Immerse yourself in the rich art, history, and culture of Europe's Basque Country. Straddling the modern-day borders of Spain and France, the Basque Country is one of Europe's most ancient, independent-thinking regions. Starting in Bayonne and ending in Bilbao, this tour includes the distinctive towns of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Pamplona, San Sebastian, and Guernica. You will also enjoy the region's gourmet cooking, full-bodied wines, and a time-tripping hike along the centuries-old Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.
You will stay 2 nights in each of the 4 different cities, Bayonne, Pamplona, San Sebastian, and Bilbao. The accommodations are charming; often quaint, though sometimes creaky and full of personality; centrally-located; family-run hotels that will become a memorable part of your travel experience.
Be prepared for stairs, maybe hundreds of them, as many of the hotels do not have elevators. Private bathrooms are the norm, but on a couple of tours a small chance exists that for one or two nights your bathroom may be down the hall.
You will gather at the hotel in Bayonne, France at 17:00 for an introductory meeting. You will then take a neighborhood orientation stroll and start getting to know one another over a group dinner. Sleeping accommodations will be in or near Bayonne for the next two nights.
This morning, you will take a walking tour through half-timbered Bayonne, the capital of the French Basque Country. After getting to know the cobbled-street ambience of the city's old town, you will take a tour of Bayonne's superb Museum of Basque Culture, setting the foundation for all you are about to learn about Basque culture and history. In the afternoon, you will have free time to enjoy Bayonne, or take a short train or bus ride to the seaside towns of St-Jean-de-Luz or Biarritz.
On this day you will be leaving France, but not before you make one last stop for a visit to the walled French town of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a traditional starting point for hiking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. You will learn about the humble pilgrims who have trekked across the north of Spain since the Middle Ages to pay homage to the remains of St. James. In the afternoon, the tour bus will take the scenic route, crossing over the impressive Pyrenees mountains to Pamplona, where you will sleep for the next 2 nights.
The day will begin with a walking tour through the historic heart of Pamplona, including its cathedral and ramparts. You will learn about Pamplona's importance as capital of Spain's Navarra region, and as a key stop along the Camino de Santiago trail. You will also learn about Pamplona's association with author Ernest Hemingway, the Illinois native who is celebrated in Pamplona as a native son. In the evening, you will be invited to dine like the locals at a traditional private dining club.
You will board the bus and drive deeper into El Pais Vasco, the Spanish Basque Country, but you will also make your way to San Sebastian as a pilgrim, hiking along a stretch of the famous Camino. You will stop for a well-deserved lunch and tasting of Navarre vintages at a local winery, before arriving in San Sebastian in the evening, in time to get accustomed to your new neighborhood and learn the best spots to eat tapas. The evening is yours to create your own tapas crawl or simply soak in the sights of the Bay of Biscay surrounding you. You will spend the next two nights in San Sebastian.
You will begin your day with a walking tour of elegant San Sebastian. Your guide will give you a view of Spanish Basque life and culture as you tour the lively old town, step inside the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, and walk the promenade down to the town's beautiful beach. You will be free in the afternoon and evening to spend more time in the old town, at the beach, ride the funicular up to Monte Igueldo's viewpoint, or hike around Monte Urgull. You will not be dining as a group this evening.
The day will start with a drive along the rugged coastline of the Bay of Biscay as you make your way to the town of Guernica. This afternoon will be all about the independent Basque spirit as you visit the town made infamous by the 1937 air raid that inspired Picasso's anti-war masterpiece. Nowadays, Guernica is considered the very heart of the Basque nation. You will learn more about the Spanish Civil War and today's political issues as you tour the Assembly House and its symbolic oak tree, where Basque leaders have met since medieval times. Lunch will be enjoyed together with the group and then you will make a beeline for bustling Bilbao, where you will be sleeping for the remaining 2 nights.
In the morning, you will be devoting your time to Frank Gehry's dazzling temple of modern art, The Guggenheim Bilbao, as you take a tour of the museum's best architectural and artistic attractions. Afterwards, you will have free time to either enjoy more museum meandering or to explore more of Bilbao's old town maze, the Maritime Museum, and other sights. In the evening, you will reunite with the rest of the group for a farewell dinner together, where everyone will share travel memories and toasts.
Breakfast is provided but there are no group activities. Your guide will help you get pointed in the right direction for home, or to continue your travels in Europe.
This tour will take place in the Basque Country, one of Europe's most ancient, independent-thinking regions, straddling the modern-day borders of Spain and France. You will find a region full of natural beauty, architecture, art, history, and warm people that will make your stay pleasant.
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Experience the best of two worlds. Meals will focus around traditional Basque dishes, combining elements from both French and Spanish cuisine.
Please arrive at Biarritz Airport (BIQ) located at a 20-minute bus ride away from Bayonne.