Haute Cultures, European Style
Each year, the European Union (EU) singles out two cities as its "European Capitals of Culture" as a way of highlighting the continent’s vast diversity, while also celebrating the cultural bond shared by Europeans.
This year, two of Europe’s hottest destinations are a picturesque spot on the Bay of Biscay in the Basque region of Spain and an architectural gem of a city on the Oder River in western Poland. After a highly competitive process, the EU named the Spanish city of San Sebastian and the Polish city of Wroclaw as the European Capitals of Culture for 2016. The two cities have very different and fascinating histories. With numerous events planned, they’re primed for discovery by travelers.
San Sebastian, Spain
Basque country is a region in the Pyrenees Mountains that straddles northwestern Spain and southwestern France on the Atlantic coast. The Basque people, among Europe’s oldest ethnic groups, have held onto their distinct language, strong cultural traditions, including seafaring, and celebrated cuisine for thousands of years, making the region a fascinating place to visit.
San Sebastian, known as Donostia in the Basque language, is a resort city along the Atlantic Ocean. In this place of about 200,000 residents, you can relax on the beach or stroll along a seaside promenade during the day. Then in the evening, explore the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, sampling the bar snacks known as pintxos, the Basque version of Spanish tapas.
The city’s cultural calendar is stocked with festivals, including ones devoted to jazz, from July 20–25, and film, Sept. 18–26. As part of its European Capital of Culture events, San Sebastian will host the World Puppet Festival from May 28 to June 5, with more than 20 internationally renowned companies offering performances for all ages. A major exhibit, “Peace Treaties: 1516–2016,” which runs from June 17 to Oct. 2, will include 300 works by European artists that demonstrate how war and peace have been represented in the arts.
When national boundaries were redrawn at the end of World War II, the German city of Breslau became part of Poland, and adopted the name Wroclaw. Today, Wroclaw is a booming municipality of 600,000, a high-tech hub with numerous universities that give it a youthful energy. With a Gothic town hall and medieval market square filled with restaurants, cafes, and pubs, it’s also a place to experience the charms of Central Europe.
Located along the Oder River, Wroclaw is spanned by more than a hundred bridges. On June 11, as part of its European Capital of Culture program, the river, parks and bridges will become a performance space under the title “Flow,” to tell the story of Wroclaw/Breslau’s transformation over the past century. A week later, Wroclaw will hold a nighttime half marathon, with classical musicians serenading runners at spots along the route.
For three weekends in late July and early August, the city will become the singing capital of Europe, with dozens of choirs performing opera, oratorio and a cappella music. And from October 14 to November 13, Wroclaw will host the Theatre Olympics, held every four years and bringing together artists from around the globe. This year’s theme is "The World as a Place of Truth."
For help planning a trip to San Sebastian or Wroclaw, contact us today!