Seated right along the border of France and Spain and flanked by gorgeous beaches, San Sebastian is a walhalla of fine dining and is a perfect getaway from France or Spain for a long weekend. My last stop along the northern coast of Spain, I took a morning bus from Santander to San Sebastian passing through Bilbao. I could have chosen to spend my time in the bigger Bilbao instead but I was ready for a more intimate and chic affair with San Sebastian.
The whole route from Santander to San Sebastian is quite fantastic. The vistas of the Cantabrian mountains skirting the beautiful blue ocean is a sight to behold. Although the mountains are not very tall (well, I come from the land of Himalayas), they still are breathtakingly beautiful. It is not very common that mountains and seas are in such close proximity to one another. The bus journey took me 3 hours and at the end of it I arrived in the Basque city of San Sebastian.
I loved the city from the moment I stepped into it. This is mainly because of its unique blend. The city has several French influences. It is not uncommon to hear the language being spoken commonly. Some of the views of the city along the city’s main river, Urumea, look exceedingly like Paris over the Seine. It is not surprising though, as the city lies very close to the French border, but it retains every Spanish influence – the pintxos bars, the long lively nights etc are quintessentially Spanish; but in the midst of these two, the city is proud of its Basque heritage as well. It being a more touristy city, most people speak basic English at least in restaurants and bars. With so much of diversity in cultures apart from beautiful vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the beaches, any traveler here is bound to be entertained.
I stayed in the lovely Gros area of the city, a few minutes from the beautiful Zurriola beach. Unfortunately, the pleasant weather which I had been experiencing the last couple of weeks had begun changing and by now it had started raining incessantly although not heavily. It was not exactly beach weather but the best part about inclement weather is that it allowed me to experience some solitude at nice spots. I spent a lot of time at the two beaches – the Zurriola and the more popular La Concha. It was also nice to hike up Monte Igueldo from where I could witness the panorama of the beautiful city. In the evening it was a bit sunny and suddenly I could see a lot of people basking in the sun next to the Concha beach. It was nice to watch people enjoying themselves while I spent my time at cafes. The sunny period didn’t last long though and then there were showers once again.
I had a local with me on a wonderful walk around the city from whom I got some great insights into the history of San Sebastian – the French, Portuguese, English influences are all apparent once someone points them out! We first walked along the beach to watch some surfers in action. Thereafter we walked into the old town which was quite crowded (it has most of the pintxos bars so not surprising!) but had a lot of interesting historical significance. The church of San Vincente and Good Shepherd were worth ogling at for their marvelous architecture. I was explained about some unique Basque cultures – the sport of pelota for instance or the language and origins of the Basque language, etc. There is so much history in this city! On the whole we braved some showers and had a lovely time for a few hours.
The weather had begun to turn for the worse and it was also quite windy and there was a chill. The beaches had their red flags up which meant that no surfing or swimming that day. Thus on my last day, I had to contend with indoors and I walked around the old town, in and out of bars experimenting with the pintxos, buying souvenirs and the like. On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed because the city is quite wonderful and I was happy stepping into beautiful cafes and bars well into the night and trying to take pictures while protecting the lens of my camera from the pattering rain. Being a bit more indoors also meant that I ended up chatting with a fellow traveler about anything and everything and finally closed my day. I did not “do” much but I had been very active the last few days and had a very relaxing last day which actually allowed me to soak into the atmosphere of the city and also reflect on the wonderful time I had had.