Lay of the Land
The heart-shaped region is comprised of three provinces—Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa—and is located in the northeast corner of Spain on the border with France, which also governs a section of the traditional Basque homeland and calls it the Pays Basque. Its three largest cities in Spain’s Basque region are Bilbao, a busy port city that’s emerged as a major cultural destination; San Sebastián, an elegant beach resort known for its superb restaurants, and Vitoria-Gasteiz, a pleasant university town.
It’s a 75-minute drive between Bilbao and San Sebastián, the region’s most popular destinations, and about an hour and a half from either to Vitoria-Gasteiz. The most relaxing way of discovering the Pais Vasco is to divide your stay between the two cities, with a time-out in the charming seaside village of Getaria between the two.
The Pais Vasco is also the jumping off point for a visit to Spain’s greatest wine region, La Rioja, which lies due south. The drive to the vineyards is stunningly beautiful, too, as the rolling green countryside gradually becomes more rugged.
When to Go
The weather is much cooler in the north of Spain, and the Basque coast provides a wonderful respite from the heat of the south in the summer. During the winter, however, it is grey, damp and chilly. The best times of the year to visit are April-May and September-October. The summer months are lovely, too, but the area becomes crowded, since it is a major summer vacation destination for the Spanish.