If you’re looking to experience the ultimate in Basque food, culture, sports and more all in one week, you won’t want to miss Euskal Jaiak.
This weeklong event (the name of which translates to “Basque Festivities” in English) typically takes place at the beginning of September, not long after the epic Semana Grande celebrations in August. As a result, it’s safe to say that San Sebastian is the place to be in late summer. Here’s everything you need to know about the most exciting Basque celebration you’ve never heard of, and why it should be on your agenda this coming year.
What are the Basque Festivities?
Take traditional Basque clothing, music, sports, food and more, amp up the intensity to the max, and put it all together into one unforgettable week. The result: Euskal Jaiak. The event usually takes place in early September (scheduled for August 31-September 8, 2019) and provides a fascinating opportunity to get a look at what, exactly, it means to be Basque.
As you may have noticed, the Basque Country doesn’t exactly fit the image you might have of Spain. Locals here are fiercely proud of their culture, language and identity. To put it briefly, Euskal Jaiak is a celebration of all of these things, and as a visitor, it will give you a deeper appreciation for this unique corner of the world and its proud heritage.
One of the most emblematic celebrations taking place during Euskal Jaiak is Cider Day, or Sagardo Eguna in Basque. You might be wondering why, if cider season takes place from January through April, we’re still drinking cider in September. It’s a great question, and one that comes with a pleasantly surprising answer.
At the end of cider season, the remaining product is bottled up so it can be enjoyed throughout the rest of the year. Starting in late April, each weekend is the official “Cider Day” in a different city or town throughout the province of Gipuzkoa. Bottles of cider are brought in by the hundreds, and locals gather to enjoy this emblematic drink al fresco surrounded by good company.
As luck would have it, San Sebastian’s Cider Day always falls during the Euskal Jaiak celebrations. Along with the cider, there are plenty of chorizo pintxos to go around, and the traditional Basque accordion music provides a perfect soundtrack for the festivities. 2019’s event is scheduled for September 7, so save the date!
Bandera de la Concha Regatta
With such splendid beaches hugging the city’s northern coast, it’s no surprise that San Sebastian locals are crazy about all kinds of water sports. The ultimate showdown is another can’t-miss part of the Euskal Jaiak festival: the Bandera de la Concha regatta.
Dating back to 1879, this rowing contest forms an integral part of the history of the city. Today, it remains one of the most-attended events during Euskal Jaiak, with thousands of spectators lining the coastline of La Concha bay to watch the exciting races.
The first round of 2019’s competition is set for September 2, and the finals will take place a week later on September 9. Races start at 11 a.m. both days, but be sure to get there early to grab a spot with a good view.
Traditional Basque sports
If you thought football and soccer were exciting as far as sports go, you haven’t seen anything yet. Here in the Basque Country, we take traditional sports pretty seriously. From wood chopping to handball to stone lifting and so much more, we think it’s safe to say that even the most hardcore sports fan hasn’t seen events like this before.
During Euskal Jaiak, the best athletes in their respective sports descend upon San Sebastian to participate in the championships. Even if sports aren’t usually your thing, we recommend checking this out—you’ll be amazed at the feats of strength and speed that Basque athletes have been perfecting for centuries.
The best of the rest
As if all that wasn’t enough, the streets of San Sebastian will come alive throughout Euskal Jaiak with the sounds of Basque music, with dancers dressed in traditional clothing providing a vibrant and colorful visual effect. All in all, it’s a nonstop party showcasing the best of Basque culture—and the main reason why we can’t wait for September!
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Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.