San Sebastian – Spain’s finest city?

I first encountered San Sebastian in the middle of the night whilst passing through on a sleep-deprived 24-hour coach trip from London to Madrid (I don’t advise this btw – unless you are one of these enviable people who possess the ability to sleep in the most awkward of places). I caught a fleeting glimpse of its illuminated promenade through the coach window and promised myself I’d return one day. Eleven years and many day dreams later, I finally arrived at my destination last June, this time via a much shorter coach-journey from nearby Bilbao (1 hour 15 mins), and my expectations could scarcely have been higher. The overwhelming consensus amongst almost everyone I knew who’d had the good fortune to visit (Spanish and non natives alike), was that this comparitively small Basque beach city was the best in Spain. Quite a bold claim when pitched against the historic and cultural greats of Seville, Granada and my personal favourite, Barcelona. As an impassioned lover of the Catalan capital, this was going to take some topping.

Situated on Spain’s atlantic coast, San Sebastian (or “Donostia” as it’s known in Basque) doesn’t enjoy the same Mediterranean  climate as much of the rest of the Spanish coastline but this wasn’t a problem for me (after all, I’m used to a far inferior UK climate). The city is blessed with a stunning natural landscape situated along the Bay of Biscay and surrounded by densely forested hills and lush green countryside. Barely had my feet touched ground before I had fallen head over heels and felt that this was possibly the most perfect city I’ve had the pleasure to visit. Here are some of the reasons why…

View of San Sebastian’s largest and most famous beach “La Concha” as seen from Mont Urgull. Mont Urgull is one of the hills surrounding the city and it is a fantastic little hike offering phenomenal views of the bay below.IMG_6173 cnReverse view – sat on La Concha looking out towards Mont Urgull (it’s hard to see from this photo but the hill features a large statue of Christ on top) IMG_6221View of La Concha and Ondarreta beaches from Monte Igueldo, another of the hills overlooking the city.IMG_6355 cross pIMG_6360Some very odd fluffy green trees at the top of Mont Urgull – not sure what these are! Feel free to educate me here 🙂IMG_6179I’m no foodie, but here I simply could.not.stop.eating. As a pescatarian, options are plentiful – lots of delicious seafood and a huge variety of pintxos to choose from (see below). The “Pastel Vasco” is a traditional almond-flour based Basque cake – mine had cherry inside but I believe they also come in different flavours.

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To my great surprise, cider is a very popular beverage in this region. My Basque friend took me out for apperitifs consisting of local cider and some fried guindilla peppers (pic below). Most of the peppers were seasoned with salt with a few select ones laced with hot chilli – the latter ones triggering quite a painful experience!

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La parte vieja (Old Town)

IMG_6138IMG_6214 cn cross pIMG_6271What surprised me most about San Sebastian was the timeless elegance and beautiful tree-lined streets of the modern town – like a miniature Paris by the sea. IMG_63292014-06-24 10.30.32IMG_6332

Yup, this is a seriously classy town. Even the dogs make the effort here. IMG_6220 crop cn2014-06-22 18.06.59

Locals hanging out at sunset. The Basque people are very friendly and accommodating, and you’ll have no problem communicating in Spanish here. I barely heard a word of Euskera (Basque language) and only about 30% of the Basque population speak it, although it’s widely understood to a greater or lesser degree by most natives. IMG_6410San Sebastian de nocheIMG_6291 cnIMG_6315Last, but not least… the town is surrounded by beautiful green countryside – we had a little drive and came across this little dude. Couldn’t not include him here! IMG_6255 crop cn

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