The Windows of Basque Country, France

Le Pays Basque France

Nestled in French Basque Country, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a fishing port and resort town just minutes away from France’s border with Spain.

We book-ended our two-week stay in Bilbao, Spain with day and weekend trips to Bordeaux and Rioja Alavesa wine country, elegant Biarritz, France, and seaside Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

When Shawn, his parents and I weren’t tempted by what was in Saint-Jean-de-Luz’s ground-level windows – most notably the tempting tarts of golden-brown known locally as Gâteaux Basques – we focused our attention upon the buildings’ upper-level windows, and their delightful flourishes.

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Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum & its ‘Pet’ Exhibit, Puppy

Journey to Bilbao, Spain, and the city’s celebrated Guggenheim Museum, and you’ll no doubt find yourself charmed by the modern-art museum’s ‘pet’ exhibit, Puppy.

The 12 meter-tall canine (about 40 feet), modeled after a West Highland White Terrier pup, is comprised of thousands of flowers. It stands guard in front of the shimmering Guggenheim Museum, which was designed by architect Frank Gehry, and opened in 1997.

While I’m sure Puppy is probably effective at eliciting smiles from most passersby, I was personally fond of the flowery topiary since it reminded me of childhood dogs, Jenny and Bonnie, both Westies and real-life versions of Puppy.

Puppy’s creator, Jeff Koons, used computer modeling to design Puppy, and when we visited, the canine sported blooms ranging from begonias, to marigolds and petunias.

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Where Tempranillo & Tradition Meet: A Wine Tour of Rioja Alavesa, Spain

As we motored through the Rioja Alavesa wine country in northern Spain, a golden landscape dotted with hilltop monasteries, sweeping vineyards, and walled towns with window boxes overflowing with red geraniums, I reflected on what we had absorbed that day. In a region famed for wine we’d enjoyed much wonderful vino, of course, but we also took in a rich amount of history – everything from walking in a 1,000 year-old necropolis with burial plots chiseled out of rock, to diving deep into a wine cellar that was originally dug out to be an escape tunnel during times of war. We also mingled with winery owners possessing a respect for tradition, and a desire to incorporate forward-thinking, sustainable practices into their businesses.

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Basking in Bilbao’s Renaissance: A Walking Tour of the Basque City

As we passed Bilbao’s state-of-the art structures, juxtaposed with timeless buildings flashing Old World flair, I had a hard time imagining what the Basque Country’s largest city was like before the Guggenheim Museum sparked its economic renaissance in the late 1990s. Still new to Bilbao, I was also fascinated with what constituted a Basque identity – what makes the Basque people unique from others in Spain. Our host, Marta, would help me better understand both as we explored the northern Spanish city’s highlights.

“Bilbao used to be grey and sad,” Marta said, as we began our day together. “It was dirty and industrial. There were political problems and high unemployment. People used to always say ‘I’ll go through Bilbao, but I don’t want to step foot there.'”

On this summer day, however, the aesthetics of Bilbao were a treat for the senses, because it was so different from other European cities we’d explored.

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The Pintxos of Basque Country – Spain

Pintxos Basque Euskadi Spain

In Spain’s Basque Country, pintxos – a finger food similar to tapas, are ubiquitous fare in small bars. Pincho (the Spanish version of the name) or pintxos (Basque) means ‘spike’ and helps to distinguish this toothpick-adorned treat from its tapas cousins, which generally aren’t served with toothpicks. Go into a bar – especially in the late-afternoon hours – and you’ll see locals feasting upon pintxos after work, even making a progressive snack out of them, by moving from bar to bar.

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