An Introduction to Boise’s Basque Community

Find a little slice of the Basque Country in the heart of Boise
Find a little slice of the Basque Country in the heart of Boise | © Boise CVB
Matt Kirouac

When most people envision Boise, Idaho, paella and fronton courts probably don’t immediately come to mind. Yet the capital is home to the largest concentration of Basque people outside of Spain, and a stroll through the thriving community reveals a world of culture, history and tradition.

The pilgrimage to Idaho

The Basque Country has long been anchored in the western Pyrenees region of northern Spain and southern France. Here, peaceful ranchers and craftsmen formed a community unique among its European neighbors.

The journey to Idaho’s capital city has been a steady process. Immigration began in the late 1800s, as Basque people found more lucrative opportunities in the western United States, initially for mining and then for ranching and sheepherding. Boise, in particular, was a region where the Basque people could let their culture thrive by herding sheep and operating boarding houses. Most importantly, though, it was a place where they could exist unthreatened.

It was during Francisco Franco’s reign in Spain that Basque people sought escape in droves. Enraged by their unwillingness to unify with the rest of Spain, Franco banned Euskera in public, withheld funds for the region and ultimately, with the aid of Nazi Germany, carpet bombed the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, leaving hundreds of civilians dead and the community in tatters. The infamous attack on an innocent city like Guernica, one without any real military presence, rattled the world and left an entire culture reeling. The Basque people needed a safe place where they could thrive.

More and more Basque people would move to Idaho, where they had already established a presence. Nowadays, Boise’s Basque district is a symbol of resilience and survival for an enduring community.

Basque expats brought their traditions with them to Idaho

Finding rebirth in an adopted hometown

The heart of the Basque community is the Basque Block in downtown Boise, where the Basque flag hangs right alongside the American one. It’s a stretch of Grove Street lined with boarding houses and businesses. The block’s sidewalks are even engraved with the names of Boise’s original Basque immigrants, not unlike Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, but for a culture.

The most symbolic part of the block, though, is a humble-looking tree. After the devastating bombing of Guernica, a miraculous remnant was a longstanding oak tree that quickly became a symbol of resilience and hope for the Basque people. A sapling from that tree lives on in downtown Boise, now fully grown and indicative of a culture’s incredible fight for survival.

The Basque Center serves as a community hub in this adopted hometown

Paella, pala and a sheepherders ball

The Basque Block is the only Basque museum in the U.S., delving into local lore with a sheepherding tent and tours of a traditional Basque boarding house. Visit the Anduiza Building, a former boarding house, to check out the fronton court. A rare breed in the U.S., it provides a home for traditional Basque sports like handball and pala. There’s also the Basque Center, a community hub that hosts traditional dance groups, the music-filled San Inazio Festival held in honor of the patron saint of the Basques and the annual Sheepherders Ball Dinner and Dance, which raises funds for regional Basque families. The Basque Market, on the other hand, contains the largest collection of Basque wine in the state, along with myriad ingredients and provisions native to the Basque Country. Famously, the market prepares hulking portions of paella right on the sidewalk twice-weekly for lunchtime passersby.

Still hungry? Check out Leku Ona for a taste of Basque fine dining in a chic, gallery-like space. Here, croquettes, paella, fried cod, beef tongue, stuffed squid and tripe take guests on a sensory journey. For something more casual, the pub-like Bar Gernika serves an array of wine, beer, cider and snacks, including chorizo, tortilla de patatas, pork loin sandwiches and cinnamon-flecked rice pudding. Don’t miss the kalimotxo, a classic Basque beverage that combines red wine and cola.

The Basque Block plays host to numerous cultural festivals throughout the year

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article