I loved San Sebastián. It’s small enough to be charming, with the intertwined streets of Parte Vieja enticing you, as well as the multitude of lively pintxo bars. The laid back, utterly cool Zurriola beach and the masses of even cooler surfers give you the perfect spot for sunset, all a stones throw from Gros where the locals like to hang out. All that’s enough to seduce you without even mentioning the food markets, the Michelin star restaurants and the incredible people.
There’s so much culture here and so much class, but because we’re in Spain things are easy, there’s no pressure to be anything but yourself. I wish we’d had the money and the time to stay longer, but we didn’t. So we set aside 3 days and crammed in as much as we could.
When you have time to wander and roam with very little haste, you really get to experience places as they should be experienced, with the little time that we had we really needed to do our research and be quite selective. This was difficult. Luckily for us, San Sebastián has an incredible online city guide that’s more than detailed and we were also left ‘A Lonely Planet’ guide by our friends (Thank you!) and being such a sought after city means it has been the star to many blogs, so making sure we got the most out of our visit was easy.
Arriving late on the Wednesday we were fortunate enough to get a parking space at the (free overnight) car park by Mount Urgall. Waking up here was an absolute dream, waking to the sound of waves crashing was glorious, as was the view over the bay of La Concha. We used the free facilities (open 10-9 daily) and checked the forecast, since arriving on the North coast we discovered the weather can be a bit temperamental.
With San Sebastián offering us a cloudy day and not too hot we decided we would tackle the hike to Pasajes de San Juan, a delightful fishing village a mornings walk over the Ulía mountain. The hike itself forms part of the Camino de Santiago so was pretty busy, but there were plenty of moments there was no one around so we could enjoy our surroundings and the views. Taking us around 3 hours (with many a photo stop), it was challenging at times but doable for most and thoroughly enjoyable. You arrive into the bay of Pasajes across the estuary, we celebrated with a Cider (Sidra) from a little bar that was rammed with locals called the Muguruza Ardoak (Falcon Crest).
Aware that we only had very limited time to spend in this pleasant place we finished up, boarded the small ferry on the quay (€1.40 for 2 persons) and enjoyed the view on the short boat ride. Having heard so much about the fish being served up we headed to Ziaboga, on the main square to fill up before heading back to San Sebastián. We sampled the Ajoarriero Cod, their version of Ropa Vieja (reliving memories from our trip to Cuba) and with hesitation the ‘Spoon Food’, which we later discovered was their translation for soup and when it arrived we enjoyed a fish and potato bisque like dish.
Happy, full and now running late we dashed to the bus stop before heading back to the van, in hope we wouldn’t have a ticket. TAKE NOTE: Parking wardens in San Sebastián are on it, however if you buy your tickets without prompt and say hello with a smile they are very nice and actually go out of there way to help you. During our stay there was some sort of rowing contest off La Concha beach so we had to move the van once we’d returned from Pasajes, the lovely parking man told us where we could park all day which was in view of where we’d previously parked. Bonus!
A little bit of downtime in the van and a spruce, we then headed out for the evening. I’d found a blog, which detailed an itinerary of Pintxo bars so thought this would be a good place to start exploring the old town. If you are heading to San Sebastián make sure you find out which bars are offering Pintxo and a pot (pot refers to a drink in San Sebastián and you can choose wine or beer, or whatever you fancy within reason). Bars will offer a pintxo and a drink for a reduced price: Thursday nights head to Gros for this as most bars will be running this offer, however there are a few places in the old town and surrounding area that have offers on Fridays and Wednesdays also.
What I love about Spain is the sunset strolls and the pre dinner jaunts that people take, it’s so refined and a great way of soaking up the ambience. Once the sun had retreated we joined the crowds on the promenade and headed towards the port, passed a few waterside restaurants, that were already full and superbly lively, and through the city walls into a maze of places to eat and drink. I was in heaven. The itinerary I’d found was out the window and it was more than satisfying discovering locations on our own.
