& the Basque Country

Nestled between Spain and France, the Basque Country is a region with a unique cultural identity, captivating landscapes, and a rich history that spans centuries. Known for its distinctive language, Euskara, and a strong sense of regional pride, the Basque Country offers a fascinating blend of tradition and modernity.

The Basque Country boasts a cultural tapestry woven from ancient traditions and contemporary influences. From vibrant folk festivals to avant-garde art scenes, the region embraces a diverse range of cultural expressions. Traditional Basque dance, music, and culinary delights contribute to a dynamic cultural landscape that captivates locals and visitors alike.

Euskara, the Basque language, stands as one of the oldest languages in Europe with no known linguistic relatives. Despite historical challenges, the Basque people have preserved their linguistic heritage, reinforcing a strong sense of identity. Signs in Euskara, alongside Spanish and French, reflect the region's commitment to maintaining its unique cultural character.

Basque cuisine is celebrated globally for its exceptional quality and innovation. San Sebastian, in particular, is renowned for its Michelin-starred restaurants, pintxos bars, and seafood delicacies. Pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, offer a delightful culinary adventure, with small bites showcasing the region's gastronomic prowess.

The Basque Country's landscapes are a visual feast, featuring a diverse array of mountains, beaches, and lush green valleys. The Pyrenees Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop, while the picturesque coastal towns like San Sebastian and Bilbao offer breathtaking views of the Bay of Biscay. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore hiking trails, surf along the coast, or simply unwind in the region's natural beauty.

Modern architecture coexists harmoniously with historic buildings in the Basque Country. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by architect Frank Gehry, stands as a symbol of avant-garde design and cultural innovation. Meanwhile, charming medieval towns like Hondarribia showcase well-preserved architecture that transports visitors to another era.

Basque festivals are lively and colorful events that reflect the region's vibrant spirit. The Running of the Bulls during San Fermín in Pamplona is one of the most famous festivals, attracting thrill-seekers from around the world. Additionally, traditional celebrations like the Basque Rural Sports Festival highlight the athletic prowess and cultural heritage of the Basque people.

For me, Bilbao and the Basque Country has been for long in my travel plans.  This year, grabing the opoprtunity of direct flights from Athens to Bilbao, I spent two lovely weeks in Bilbao during Christmas and New Year holidays.

Bilbao: A City of Culture and Innovation

Nestled in the heart of Spain's Basque Country, Bilbao stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of tradition and modernity. The capital of the Basque Country is renowned for its architectural marvels, rich cultural scene, and culinary delights, this city on the Nervión River has transformed itself in a short period of time from an industrial powerhouse to a vibrant cultural hub.

From the moment the aircraft lands at Bilbao Airport, the visitor is welcomed by an excellent example of modern architecture, on of the many to see in and around the city. The main terminal of the airport designed by the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, has the shape of a white bird with its open wings offering shelter to the travelers or one of those paper made airplane of our child years.

The Guggenheim Museum

Bilbao's skyline is dominated by the iconic Guggenheim Museum, designed by the legendary architect Frank Gehry. The museum's avant-garde architecture, characterized by titanium-clad curves and innovative design, has become a symbol of the city's regeneration. The museum not only houses a remarkable collection of contemporary art but also serves as a catalyst for urban revitalization, drawing art enthusiasts from around the globe.

Bilbao's Artistic Scene

Beyond the Guggenheim, Bilbao offers a diverse array of cultural experiences. The Fine Arts Museum boasts an important collection of Spanish and Basque art, while the Maritime Museum takes visitors on a journey through the region's seafaring history. The city's commitment to the arts extends to its vibrant street art scene, turning ordinary streets into open-air galleries.

Bilbao's Old Quarter: Casco Viejo

Bilbao's Casco Viejo, also known as the Old Town, is a captivating district that weaves together centuries of history, vibrant culture, and a lively atmosphere. Nestled along the Nervion River in the heart of Bilbao, this historic neighborhood invites visitors to step back in time and experience the city's rich heritage.

