Tours don't get better than this. Zach is an American, Irene is a local. Either one would be great on their own. Together, they are unbeatable!
So why is that? Because they each filter what they are telling you through their own upbringing and their background. If you are American, Zack makes references to familiar things you know so you can understand the Basque culture easily. Irene explains how life is in Basque country from local eyes, telling stories about how her mother cooks or what foods are special and how they have them only on Christmas, for example. Together, the two different perspectives give the tour a depth you can't get from other tours.
We went to a wonderful restaurant called "Mandoya". All Basque food, no English was spoken. Irene and Zach patiently went through each menu item with us. They wrote down the selections and then presented them to the waitress. It was out of this world good! And we felt as though we had tasted real Basque food. It was quite an experience thanks to them.
They met us right on time with their Mercedes Van. I don't think I have ever had more enthusiastic guides. So friendly and HAPPY! They really enjoy what they do.
We did too much to be written about here. If you have specific things or interests to investigate, tell them. They can make a personal tour for you.
Overall we were thrilled and we wish Zach and Irene continued success in the future. They work hard at it and they deserve it!
Visited June 2016Mark & Ron, Monterrey, California,
We were coming into Bilbao, Spain via a cruise ship. I booked this tour with Zach and Irene just a couple of weeks before we arrived as it was a last minute trip for us. Zach was extremely prompt in answering my emails and any questions we had. My husband has mobility issues and we travel with a small electric scooter and I wanted to make sure that there was room in the van for his scooter. Zach assured me there was plenty of room.
I booked this for myself and my husband along with two other people from our cruise ship. The second day we were on the cruise ship, I met another woman who was interested in joining us as well. I emailed Zach from the ship and asked if we could add one more to our tour. This new friend also traveled with a walker so I wanted to be sure we had comfortable space for all five of us and both mobility aids. He responded right away and assured me there was room for all of us and the scooter and walker. He was correct. They have a Mercedes van which has plenty of room and is extremely comfortable to tour in. The last row has a second sunroof so the people sitting in the back of the van have great views as well.
We were to meet Zach outside the port at 8:30 AM. We arrived outside the port before 8:30 and he was there already. Irene brought the van through and we loaded the scooter and walker in the van, and all of us boarded and we were off. We started in the port city of Getxo. They took us around the old part of Getxo. First, we stopped at the UNESCO Heritage site of the Hanging Bridge. We walked around that area a bit and took in the sites. Then we headed up above the cliffs for a great view of Getxo.
Next we headed in Bilbao. Zach explained the history of the Basque people and culture to us. It is amazing how much he knows about the area. If he didn't know something, Irene knew it. We parked the van at the Guggenheim and headed over to the museum. We probably spent at least an hour looking at the museum from different angles. We were not interested in going inside the museum, but if we had been they would have just changed the tour up a bit. After spending our time at the Guggenheim, we hopped on a local train and traveled over to the old part of Bilbao. Cars are not allowed in this area so we got off the train and walked all around the old city. We stopped for pintxos at a bar. Oh how we love Basque pintxos. This was the best part of the tour (for us anyways!). The tour price included two pintxos a piece as well as a wine or beer (or non alcholic drink). We were able to pick out what kind of pintxos we each wanted. We continued along the old city. What I love most about private tours is you can change things as you go or stop anywhere you want. We stopped at a candy store at one point. Zach stopped with us while Irene went ahead with the other guests. We also stopped a meat shop so we could purchase some fabulous Spanish hamone. You can't do things like that when you are on a big bus tour. Another plus to having two tour guides is that part of our group wanted to do some extra walking and a couple of us wanted to just sit. We were able to do that because one would stay with one group and the other one would go off with the other group. After touring for a bit longer, we arrived at a local Basque restaurant for lunch. It was a fabulous lunch. As it was a local place, we needed Irene to help us navigate the menu. She was fabulous. The food was fantastic. Another reason for taking a small tour is you get to eat in a local restaurant. It was a three course meal for appx. 20 Euros per person (not included in tour price) - well worth it!!!
After lunch, we boarded the local train and headed back to the van. We headed back to the port. We took longer at lunch than usual, but we were still back at the port in plenty of time to board the ship.
Zach and Irene are wonderful tour guides. I loved having an English speaking guide but yet having a native with us as well. They were extremely friendly, knowledgeable and felt like old friends by the time we left. One of the BEST things I can say about Zach is that he was so extremely helpful to my husband and our other participant who used a walker. Zach loaded and unloaded the scooter and the walker every time. He helped all of us into and out of the van, if we needed it. He was so helpful with my husband at the restaurant as there was one big step up into the restaurant and it was a bit difficult for him to navigate that step. Zach offered his arm for support going both up and down. He brought his scooter in for him and parked it. Then retrieved it when he needed it. Also, he made sure my husband could get to the restroom with the scooter. I offer my biggest kudos to both of them. If you are looking for a great tour with wonderful people who will become your friends by the end of the day, you can't go wrong by booking with Zach and Irene. If we are back in the Basque country we will definitely book with them again.Kari Elizalde (Tripadvisor April 2016) , United States
My wife wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday with a trip to Basque Country. She sought a trip that would be an immersion into the unique culture, experienced only by the locals. What great fortune we connected with Irene and Zach of The best of Basque.
Our trip started with the 350 year old Day of the Geese festival in the seaside town of Lekeitio. They picked us up at the airport and arranged our accommodations in an apartment right on the harbor. This is an incredible experience most tourists will never experience!
We took two other tours including the stunning, charming, and gorgeous city of San Sebastian, plus the La Rioja winery tour in LaGuardia. The combination of a luxurious Mercedes van, a passionate lifelong resident (Irene) that speaks four languages, and an educated American (Zach) that always seemed to understand exactly what we wanted made for a birthday my wife will never forget!
This level of service and flexibility is not easy to find in a tour operator. And I don't have space to describe the cuisine of Basque Country! The almost 40 Michelin starred restaurants plus all the small undiscovered establishments that Zach and Irene can show you are alone worth the trip.
The best of Basque is the answer to anyone tired of the "cattle bus" tours so common in Europe.Patrick & Victoria, Lake Forest, IL, USA
I recommend them highly!
My wife and I contacted the folks at The best of Basque for a tour of the vineyards of the Rioja wine region. We were staying in Bilbao, and Zach and Irene arrived promptly at 9:00am in a very comfortable mini-van for the 45 minute drive to our first winery. They had so much knowledge of the Basque culture, politics, and Bilbao. It was a magnificent experience seeing the family owned wineries, and we especially enjoyed the guided walk through the old city of LaGuardia. We had such a great time that we booked them for another day for a coastal tour that was absolutely beautiful. It was the highlight of our trip to the north of Spain!
Thanks again Zach and Irene!
Geoffrey and Andrea, San Clemente, CA, USA