We sampled some tasty fare at many a bar but the standouts for me has to be Baztan. We stumbled in here after a few bars already and tried to order the non alcoholic beer (they love that in Spain). Thank goodness for the waiter who gently asked are we sure we wanted this? I assumed he was trying to cut me off, but nope, was merely pointing out we’d chosen the non alcoholic one. He poured two caña’s, gave us a plate and pointed to the countertop covered in delicious pintxo. We loaded the plate with a few bites (the mini hamburger was great from what I remember as was the tempura prawn). We were more than happy. We were more than full too, this being our 4th stop. I can definitely recommend the upmarket Ganbara. This venue served a fruity grapefruit IPA alongside moreish jamon croissants, vegetable sandwiches (which actually contained ham). They also offer more substantial feastings of fish and chargrilled meats. We were on a tasting tour of the whole old town so decided against filling up on their grilled foie gras and the cod cheeks with clams. I regret this decision still.
Our Satisfied bellies headed to Hamabost, where we were promised great tunes and energetic punters. What we found was a quiet bar on Plaza Constitución, with okay tunes but nothing special. We downed our drinks before clumsily making our way to anywhere that looked like it offered something for the after hours. We couldn’t be bothered to hop in a taxi to the revered Le Bukowski so followed the neon light beaming from Pub Dinosti Gin Club. We always seem to end up in places like this. In the hideous Mantanzas in Cuba we found ourselves in a black light den with Russian memorabilia and crazy cocktails I didn’t even want to try. Well we had found another in San Sebastián, bizarrely lit with neon and furnished in white leather. However the gin and tonic was delicious, not delicious enough to stay for another, I couldn’t bare all the petting with the other punters that was going on so we called it a night.
Of course we woke with a hangover, just in time to buy a new parking ticket. We laid in silence for a bit before deciding food was what we needed and so we ventured out. Through the old town and out the other side we came across a delightful eatery, loaded up on green tea, carbs and some incredible cardamom veal cheeks before sauntering around the shops. If you have the money to spend there are some extremely lovely boutique clothes shops here. We stuck to the surf shops and those we could afford before taking a walk over Mount Urgall. From the old town you can stare up at the mountain and see the Sacred Heart Statue (Cristo de la Mota), the hill is fortified and the wall still remains. The winding walk to the top doesn’t take too long but you may need to catch you breath at times, especially if like us you are massively hungover. You can also visit the Castillo de la Moto and the Casa de la Historia. All worth doing. For us we took in the sights and quickly headed back to the promenade where our van (and our comfy bed) was.
A disco nap later we headed to KAÑABIKAÑA Craft Beer Shop. Walls full of bottled goodness, we perused the shelves and checked out what was on tap. I went for the Mad Clown IPA, but so did Paul so I did the gentlemanly thing and got another (slightly stronger) IPA…Miel something (?). They don’t have a license so you can’t drink on the premises, but they will give you a lovely glass and bottle your beer in a way like never before (they can get the beer from the tap into the bottle with no interference. no air, no nothing). You can then head across the road with your brown-bagged beer, embossed glass and sit on the beach while you perv on all the surfers. I mean watch the fantastic sunset.
Still feeling delicate there was only one thing we could do. Go and get a curry…I know what you’re thinking, a curry in Spain? But, we have tried and tested a curry house in the majority of stops (blog post coming soon. Hopefully) and this one did not disappoint.
A well deserved sleep later we woke to rain, not the mizzle we’d encountered the day before or the light showers, but full on rain. We checked all the leak zones were taken care of in the van and attempted to see a break in the cloud outside. Blue sky spotted. As the rain lightened we bolted out the van and headed into town to start day 3, we didn’t get far when the heavens opened again so we made a run for the nearest Pintxo bar. Great news, it was the one we’d been at on the first night. Even better news… we were so drunk the first time around it was like we were visiting somewhere new! 2 plates later, a lot of rain and a frantic search on every weather forecast website I know.
Since arriving in Asturias we were told (warned) to expect a lot of rain. Locals share this fact with us in hope that if they forewarn us it won’t put us off this region. We remind them we’re from England so a little rain isn’t a problem. And since landing in San Sebastián we were fortunate to have had a full day and a half without any, which is pretty good for September. Had it not rained we had planned on heading over to Monte Igueldo, for a ride on the vintage train up to the top; the views over San Sebastián are supposed to be incredible, especially at sunset, however the rain duped us. We could barely see 200m in front so gave this a miss, when the rain started to ease off we decided to head back.
Giggling through the empty streets, splashing myself with my flips flops (that damned flop) it seemed quite appropriate to grab an ice cream we’d been eyeing up the entire stay. We sheltered underneath an overhanging roof overlooking the port, complained the cone was nothing to write home about and once finished, slowly headed back to the van…
Bilbao, here we come.