Casco Viejo is a tapestry of architectural wonders, with its narrow winding streets, medieval structures, and charming squares. The area dates to the 14th century, and its historic buildings showcase a blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. Wander through the cobbled streets to encounter landmarks such as the Santiago Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, and the Plaza Nueva, a neoclassical square that has been the center of social life for centuries.

The Old Town is a haven for shoppers, offering a diverse range of boutiques, artisanal shops, and traditional markets. Mercado de la Ribera, one of Europe's largest covered markets, is a sensory delight with its fresh produce, seafood, and local delicacies. Stroll through the streets to discover unique boutiques and galleries, where local artisans showcase their crafts, making it an ideal place to pick up one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Food enthusiasts will find Casco Viejo to be a culinary paradise. Pintxos bars line the streets, offering a delectable array of bite-sized culinary creations. From traditional Basque dishes to modern interpretations, the Old Town's eateries cater to every palate. Plaza Nueva is a hotspot for enjoying these small, flavorful bites along with a glass of local Txakoli wine, creating an authentic gastronomic experience.

Amidst the historic charm, Casco Viejo is also home to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (under renovation). This museum houses an impressive collection of Spanish and Basque art, including works by renowned artists such as Goya and El Greco. The museum's architecture, blending classical and modern elements, is a testament to Bilbao's commitment to preserving its cultural heritage.

A bit further south Bilboko Eleiz Museoa, the Museum of Sacred Art, houses more than 500 pieces of Biscayan art: sculptures, paintings, vestments, goldsmith, and silversmith artifacts, from the Romanesque era to the present day. The museum is in the convent of La Encarnacion, founded in 1514 by Dominican nuns, the first female convent in Bilbao. Its austere façade does not allow us to guess the relaxing interior cloister from which the exhibition rooms are accessed.

As you explore Casco Viejo, don't miss the opportunity to stroll along the riverbanks. Admire the iconic Zubizuri footbridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava, and the Salbeko Zubia (La Salve Bridge) with its eye-catching red arch, and the bridge-city symbol Puente San Anton. These structures not only connect the Old Town to the modern Bilbao but also offer stunning views of the cityscape.

Throughout the year, Casco Viejo comes alive with festivals and events that celebrate Basque culture. From the lively Semana Grande festivities in August to the traditional Basque folk performances, visitors have the chance to immerse themselves in the vibrant spirit of the region.

Gastronomic Delights: Pintxos and Beyond

Bilbao's pintxos are a culinary delight that captivates locals and visitors alike. These bite-sized culinary treasures are an integral part of the city's gastronomic culture, offering a delightful journey through the flavors of the Basque Country. 


Pintxos are small snacks (tapas or meze) typically served on slices of bread and held together with toothpicks. The Basque Country, and Bilbao in particular, takes great pride in its pintxos tradition. What makes this culinary experience unique is the emphasis on variety and creativity. Bars and taverns throughout the city showcase an impressive array of pintxos, ranging from traditional classics to innovative, avant-garde creations. 

Casco Viejo is a pintxos haven. As the sun sets, the narrow streets come alive with locals and visitors hopping from one pintxos bar to another. Each establishment boasts its own specialties, and the ritual of hopping between bars, trying different pintxos and sipping local wines (Txakoli wine is the famous drink of the area) or beers and ciders, is a social experience cherished by the Basque community. 


Classic pintxos often feature local ingredients such as chorizo, anchovies, green olives, eggs or the renowned Idiazabal cheese. However, what truly sets Bilbao's pintxos scene apart is the fusion of traditional flavors with modern twists. Chefs in the city experiment with innovative combinations, elevating pintxos to an art form. 

For those curious about the components of these delectable bites, a visit to La Ribera Market is a must. Here, you'll find stalls brimming with fresh produce, seafood, and local specialties that serve as the building blocks for Bilbao's pintxos. The market's vibrant atmosphere reflects the city's dedication to culinary excellence. 


