Also called “Donostia” in the Basque language, San Sebastián is a coastal city in northern Spain, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border with France. It is a popular beach resort, as plenty of tourists flock to the sandy shores for surf and sun in the warmer months. San Sebastián would be my final stop during my trip to northern Spain before I returned to France, and I was ready to see what it was all about.
I spent three nights in Bilbao before I headed over to San Sebastián. I caught a late-morning bus over; the ride only took 90 minutes, and I soon arrived in the beach city in the early afternoon. From there, I hopped off and made my way to the accommodation in which I would be staying for the night.
My accommodation was right in the heart of the Old Town, with its grid-like, narrow streets and rustic charm. Actually, I was staying in a pension house, a first for me. Granted, it still felt more like a hostel than anything else, but in any case, I found it good enough for just one night’s stay. The only issue I had was that it was very hot (as I went in June), and the air conditioner did not work, even after I told the staff about the issue. Thankfully, it cooled down in the evenings, to say the least.
Upon dropping my belongings in the four-bed dorm, I immediately headed out for a late lunch in town. I was especially keen on having pintxos, as the Basque Country is famous for its small, well-crafted dishes. I opted to get them at Borda Berri, which was just down the street from my lodging. It was busy upon arriving around 13:00, as seating was extremely-limited; I ended up standing and eating my food (as I presume one would do in such an establishment).
I ordered four plates: risotto with sheep’s cheese, cod tripe with pil-pil sauce, red wine veal cheek, and crispy pig’s ear. The quality of each dish was phenomenal, and I am not exaggerating when I say that! Each came out piping hot and fresh, from stove to table, and each bursting with flavor and texture.
My favorites would have to be the red wine veal cheek (absolutely rich and melt-in-your-mouth tender) and the risotto with sheep’s cheese: I had never been a fan of risotto before, until I had this particular dish. The risotto was actually chewy, and the sheep’s cheese was creamy and mild in taste, so that it did not overpower other flavors on the plate. Paired with a glass of white wine, I was in complete food heaven. A solid 20€ spent…on everything!
With a full belly and a happy heart, I was ready for an afternoon of city sightseeing. San Sebastián is a beach town, so evidently I made my way towards the water. The beach is horseshoe-shaped, and one can stroll the curve of the coastline that is peppered with colorful umbrellas and beach towels.
The most-famous one is the playa de la Concha, which sits just at the start of the coastline’s curve. I was visiting in June, and it was not a surprise to see the white-sand beach inundated with people sunbathing. A few people were out braving the waves for surfing or for a swim, and overall it reminded me of the beaches close to home in Los Angeles (e.g. Santa Monica).
I made my way along the curve of the beach to the other side of town. There was the funicular Monte Igueldo, which I opted not to take. However, I wanted to get sweeping views of the coastline from above, so instead, I took a flight of steps just behind the funicular to a more-elevated point– granted, it was on a street curve, but I stayed along the pedestrian walk and snapped a few photos of the entire beach (and a few islands off of it). Truly a scenic view!
It was then a trip all the way back to the Old Town, where I popped into the Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián (partly under construction, but with beautiful, stained-glass lighting inside), and then an aimless stroll through the small streets near my accommodation.
In fact, I was looking to buy a pair of pants, as the ones I had packed were too thick for the hot weather at hand. I came across a random souvenir shop that sold some inexpensive elephant pants (9€), and I ultimately bought a pair. Granted, the material was not the greatest, but it was super comfortable and breathable, and I ended up wearing it to death for the rest of my time in Europe. I still even wear it to this day, just because it is that comfortable!
Following my mini-shopping spree, I decided to return to my lodging later that afternoon, as the heat was getting to me. I chose just to stay in for the rest of the day, as I was tired from the trip over and the walk around town. It was a matter of doing some laundry and cooking dinner before hitting the sack. I only had one night in town, and I would be heading back to France early the next day.
San Sebastián is, overall, a beautiful beach town. I would say, though, if you are not a huge beach-goer, there is not a lot to do otherwise in the city. San Sebastián is good for the general beach atmosphere and pintxos (which are INCREDIBLE), and it is a perfect getaway for the weekend if you are in the area.
That concludes my adventures in northern Spain. Considering that I had been meaning to visit the region for some time, I was glad to finally be able to go. It really is different than the other parts of the country (Barcelona, Madrid, Andalusia region…), but unique in that respect. I found the atmosphere quite relaxed, and even if I did not find it as rich in history and sightseeing, it is a good break from the busyness of traveling otherwise.
Thanks for reading, and I have more adventures coming soon!