Learning about Basque culture Community: Home territory is between France and Spain, but there's also a sizable enclave in Boise, Idaho.

Travel Q&A

December 28, 1997|By Jean Allen | Jean Allen,SUN-SENTINEL, SOUTH FLORIDA

I am considering a trip to Europe to travel through the Basque country. Some people claim that Basques are the survivors of Atlantis, the lost continent.

I've heard that Atlantis story, but never from a Basque, so if you plan a trip hoping to find Atlantis descendants, forget it.

Actually, you can meet Basques either by going to their home territory in Spain and France, or traveling to Boise, Idaho, home to 20,000 Basque descendants, the biggest concentration of Basques outside Europe.

In downtown Boise, what's known as the Basque Block on Grove Street includes a museum and shop, a social club and two former rooming houses where Basque shepherds once spent their winters. There's also a genealogical research center and a classroom for lessons in the Basque language, Euskera. It is older than Latin and has no similarities to any other language, which is part of the "Atlantis" rationale.

The Basque region in Europe straddles the frontier of southwestern France and northern Spain. Natives call it Euskadi. It is a region of rugged mountains, rolling hills, green valleys and seashores along the Bay of Biscay that includes three Spanish provinces and one French department.

Guernica (Gernika), a Boise restaurant/bar, is named for the one-time seat of the Basque parliament and the 300-year-old "Tree of Guernica," symbol of Basque rights, which was bombed by the Germans in 1937 with Franco's consent, killing more than 2,000 civilians. A famous Picasso painting, "Guernica," shows the bombing aftermath. It was the destruction of Guernica, since rebuilt, and Franco's banning of the language, that sparked the rise of a separatist movement.

There are vineyards everywhere, and instead of quaint hamlets, we found industrial plants and modern apartment buildings. For quaint, go to some of the fishing villages along the 120 miles of Basque-country coastline.

If you go, you'll find the most hotels in the two biggest cities, San Sebastian and Bilbao. Across the border in France, two coastal resorts in Basque country include the charming St. Jean-de-Luz and the more staid Biarritz.

A good side trip would be a day trip to Pamplona, site of the famous San Fermin Festival (the running of the bulls) in Navarre province, at the south edge of the Basque region. You can walk the route where the bulls run.

To learn more write: Tourist Office of Spain, 1221 Brickell Ave., Suite 1850, Miami, Fla. 33131; French Government Tourist Office, 444 Madison Ave., 16th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10022; Idaho Travel Council, 800-VISIT-ID.

I would like to visit Sardinia. Any information you can supply would be appreciated.

Sardinia, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is part of Italy, lying west of the mainland, northwest of Sicily and south of Corsica (which is French). The Costa Smeralda (Emerald coast) in the northeastern part of the island has grand hotels, nice beaches and mobs of tourists.

The rest, more serene, has beaches -- said to be among the best in Europe -- that ring the craggy coast; ancient ruins; refuges for flamingos and marine seals; and villages where Sardinians wear distinctive costumes on feast days and folk festivals.

A good road circles the island, hugging the eastern coast and rising at times into the central mountains. Ferries connect it to several mainland cities, and flights arrive from Rome. Car rentals are available, and buses link the island's towns and cities. Trains are described as slow and unreliable.

Travelers interested in archaeology will find signs of the past stretching back to prehistoric times, when men dotted the island with mysterious cone-shaped houses and watchtowers.

The Italian Government Tourist Office, 630 Fifth Ave., Suite 1565, New York, N.Y. 10111, has good brochures and listings of tour operators, island travel agents and other helpful sources. Ask for this information well in advance. Sardinia has its own tourist office, located at Via Mameli 97, 09100 Cagliari (the island capital).

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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