The verdant, likeable capital of Idaho, BOISE (pronounced BOY-see; never zee) straddles I-84, just fifty miles east of the Oregon border, and was established in 1862 for the benefit of pioneers using the Oregon Trail. After adapting (or misspelling) the name originally given to the area by French trappers – les bois (the woods) – the earliest residents boosted the town’s appearance by planting hundreds more trees.
Today Boise is a friendly, cosmopolitan and outdoorsy city of some 205,000, with great skiing, biking and floating along the Boise River (the favourite way for locals to cool off in the summer), all within paddling distance of a host of excellent independent stores, restaurants and bars. Downtown is centred on the fountains at Grove Plaza, where the annual “Alive after Five” concert series sees different food and drink vendors take over the square (June–Sept every Wed).
Boise is also unique in having the largest Basque population in the world outside of the Basque heartland (in Spain and France), and is the home of Boise State University (BSU), whose football team the Broncos (with its famed all-blue field, lined with blue-painted turf) receives fanatical support from locals – their rivalry with snooty University of Idaho in Moscow (who are reputed to consider the Broncos uncouth drunks) goes back a long way, though the two teams rarely meet these days. But perhaps Boise’s best feature is the Greenbelt, a 25-mile bike path and hiking trail that crisscrosses the tranquil Boise River, linking various parks right in the heart of the city.