention.  
  • Instructions for judging a "good" wine: A good wine will have enough depth to keep the experience interesting from start to finish. A poor wine (or table wine) will not be full bodied enough to produce much of an experience. Neither is good or bad. It's about the intention. When you are eating and just want something to wash down the food or when your mind is pre-occupied, a poor wine suffices. When you want to calm the mind and truly relax, a good wine will provide enough stimulus to support the meditation. In either situation, too much expectation around the experience misses the point. Drink. Note the experience (good or bad). Let it go and be thankful for the moment.

While in Rioja, we had the immense pleasure of residing at the Marques de Riscal. Thank you once again, Sheraton for your superb Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program. We were upgraded to a suite at this exclusive, architecturally-stunning 43 room hotel and winery and we were treated like royalty! The staff, room, and food were exceptional and I will never forget this experience. Thank you so much! #SPG #loyalforever