Looking for a place filled with history, great food and fun? Try Boise

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Think Idaho and images of legendary potatoes, unrivaled skiing, Ernest Hemingway and Basques come to mind. Basques? Basques? What ?

Idaho, in particular Wooded, indeed has deep ties to this fiercely independent and hardworking ethnic group originating from the westernmost Pyrenees between France and Spain. In fact, Boise is home to the second largest concentration of Basques outside of Spain.

They arrived in the 1800s, looking for work. The area had lots of sheep and not enough shepherds, so the Basques, whether they herded sheep in their home country or had another profession, took on jobs that meant months of loneliness in remote mountain areas.

In the winter, when the herds were brought to the valleys, they would return to Boise to live in boarding houses and dream of a home.

Idaho, especially Boise, indeed has deep ties to this fiercely independent and hard-working ethnic group from the westernmost Pyrenees between France and Spain.  In fact, Boise is home to the second largest concentration of Basques outside of Spain.

The Basque influence can be seen in the city’s museums, food scene and festivals. In Boise, visitors can be as Basque as they feel like, which is a good thing because Basques know how to party and eat.

Boise offers an immersive experience in Basque culture, not to mention a ton of other attractions, not the least of which is a beautiful setting.

Jaialdi, one of the largest Basque festivals in the world, attracts thousands of people from all over the world. It’s all about eating, drinking and being Basque, which includes dancing, singing, sporting events and meeting old and new friends.

Held every five years, with the next taking place in July 2025, Jaialdi is a huge festival to begin with, but the 2025 event is set to prove even bigger, as Jaialdi 2020 fell victim to the pandemic. Incidentally, the name means “party” in Euskara, the Basque language, the only surviving isolated language in Europe and a language established long before the arrival of Celtic and Romance languages.

Boise, Idaho celebrates its Basque history with festivals and community centers.

Boise’s basque block offers a compact look at all things Basque, one block in the middle of the capital’s central entertainment district.

To feed your soul and spirit, visit the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, which brings to life the tremendous struggles and triumphs of the people. In addition to interactive exhibits, the museum also offers cooking classes and language lessons and runs a Basque kindergarten.

On one side of the museum is the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House, an authentic Basque boarding house, a second home for shepherds and other Basques who sought prosperity in Idaho. Boarding houses were more than just places to relax during the winter months.

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“For young Basque immigrants far from home, the boarding houses became the village church, the city tavern, the bank and the dispensary,” note John and Mark Bieter in “An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho”.

On the other side of the museum is the Anduiza building, another guesthouse, but with a twist, since the building houses a still very active pediment, a Basque handball court. It is also home to the Boise Fronton Association, which uses it to preserve the sports of Basque handball and pala, a game played with a heavy wooden racket and a hard rubber ball.

Nearby, the Basque center offers the opportunity to participate in Basque dances and gatherings.

After going through Basque history, it’s time to savor Basque cuisine, which plays a huge role in culture. Head toward Basque market across the street for pintxos or Basque tapas.

You’re especially lucky if you visit on a Wednesday when the huge paella pan comes out on the terrace for lunch. OK, so the paella is really from Valencia in Spain, but it tastes really good at the Basque market, especially if you people watch on the quaint patio.

The Basque Market in Boise, Idaho is known for its paella.

Wash it down with the largest selection of Basque and Spanish wines in the Northwest.

Neighbor Leku Ona has a cozy Old World feel to it and their lamb shank, served with demi-glace, is exceptional in both taste and portion size. The Leku Ona Salad is also huge and delicious, thanks in part to the crumbled Manchego, the special homemade croutons and dressing, and the hard-boiled egg that’s part of the wonderful mix of greens.

The Tavern Boutique Hotel next door makes an ideal base of operations.

At the other end of the block is Bar Gernika with pub food that features traditional Basque dishes such as lamb stew with Basque dishes such as yellowfin tuna melt.

Of course, there’s more to Boise than its Basque heritage. A very accessible city, the capital of Idaho has a lively downtown. It’s big enough, with over 200,000 residents, but not too big, with wide boulevards excluding the claustrophobic concrete canyons of other cities. the airport, just four miles from downtown, is a cinch to reach.

Eminently walkable, friendly and safe, downtown features lively dining and entertainment with eclectic touches such as Freak Alley Gallery, the largest outdoor multi-artist gallery in the Northwest. Hundreds of participating artists bring their creative touch to the aisle and new murals are constantly added for an ever different experience.

The streets of downtown Boise, Idaho are lined with sidewalk cafes.

The Alley connects to Boise’s main restaurant street and its surprising array of eateries, all presented with classic European-style patio dining options – and thoughtfully heated. It’s no wonder that “US News & World Report” has named Boise one of the three most promising culinary destinations in the West.

The eclectic mix of accommodations in this diverse city adds to the experience. Get a funky room modern hotel, where the courtyard and its bar/restaurant are the favorite haunt of woodsy foodies, thanks to a menu that includes nuggets like seared scallops in a deconstructed chowder.

A hop, skip and a jump from the Modern is another Basque star restaurant. Txikiteo (chee-kee-tay-o), a revisited Basque cuisine, offers tapas, charcuterie boards and regional Basque wines. With a large outdoor seating area with fire pits, the restaurant is perfect for a light meal before a night out.

Like the Modern, Hotel 43 is also closely associated with good food. When you stay at this boutique hotel across from Boise Center, Chandlers Steakhouse and Seafood, one of the best steakhouses in Idaho, is not right next door, but actually connected and will gladly provide room service if you opt for a night.

Boredom is not an option in this city with so much to do indoors and outdoors that it earned fourth place on Expedia’s list of the coolest town centers in North America. Idaho State Museum and Boise Art Museum, which face each other at the entrance to pretty Julia Davis Park, both deserve at least an afternoon each. Boise Zoo is within walking distance of the bright rose gardens. JUMP, or Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, is an interactive creative hub a few blocks away.

Outdoor pleasures are, well, a pleasure in Boise. Bogus Basin Mountain, 26 km away, offers 2,600 acres of skiable terrain with tubing, snowshoeing and alpine and Nordic skiing in winter. During the summer there is biking, hiking, chairlift rides, gold panning, music and summer tubing. A gravity-driven roller coaster operates year-round.

The 25 miles Boise River Greenbelt meanders through the city and beyond, connecting the Ridge to Rivers Trail from the scenic foothills to a series of parks. Hotels such as the Modern and Hotel 43 offer the use of free cruiser bikes to ride around the city. Boise Whitewater Park is popular for its kayaking, SUP, surfing (yes, surfing) and swimming opportunities.

At one o’clock are Bruneau Dunes State Park, the largest isolated sand dunes in North America, and the Bruneau Dunes Observatory Complex, a five-mile nature trail that delves into unique geology.

Also an hour drive is celebration park, home to a large concentration of petroglyphs and ancient Paiute campsites. Idaho City, with saloons, the Boot Hill Territorial Jail and Cemetery, plus a hot springs retreat, is a doable ride, as is The Idaho Wine Country, located at the same latitude as the famous wine regions of France.

It’s no surprise that so many Basques, people from a land rich in natural appeal and with a strong sense of komunitatea (community) and adjskidetasuna (friendship), gravitate to Boise.

It reminded them of their home.

To verify boise.org for more.

Sonnenberg is a Melbourne-based travel and lifestyle writer.

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