Pamplona native Francisco loves sharing his homeland with travelers. As a guide on our Basque Country of Spain & France tour, he does just that, introducing tour members to the incredible scenery, delicious cuisine, and vibrant culture of this unique region. When he's not guiding Rick's tours, Francisco also leads virtual and private tours in the Basque Country. Let's get to know him!
Tell us a bit about your background and how you became a tour guide.
My first studies were in marketing; in fact, I worked as a marketing director in the fashion world for over 10 years. At the end, I was tired of selling things people didn't need. The image of fashion is glamour and beauty, but the truth is far from that — it is a hard and cruel world. I dropped out of that world without any clear direction. I was studying art history, but didn't know what to do with that, so I started as a local guide in Pamplona, my hometown. Then I started guiding all over the Basque Country and Rioja wine region.
One day, I was called to guide an American for a week on the Camino de Santiago. I had no idea who that tall, blond guy called Rick Steves was…but I liked the way he worked. He was researching for his guidebook and was looking for real places, not touristic ones. After that intense week, I was hired!
What is the most intriguing thing about living in Pamplona?
Pamplona is a small community, where everybody knows everybody and where traditions are important. One of our well-known traditions is the Running of the Bulls, something that it is difficult to understand if you haven't experienced it.
What do you like best about leading Rick Steves tours?
What I like the most as a guide at Rick Steves' Europe is that, despite a well-established itinerary and a precise schedule, I have a lot of freedom on the subjects covered; depending on the questions of the tour members, it can cover anything from history to current affairs. I really enjoy giving talks on the bus between sites and hope this adds to the tour members' enjoyment — I try to keep it light-hearted and entertaining!
What do you love about the Basque Country, and what makes it unique compared to the rest of Spain?
The first reason why I love the Basque Country is because it is home, and there is no better feeling than sharing your culture and traditions.
The Basque Country is not what you might expect from Spain — this is a small region where you find the magnificent Pyrenees Mountains, the incredible coastline of the Bay of Biscay, and even a surreal desert in the Bardenas Reales. Our food is as diverse as our landscape: We have amazing veggies, fish, meat…all of which give us a huge food tradition. We love grilled fish or meat as much as modern cuisine. One of the best Basque food experiences is tapas, a small piece of heaven that you can eat!
I could go on and on talking about the culture, the language, the music, the rural sports…I guess you have to come visit to learn about it all!
Do you have a favorite stop on the Basque Country tour?
It has to be San Sebastián. The beach, the architecture, the vibe of the city, the tapas….it is the most beautiful city in the Basque Country.
What has been a "wow" moment that's occurred for you on a Rick Steves tour?
My "wow" moment is when I see my tour members inside a bar ordering tapas on their own. Many times, when I show them how to order tapas, they feel overwhelmed. First, they have to be very proactive in order to catch the waiter's attention, then they need to be open to trying different food (it may look good, but you have no clue what it is) — it is a real cultural shock, and they have to get out of their comfort zone.
Once they break out of those invisible barriers, the magic happens, and tapas become an amazing food and life experience.
What keeps you going when guiding?
To me, guiding is a teaching and learning experience. I love sharing my homeland; it is a privilege to be able to show a culture in the place where it is from.
Whenever I have a bad day, I have to remind myself that I am working for a group of happy people who are willing to listen to what I have to say. I am eating amazing food and drinking incredible wine. I am visiting castles, cathedrals, museums…there is not a better job in the world!
Here's what Francisco won't tell you…but his tour members will:
"Francisco was the ideal guide for this tour. Basque himself, he understands what makes this region tick. He was charming, funny, and a great storyteller. One reason he stands out is that he's willing to share so much of himself. We saw where he lives and where he got married. His presentation at Guernica was one of the best I've ever heard. Francisco also embraces the "Rick Steves way" of doing things. He made sure we got what we came for and sent us home with new knowledge and many great memories."
— William in Auburn, WA