with Dr Felicity Nicholson
There are no serious health issues to worry about, and no endemic diseases. Insect bites are perhaps the biggest risk in rural areas so it is worth taking an insect repellent. It is wise to be up to date with the standard UK vaccinations including diphtheria, tetanus and polio which comes as an all-in-one vaccination (Revaxis), and which lasts for ten years.
If you do have an accident or fall ill, the level of healthcare is on a par with much of the rest of Europe. Residents of EU countries including the UK and Ireland should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before travelling, as this covers the costs of any standard medical treatment you may require.
This is available in the UK by calling 0845 606 2030, or online. Everyone, including holders of an EHIC, should also take out travel insurance that includes medical costs, as the EHIC doesn’t cover all eventualities, such as repatriation to your home country following an accident.
In a medical emergency in either Spain or France, you should dial 112 to call for an ambulance.
Of course, anything can happen, anywhere in the world, but the good news is that both Spain and France enjoy lower crime rates than, for example, the UK or the USA. All the Spanish Basque provinces have much lower crime rates than either Madrid or Barcelona, which according to official statistics are Spain’s crime ‘danger areas’. Here you won’t be plagued by bag-snatchers or pickpockets as you might be in the more famous tourist hot spots. Navarre’s crime rate is also lower than the Spanish average.
In France, the département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques (which includes the three former Basque provinces) has a crime rate which is lower than the French average. In general, there are no specific safety concerns for visitors to the Basque Country or Navarre and, if common sense is applied, it is perfectly reasonable to expect a trouble-free visit.
For anyone worried about the activities of ETA, the armed organisation that once used violent tactics to fight for Basque independence, they officially declared a ‘definitive cessation to its armed activities’ in October 2011, and no violent incidents have occurred since then. If you are puzzled by the black and white banners hanging from balconies, particularly in Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia, imploring ‘Euskal presoak Euskal Herrira’ and accompanied by a map of the ‘seven Basque provinces’ then this translates as ‘[Bring] the Basque Prisoners back to Euskal Herria’ and refers to the many convicted Basque prisoners pointedly being made to serve their sentences in places as far away as Seville or Tenerife.
Of course, both France and Spain have been subject to terrorist attacks from so-called Islamist groups in recent years, but to date these have not directly affected the Basque Country or Navarre.