Day Trip to San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain

August 2022 — We’ve based ourselves in a small town in Spain’s Basque Country this month. We were looking for a destination between Italy and our next out-of-Schengen stay (the UK/Sept, Oct, Nov). Geography led us to the province of Bizkaia on Spain’s northeastern coast, price led us to an AirBnB in the small community of Zelaieta. This is a surprisingly expensive area! We’d hoped for an apartment near San Sebastian or Bilbao, but could only find something affordable in a more-or-less rural area roughly in between the two cities. Our little town is situated about 10 minutes from the beach in the Urdaibai estuary. There’s not much here and I’ll never understand why they have a pharmacy but not a convenience store — such a pain to have to drive out of town just to pick up some milk! Other than our daily dog walks, which are beautiful, we pretty much need to get in the car and go elsewhere whenever we feel like doing anything.

A couple of days ago, we day-tripped over to San Sebastian. It was not at all what I’d been expecting! I admittedly know next to nothing about Spain, but from various blog posts I’d expected San Sebastian to be something along the lines of a big fishing village; instead, its a pretty bustling city with some outstanding beachfront.

Before leaving the apartment, we downloaded a free San Sebastian walking tour from izi.TRAVEL (one of our go-tos for audio walking tours), googled a few ideas for free parking spots, and pinned a few stores I hoped might carry CBD oil as Turbo’s supply was running perilously low.

We had an uneventful drive into the city and were lucky enough to score a parking spot in the Camper’s lot behind Zurriolako Beach. From what I’d read this is the more laid-back section of the city, due in large part to the surfers who claim this beach as their own. “More laid back” may be accurate, but I definitely wouldn’t give it an unqualified “laid back” descriptor. Plenty of shops and apartments, perhaps *slightly* less upscale than the rest of San Sebastian. After asking a couple of passing city policemen if they had any insight about whether we needed to pay for our spot as the automated pay kiosks were wrapped over with garbage bags (they did not, kindly letting us know that they were not parking police), we crossed our fingers with the car and headed off to the first location in our walking tour.

Actually, these would be pictures of the second location on the walking tour. Looking back now, somehow we completely missed the Plaza de la Constitución. Whoops! Pics above are of the Basilica Santa María del Coro (church in foreground, left) and, in juxtoposition straight down Calle Mayor and Hernani Kalea, you see the Cathedral del Buen Pastor in the background (right). Most notable would be ALL THE PEOPLE wandering the streets of San Sebastian’s old town. You can definitely tell that we are at the height of tourist season. Not sure whether there are more tourists packed in this year (thank you pandemic revenge travel), or if August in San Sebastian is always this busy. I’m guessing its a combo.

We stepped into the church and got a quick look around from the entryway. Entry free was a few euro each, but our look-through didn’t scream “worth it!”, so we bailed and wandered around old town looking for a bite to eat instead. Note that here is where we were particularly annoyed with all the people, as they were taking up all the seats at all the bars! And that is a feat, as apparently San Sebastian has the highest ratio of bars to people in the region (maybe in all of Spain? I read something along these lines somewhere, but don’t feel like going back to verify. San Sebastian does have the second highest number of Michelin stars per square meter, but those places are too fancy for the likes of us). We ended up grabbing a table at a bar towards the outer perimeter of the old town. A couple of pintxos (essentially a slice of french bread with a topping – we’ve had chorizo, ham, spanish omelet, and weird fishy toppings) and a couple of Txakoli wines later, and we were ready to resume our tour.

We took a quick look at the San Telmo museum, then decided it was too late in the day and we had too much still to see so we scrapped plans to go inside. Instead we detoured up the hill behind the museum and caught the amazing view above! That would be Zurriolako, the surfing beach. And all the shops and high-rises behind it. Our car would be down there at the very farthest point of the beach.

And we continued to detour up, and up some more, until we’d climbed Monte Urgull and found ourselves at Castillo de la Mota (technically #13 on the walking tour — we took quite a leap forward). More amazing views of ocean and city, and a pretty neat castle/city wall ruin topped by a towering Jesus statue that can apparently be seen 4 miles out to sea. Castle ruins are kinda our thing, and this stop was definitely one of the highlights of the day.

We corrected out steps after Urgull and resumed the walking tour, got a nice walk around the city and another round of pintxos and drinks (sangria for me this time, vino tinto for John) near the Victoria Eugenia theater (above left). John rated the park at Gipuzkoa Plaza in the pic to the right as 1) over 2) rated; I most definitely agreed.

But the Cathedral del Buen Pastor was very much worth the stop and reminded us of cathedrals we’d seen in Oldenburg and Bremen Germany back in February. Very monumental! On a side street behind the cathedral and heading back toward the beach we stumbled into this cute little zone of kids carnival rides. So fun!

We’re back out on the main beach now, La Concha, home of the famed La Perla Spa and the Royal Miramar Palace. In the mid-1800s Spanish Queen Regent Maria Cristina decided Miramar Palace at one end of the beach would be her summer home and declared San Sebastián the “summer capital of Europe.” As you can imagine, this drew Europe’s elite and the grand palaces lining this strip of beach are anything but laid back!

We didn’t finish the walking tour — I REALLY want to get back to San Sebastian to ride the Belle Époque roller coaster at Parque de Atracciones del Monte Igueldo (I’m not sure of the roller coaster was built at the same time, but the amusement park was created in 1911!). I’ve also pinned a jazz club that I think John will enjoy. Hopefully we can work out a trip back over before we head to the UK, but with less than a week to go it might be a longshot. If not, it’s always an excuse to come back!

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