Hailing from the Spain-France border, the Basque people migrated to Boise in the 1800s, as it proved to be an excellent place for sheepherding. A culture all of its own, with a distinct language, Euskera, the community still thrives to this day, with a firm foundation true to their origins. Boise houses one of the largest concentrated Basque communities in the world, with the heart of it all bundled into what is known as The Basque Block. When visiting Idaho, particularly the capital, people from the community are welcoming and eager to share their way of life, and history, with others.
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Visit the Basque Museum and Cultural Center
Here, visitors can walk through exhibits of Basque heritage, which are tied into significant historical events. The museum and cultural center has quite a bit going on—explore archives, attend social side activities or browse the museum and adorable authentic souvenirs available at the gift shop. The Boiseko Ikastola Preschool, an enriching program taught in the native language, preparing all children, not just Basque, for kindergarten, is also a significant fixture. Open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00am to 6:00pm, and Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm, tourists can see first hand the amazing efforts to conserve the history and presence of Basque culture.
Tour the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga Boarding House
Holding the title of the oldest, intact brick building in Boise, the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga Boarding House is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Restoration efforts over the years have brought the home to its original glory, and tours organized by the Basque Museum are available June through August on select weekdays at 11:30am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm and 4:30pm—Saturday time slots are 11:30pm, 1:00pm and 2:30pm. September through May, only Saturday tours are available at 12:00pm and 1:30pm. It’s certainly worth making time to see this stunning part of history, as artifacts found during the excavation are now set on display, and there’s quite a lot to see.
Attend Activities at the Anduiza Fronton Building
Established in 1912, the house was used as a boarding home for transitioning immigrants, and the original Handball court has remained unchanged for over a century. Here, the community can learn about this traditional sport, which is a type of racquetball also referred to as Pala, while also being able to experience dance performances.
View the Basque Mural
Located on South Capitol Boulevard is a stunning painting depicting many essential traits of this lovely culture. For three days, artists from around the world tediously crafted a mural of explorers, merchants, the Baserri Farmhouse, Picasso’s “Guernica”, the Tree of Gernika, boarding houses, Oinkari Dancers, St. John’s Cathedral, Basque Sports and sheepherders. Within a glimpse, one can somewhat gain a bit of understanding about the unique community.
Shop and Snack at the Basque Market
A precious, snug little shop, the Basque Market is fixated with a few tables for enjoying a variety of Tapas, known as Pintox amongst the Basque region. Walls are lined with delicious imported products and an impressive variety of Spanish and Basque wines are presented during tastings. On Friday nights, the market hosts a three-course dinner complete with a starter, entree and dessert that is famous amongst Boise locals.
Attend an Event at the Basque Center
Large events and annual fundraisers like the Sheepherder’s Ball are generally hosted at The Basque Center. It’s a place of social gathering, dancing and other intriguing events like the Mortzilla dinner featuring Basque blood sausage. Constructed of the traditional plaster exterior walls and wood trim associated with the culture, it’s an appropriate place to attend one of the enriching celebrations.
Experience a Festival
Street festivals and annual celebrations are quite the spectacle and are completely embraced by the city. Attendees often flood the streets while dancing and playing native music—these bashes bring folks from all origins together. Particularly notable gatherings include the annual Basque Museum’s Winefest, Pete and Freda Cenarrusa’s Lamb Barbecue, and the spectacular San Inazio Festival in July, complete with musicians, Boiseko Gazteak and Oinkari dancers, and Pala games. Spreading from the Western Idaho Fairgrounds to Basque Block, Jaialdi is the largest celebration of Basque culture in the world and takes place every five years— the next one is set for July 28 through August 2 in 2020.
Eat and Drink at Bar Gernika
A cozy pub praised for cocktails, a vast craft beer selection and perfectly executed cuisine, Bar Gernika ranks highly amongst travelers and residents. Croquetas, crispy balls of butter, onion, chicken, flour and milk, with tiger sauce for dipping, or any dish with chorizo, a spicy Basque sausage, are amongst the highly recommended foods. But the beef tongue with tomato and pepper sauce, smothered with plenty of garlic might be the all-time star of the menu, but it’s only served on Saturdays, and it goes quite fast. During festivals and warmer months, sit on the patio to view all the action.
Fine Dine at Leku Ona
Leku Ona means “good place” in Euskera— fine cuisine is traditionally prepared by Basque chefs at the elegant eatery. Lamb stew, beef tongue, poached pears, roasted potatoes and other diverse flavors are presented on the refreshingly different menu, and the food is certainly an exceptional way to delve into any lifestyle.
Stay at the Leku Ona Hotel
Connected to the restaurant is a boutique hotel with basic, yet charming accommodations. It’s a simple place to stay, and it sets amongst all the major Basque sites, as well as in the very center of Boise. Convenient, and with plenty of age-old influence, the Leku Ona Hotel is a precious gem.
Take a Stroll
Just walking the streets of the block is immersive and educational. Take in the classic, “Etxea” architecture, and notice the little touches like Basque songs and poems engraved onto the sidewalk concrete.
Wind Down at Hotel Ketchum
Hotel Ketchum sets near Sun Valley, about three hours east of Boise. A fairly new establishment, the renovated building is a modernized nod to the significant influence shepherding has had on Idaho. With a massive sheep mural on the exterior side and other touches here and there, the hotel pays subtle homage to the culture. Hotel Ketchum wows with enormous picture windows facing the ski town’s mountains, and a streamlined, lavish, yet cozy ambiance—it’s the perfect place to conclude a Basque-influenced trip.