San Sebastián. Donostia. Surrounding the Bahía de la Concha in the Basque region of Spain, the city is the ultimate vacation spot with a beautiful beach and Boardwalk, the history of the ‘Parte Vieja’ (the old town) and a plethora of Michelin star restaurants.
We took the early morning train from Barcelona to San Sebastián. We had found the hostel Pension Amalur at the last minute on hostel world and found it to have a homely feel – Manny had set up the hostel in an apartment building a block back from the beach. While his English isn’t perfect I was glad for the opportunity to practice my Spanish – he gave us a run down of the city before we headed out to go exploring.
Stepping out onto the beach is jaw dropping to say the least. A sweeping bay stretches as far as the eye can see, all surrounded by a beautiful Boardwalk. The beach was packed as we made our way down and found a spot for our towels. The water temperature was warm and we fell asleep on the beach only to have the tide rudely awaken us as it lapped at our feet.
Getting back to the hostel we met fellow traveler Patricia – she had just come back with a haul of meat and cheese from the Mercado de la Bretxa (a large underground food market). She kindly offered to share and we cracked our bottle of Chianti Classic from Tuscany as we traded stories.
The next morning we headed around the boardwalk and into the ‘Parte Vieja.’ The old town has retained its charm with the narrow paved streets and many traditional Pintxos bars. Pintxos are a Basque version of tapas – each bar lays out a feast bite size pieces (often on a slice of baguette) and you pick and pay by the number of toothpicks – with a little bit of shopping around you can find some amazing meals.
Walking through the old town we were shocked as what is known as a ‘gigantes’ (Giant) figure with a papier mâché head appeared from around the corner – with a gaggle of children gleefully chasing after it.
We continued on to the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus – the baroque structure framed by the vertical facades of the narrow old town streets. Completing our circuit we walked back to the bay around the headland, enjoying the views of the island at the centre of the bay, Isla de Santa Clara (you can take a glass bottom boat to the island and go to the beach there as well!).
A friend of mine had studied abroad and had a stack of great recommendations for where to eat – that night we headed to Atari – opposite the basilica and tried the melt in your mouth beef cheeks.
The next day we did the hike around the head land again – this time to go to the check out the local surf beach. Heading back to the hostel for lunch (stopping at Mercado de la Bretxa to pick up some goodies on the way), we met a lovely Aussie couple, Ash and Jake. We headed out to try some sangria and txacoli, a cloudy white wine which is poured from a height to give it some fizz. After a few drinks we decided tonight we would check out the night life and we honestly couldn’t have picked better. After having a few drinks at Lamb we were ready to call it a night – until we stumbled on a “Port Party.”
Hundreds of people were out dancing away to a DJ on a massive stage just meters away from the beach. There must be no noise restrictions here – the party went on til sunrise and as we staggered home we had a quick dip at the beach to cap off a great night.
Very hungover the next morning we had to try another one of my friends recommendations – the chicken schnitzel burger called a Carolina from Giroki – a surefire hangover cure. We headed back to the beach to get some sleep while Ash and Jake took the bus to Bilbao — another popular tourist spot in the Basque region. Feeling the need to detox we headed back to the old town for sushi at Kenji – the chef was sensational – every dish was a work of art.
For our last day in San Sebastián I was craving some summer treats – coconuts and watermelon. We hadn’t been able to find them so far in our trip so I was desperate to find some – and we were in luck. Picking up both we headed to the beach to lie and enjoy our last beach day. Walking around the bay, we took the old funicular railway up to Monte Igueldo. Up the top is and old style carnival with everything from BB guns to dodgem cars but the real highlight is the panoramic views back over the bay and San Sebastián.
Next Stop: Paris