Basque Country ~ Spain & France

Basque Country ~ Spain & France

Immerse yourself in the rich heritage and captivating beauty of Basque Spain and France on this seven-night adventure based in San Sebastián, a dazzling city with gorgeous beaches and a world-class food culture. See the historic highlights of Bayonne, France, including its Gothic cathedral, and stroll in Biarritz, a seaside resort favored by socialites and surfers alike. Visit the towns of St-Jean-de-Luz and Espelette, where strings of red peppers decorate whitewashed homes. Marvel at the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and admire Ernest Hemingway’s beloved Pamplona. Along the way, chat with local Basques over dinner, visit a cider house and learn about traditions at a 16th-century farmhouse. Experienced guides and lecturers provide expert insight into the vibrant Basque culture. This small-group program includes first-class accommodations, an extensive meal plan and wine with dinner.


Trip Itinerary:

October 1 Depart gateway city

AHI FlexAir passengers depart for Bilbao, Spain. Please check your luggage from your gateway city to your arrival city. Your claim checks should have the following airport code: BIO.

October 2 Bilbao, Spain | San Sebastián

Arrive at Bilbao Airport. Proceed through immigration to the baggage claim area and retrieve your luggage. After completing customs, AHI FlexAir passengers traveling on flights that qualify for the group arrival transfer and Land Program passengers who have purchased seats on the group transfer should exit the baggage claim area and proceed to the Arrivals Hall, where an AHI Travel representative will meet you.

Transfer to Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra in San Sebastián. Please note, if you arrive before check-in time, your room may not be immediately available.

Tonight, at a Welcome Reception in the hotel, get acquainted with your fellow travelers. Then sit down together for a Welcome Dinner at a nearby restaurant.

October 3 San Sebastián

Start each day with a satisfying breakfast at your hotel.

Discovery: San Sebastián. This vibrant resort town, called Donostia in Basque, is the 2016 European Capital of Culture with a culinary reputation second to none. In fact, many people believe it is the best city in Spain, if not one of the top cities in the world, to enjoy a meal. See the Old Town highlights, including the Neo-Gothic Buen Pastor Cathedral, opened in 1897, and the town’s many grand Belle Epoque buildings. Stroll on the waterfront promenade for incredible views of the crescent-shaped La Concha Bay and its picture-perfect beach. (Moderate)

Free Time: The afternoon is yours to explore San Sebastián on your own. Perhaps take a walk on the Paseo Nuevo, which takes you around Monte Urgull, one of the two hills that overlooks the city. Nearby is the Museo de San Telmo with exhibits on Basque culture and Spanish art.

Enrichment: A History of Northern Spain. For thousands of years, the Basque people have inhabited this mountainous region and preserved their distinctive culture and language, Euskara, one of Europe’s oldest. Delve into the story of this alluring corner of Spain, known as Euskadi, or Basque Country.

Discovery: Meet the People. Join a diverse group of local residents for a delicious dinner and conversation about life in the Basque region.

October 4 Bayonne, France | Biarritz

Discovery: Bayonne. This lovely gem, which sits at the confluence of the Adour and Nive rivers, is France’s Basque capital. Visit the Gothic Sainte-Marie Cathedral and its cloisters during a guided walking tour of the Old Town. Relax over lunch at a rustic cidrerie, or cider house, where you can fill your glass right from the cask! (Moderate)

Discovery: Biarritz. Delight in this chic seaside resort on the Bay of Biscay. On a guided walk along the waterfront, start at the Church of St. Eugénie and make your way to the Rocher de la Vierge, an outcrop connected to the shore by a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel. A statue of the Virgin Mary stands atop the rock. From the southern side, you can see San Sebastián on a clear day. Visit the old fishing port and the medieval Atalaye watch tower, where fishermen kept an eye out for whales. (Active)

October 5 Bilbao, Spain

Discovery: Bilbao and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Opened in 1997, the Guggenheim Bilbao is regarded as one of the most important buildings of the 20th century. Designed by American architect Frank Gehry, the structure’s dazzling, curvy exterior is clad in thin sheets of titanium and features glass and limestone elements. Accompanied by a guide, view the exciting modern art collection at this visually stunning museum. Later, see Bilbao’s landmarks on a panoramic tour and break for lunch in the city after your excursion. (Moderate)

Free Time: After you return to San Sebastián, make your own dinner plans. Choose a classic Basque restaurant or perhaps try the more casual experience of the pintxos (tapas) bars. Each bar usually offers different bites. Platters of cold pintxos line the bar, but you’ll have to order the hot dishes. Many people enjoy a drink and a few pintxos at one spot, then head to the next place for another round of drinks and dishes.

October 6 Sare, France | Espelette | Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Discovery: French Basque Traditions and Espelette. Step back in time at Maison Ortillopitz, a restored, 16th-century farmhouse in Sare, and gain insights about French Basque family customs from your guide. Continue to Espelette, where strands of flame-red peppers hang from whitewashed homes, the traditional method of drying the peppers. First brought to the area in 1650 by a Basque sailor, the peppers are an integral ingredient in Basque cooking and officially protected as a regional product under the name, Piment d’Espelette. They even have their own festival, the Fête du Piment, held every year in October! Take a guided stroll through this scenic town, followed by a delicious lunch. (Moderate)

Enrichment: Basque Strength Games. Over lunch in Espelette, learn about herri kirolak, rural games based on old farming tasks. Competitors show off their strength and speed by chopping wood, lifting heavy stones and sawing.

Discovery: Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Journey to this pretty waterfront town with a swashbuckling past. In the 17th and 18th centuries, fishermen traded their nets for swords and cannons to become feared corsairs. Saint-Jean-de-Luz also was the site of a very important 17th-century royal wedding between France’s King Louis XIV, the Sun King, and Maria Teresa of Spain. Discover its fascinating history on a walking tour that takes you past the Church of St. Jean the Baptist. (Moderate)

Enrichment: The Romance of Hemingway and Spain. Appreciate Ernest Hemingway’s passion for Spanish culture, which developed over the many years he resided here and greatly influenced his writing.

October 7 Pamplona, Spain

Discovery: Pamplona. Head today to the capital of the Navarra region, known as Iruña in Basque. Hemingway brought worldwide attention to Pamplona’s signature event, the chaotic Running of the Bulls, in his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” With a guide, meander down the town’s atmospheric streets, where crowds throng each July during the weeklong festival of San Fermín. See the bullfighting ring and the Gothic Santa Maria Cathedral before enjoying lunch on your own in town. (Moderate)

Enrichment: The Way of St. James. Europe’s oldest pilgrimage route, with several stops in Basque Country, is both a spiritual and cultural journey. Delve into the enduring popularity of the Camino de Santiago, as it’s known in Spanish, which ultimately leads to the shrine of the apostle St. James in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.

October 8 San Sebastián

Free Time: Plan a fun agenda for yourself today in the San Sebastián area or choose to join the Elective Activity.

Elective Activity: Wines of the French Basque Country. Near the foothills of the Pyrenees, explore the well-preserved, walled old town of St. Jean Pied de Port, the starting point for pilgrims on the French route of the Way of St. James. Then journey through the breathtaking French countryside to sample outstanding wines created in the tiny Irouléguy wine region. (Moderate) Available at an additional cost.

Tonight, gather with your fellow travelers for a Farewell Reception and Dinner to celebrate your remarkable cultural immersion in Basque Country.

October 9 Depart for gateway city

After breakfast, AHI FlexAir passengers traveling on flights that qualify for a group transfer and Land Program passengers who have purchased seats on the group transfer depart for Bilbao Airport for your return flights home. Your Travel Director will provide the details.

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