From panoramic Swiss-like views to celebrity spotting, San Sebastian has something for everyone. So close your eyes and open your ears and other senses. The sound of waves crash against the seawall. A gentle spray of water hits your face and you can taste the salty Atlantic Ocean on your lips.
Open your eyes and find yourself standing on the dock overlooking the most beautiful beach in Spain – Playa del la Concha. Known as “the shell”, it sweeps gracefully from the old narrow streets of Downtown and the fishing port to rest at the foot of Monte Igueldo. The circular bay of La Concha also serves not only a visual purpose, but a functional one to protect the city from the rough Atlantic Ocean waves.
From humble beginnings as a small fishing village, by 1174 San Sebastian had grown into a major shipping hub for international trade. After it survived many battles, including the Peninsula war, the city flourished into a stylish beachfront with an architectural makeover of French and Spanish influence. Today San Sebastian is known as a cultural hub that attracts visitors from all over the globe.
This is San Sebastian – jewel of the Basque country.
Basque country is different to the rest of Spain. It has its own language, government, police force and education system. San Sebastian even has its own Basque name – Donostia. In Basque, they do not pay taxes to the central Spanish government. Instead all funds raised go back into providing services for their own community.
On a recent Spanish tour I was fortunate to stay in the Mecure Monte Igueldo hotel at the top of, yes you guessed it, Monte Igueldo. The roads, more like village streets, are narrow so take care not to be distracted by the gorgeous views of the cove ascending the mountain. If lucky enough to get a room facing the beach, stand out on the balcony and take a moment to reflect. When the sun goes down the view is even more amazing as the cove is illuminated from the city lights. It does not get any better than this. Beautiful views, great friends and a memorable experience.
In the middle of the cove is La Isla Santa Clara. Imagine a huge, green turtle floating in the water. This is literally the shape of the small island. Visitors can even rent a boat from the port and ride out for closer inspection. Here one can relax and watch the sparkling, clear blue water rolling towards the beach and back out again leaving ridges in the sand to create the “shell” effect.
Of course, it is not all about the mile long beach of golden sand because high above shell cove is Rio Esque, the statue of Jesus Christ. A dominating presence over the city on Monte Urgil, one might think they are in South America. There is almost a calming influence of being watched over as you take in the waves lapping gently against the sand in an almost hypnotic fashion.
There is plenty to see in San Sebastian walking in the footsteps of Queen Maria Cristina along the promenade of white, wrought iron railings. It is not hard to notice the prominent features of angels and lions as you walk by. Pause a moment in Plaza de la Constitution where centuries ago it was home to bullfighting. Like the rest of Spain, the Basque people also celebrated the bullfight. Not everyone understands the bullfights, but we respect the Spanish culture for what they believed in.
After dark, there is so much more to do in the city and one is blessed with the many choices for dining. It is highly recommended that you try out a Pintxos bar in the old town. They are simply Spanish Tapas but called Pintxos in the Basque country. The best thing about Pintxo bars, apart from hanging out with good friends, is the vibe and energy from the people. The best way to experience a new country is to hang out where the locals go and also meet other travellers along the way.
An important rule to remember in the Pintxo bar is that if one loves the food they must throw their napkin on the floor. So when passing the bars, the more napkins on the floor means the better the food is. It takes getting used to as Australians would not think of throwing napkins on the ground (at least the majority) but as they say – when in Rome. Joining in with this custom authenticates the cultural eating experience.
San Sebastian was truly one of my facourite cities in Spain and to share it with friends meant it really was a Jewel of the Basque country.
The Mecure Monte Igueldo is located at Paseo del Faro 134, 200008 San Sebastian and bookings can be made online or via a travel agent.