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The Pays Basque

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The three Basque provinces – Labourd (Lapurdi), Basse Navarre (Behe Nafarroa) and Soule (Zuberoa) – share with their Spanish neighbours a common language – Euskera – and a strong sense of identity. The language is widely spoken, and Basques refer to their country as Euskal-herri (or, across the border in Spain, Euskadi). You’ll see bilingual French/Euskera toponym signage and posters throughout the region (sometimes only in Euskera), so in this section we have given the Euskera for all locations in brackets after the French.

Apart from the language and the traditional broad beret, the most obvious manifestations of Basque national identity are the ubiquitous trinquets (enclosed) or frontons (open) concrete courts in which the national game of pelota is played. Pairs of players wallop a hard leather-covered ball, either with their bare hands or a long basket-work extension of the hand called a chistera (in the variation known as cesta punta), against a high wall blocking one end of the court. It’s extraordinarily dangerous – the ball travels at speeds of up to 200kph – and knockouts or worse are not uncommon.

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