A weekend away to San Sebastian (also known as Donostia in Basque) was the perfect introduction to the exotic land of Spain, with its beautiful weather, flawless beach, surrounding green hills and of course, the mouth-watering food. When flying to San Sebastian it is possible to land at Santander (2.5 hours from San Sebastian), Bilbao (1 hour from San Sebastian) or San Sebastian itself. I flew into the (tiny) airport of Santander as it was cheapest, but due to a somewhat irregular connection between the three coastal cities I had to wait a few hours in the airport before catching a bus to San Sebastian.
It became immediately obvious that the Spanish live their lives on a delayed schedule compared with New Zealanders, and even when compared to the Milanese. Venture outside before 10 or 11am and the streets appear deserted; venture out at 10 or 11pm and the streets have absolutely come to life. I was staying with my friend Alberto in Gros; his apartment had stunning views overlooking Playa de Gros (which is the main surf beach). As well as being a highly sought after tourist destination, San Sebastian is also a student city; therefore it is young, vibrant and as I was fortunate enough to experience, has a terrific nightlife.
Across the bridge from Gros is the Old Town (Parte Vieja), which is comprised of small cobblestone streets, filled with people drinking and eating from the delectable bars and restaurants selling the infamous ‘pintxos’. A new style of eating for me, pinxtos (which literally means ‘spike’ – as they are held together with toothpicks )are a huge array of bite-sized snacks available at the bar, where you get a plate and pick out as many individual portions that you want to sample. You pay for each pinxto independently of drinks, and it tends to work on an honesty policy; where the number of toothpicks you produce at the bar upon payment determines the bill. The perfect drink to accompany pintxos is calimocho; red wine mixed with coke. My favourite place was Atari Gastroteka, where the pieces of bull cheek (carrilleras) and patatas bravas were to die for!
Panoramic views of San Sebastian and its nearby surrounds can be seen by climbing to the top of Monte Urgull (upon which a huge statue of Jesus stands) and is the first place I ever saw a snake (in the wild). It is also possible to walk around the main city beach (Playa de la Concha, because it is in the shape of a shell) and its extension (Playa de Ondarreta) to Monte Igueldo, where one can either walk or catch a funicular to the top for some more outstanding city views, and even have a go on one of the rides in the mini carnival permanently based there.
The air temperature whilst I was there was wonderfully hot; on my last day it reached 26°C, however this was not reflected in the water temperature; turns out the crystal blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean were rather chilly, even on such a fine day! Not that this stopped me from indulging in my first European swim, of which I have no doubt in saying that there will be plenty more to follow!
For those who are interested I have included a link to a video on Vimeo of San Sebastian – in no way is any of it mine (I don’t even know who made it), but it does far better justice to the wonders of San Sebastian than any of the footage that I took over the weekend! So take a look, enjoy, and book your tickets to Spain ASAP!