When indulging in the pintxos scene, it's essential to embrace the local etiquette. In many places, pintxos are displayed on the bar counter, and patrons help themselves, keeping track of the toothpicks, which determine the final bill. It's a communal experience that encourages sharing and conviviality. 

Us tourists usually enjoy pintxos in a more “appropriate” way: go to the bar and point (Spanish is not necessary) to the pintxos that look tasty or fancy to you, collect as many as you want, pay on the spot (at the counter) and enjoy them as breakfast, lunch or dinner either at the bar or a table, or even on the street.

Bacalao, or salted cod, is a significant ingredient in Basque cuisine, a staple food. Scrolling around the streets of Casco Viejo or the neighborhoods on the slopes around the center, one very often sees shops selling nothing else than salted cod. Stacks of salted cod, waiting to be cooked in many ways.  A popular Basque dish featuring bacalao is "Bacalao a la Vizcaína," which is cod in a rich tomato and red pepper sauce. Another traditional dish is "Pil Pil," where bacalao is cooked with garlic and olive oil, creating a creamy emulsion. Bacalao plays a versatile role in Basque gastronomy, showcasing its adaptability in various flavorful preparations.

The Basque Cheesecake

Basque Cheesecake, also known as "Burnt Cheesecake," has taken the dessert world by storm with its unique appearance and delectable taste. Originating from the Basque Country in Spain, this dessert has become a global sensation, capturing the hearts and taste buds of food enthusiasts everywhere.

What sets Basque Cheesecake apart is its unconventional preparation. Unlike traditional cheesecakes that require meticulous precision, this dessert embraces imperfection. The burnt, caramelized exterior is a result of baking at a high temperature, creating a delightful contrast to the creamy and luscious interior. The cracked, rustic appearance adds to its charm, making each slice a work of edible art.

Basque Cheesecake boasts a simple yet flavorful ingredient list. Cream cheese, sugar, eggs, heavy cream, and a touch of flour come together to create a rich and velvety texture. The absence of a crust allows the cheesecake's essence to shine through, highlighting the quality of the ingredients.

The key to the Basque Cheesecake's distinctive texture lies in its baking technique. The high baking temperature not only caramelizes the sugar on the surface but also creates a creamy, almost gooey center. The result is a dessert that is simultaneously firm and melt-in-your-mouth, providing a symphony of textures with every bite.

While the classic Basque Cheesecake is a masterpiece, chefs and home bakers alike have embraced the opportunity to experiment with flavors. From matcha and citrus infusions to chocolate swirls, the adaptability of this dessert allows for endless creative possibilities. This versatility ensures that Basque Cheesecake can cater to a wide range of palates and preferences.

Social media platforms have played a significant role in the rise of Basque Cheesecake's popularity. Its visually striking appearance, coupled with the promise of a delightful taste experience, has made it a favorite among influencers and food enthusiasts. The hashtag #BasqueCheesecake has become a hub for sharing various interpretations and flavor combinations from around the world.

One of the appealing aspects of Basque Cheesecake is its accessibility for home bakers. With a straightforward recipe and minimalistic approach, even those with limited baking experience can achieve impressive results. The forgiving nature of the dessert encourages creativity and experimentation in the kitchen.

The best place to enjoy your cheescake while in Bilbao is "Bascake Bilbao" (Colón de Larreátegui K., 23, Abando). The shop is really a hole in the wall that bakes the most fressh and delicious cakes.  There are not seets in the shop, but take it away and eat it just outside while it is still warm.

"ARVO Coffee & Plants" (Barraincúa Kalea, 9, Abando) is another establishment serving beautifully created cheescakes.  Try the pistachio cheesecake with a matcha latte and feel the happiness flow in your veins. 

Group Counseling

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60 mins | $400

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