Hello everyone! Please forgive my absence, I had lots of exams to mark the end of my semester in France but I am finally finished and back from another trip! Over the past 4 days, some friends and I travelled to San Sebastián and Bilbao and back to Toulouse by bus, a journey which allowed us to see much of the Spanish and French countryside, seaside… and rainy season. Despite some days of intermittent but persistent rain, we had a fantastic trip and were blessed with some gorgeous sunshine in Bilbao. However, first stop: San Sebastián (or in Basque, Donostia). It’s a gorgeous seaside town not far from the French border, with long, sandy beaches between the cliffs of the Bay of Biscay. What is there to see and do and which of these things are unmissable when you only have 48 hours?
San Telmo Museoa
This was the one museum we wanted to see in San Sebastián because it has exhibitions on Basque culture, history and society as well as some temporary exhibitions. In a bid to shelter from the showers, we headed straight to the museum after lunch on the first day and spent a large part of the afternoon inside. It is definitely worth a visit, partly because it is also a beautiful building with a lovely cloister inside as you can see from the pictures of the inner courtyard and columns. The different rooms span Basque history over the generations, provide access to a beautiful church and we were also able to visit two exhibitions about the Michelin Man and his international presence, and also conflict and resistance across the world, which involved some interesting, interactive displays.
This is the old town in San Sebastián and we were staying right next to it (it is quite a small city however so you will find that most things are not far apart!). The pretty pedestrianised streets lined with shops and quaint pintxos bars make for a lovely wander, ending in the gorgeous Constitución Plaza with its numbered balconies and orange-hued apartments. The old town leads up to the San Telmo Museo and also to Monte Urgull or Playa Zurriola.
Despite weather reminiscent of a day at the English seaside (grey sky, drizzle and gently crashing waves), we decided to stay true to our British selves and head to the beach anyway. If the weather is good enough to go to the beach in England, it is still good enough to go to the beach in Spain. With the other 3 people who had also decided to brave the rain, we plodded across the beach which actually still looked very nice, in part due to the fact that there were so few people on it and it was so pristine. This is the smaller of the San Sebastián beaches, and it is lined by the coloured apartment blocks you can see in the photos to make a colourful backdrop to the beach (looks kind of like an English seaside town doesn’t it?!)
Just north of the museum, you can begin to climb Monte Urgull for some great views across Playa Zurriola, the bay, and the city itself. It’s not too strenuous a task but we were quite thankful that it wasn’t hot weather, although it was still warm regardless of the drizzle. You can see a number of sites on the hill, from cannons to a cemetery for the Englishmen who fell in Spanish wars generations ago, to a tall statue of Jesus which is preceded by a small, free museum at the very top of the hill. I would definitely recommend the climb through the forest for a nice break in the nature with some lovely views.
Playa de la Concha
This is the larger beach and we walked all the way around the bay along the promenade from the hostel located behind Monte Urgull to the Funicular at Monte Igueldo. It looks further than it feels and is a lovely calming walk with stunning views of the blue-green ocean which looked extremely cold! No Mediterranean warmth on this side of Spain, maybe that’s why we were reminded of an English seaside here: it’s the same cold sea! The walk around the bay was one of the highlights of the trip and once again, it was a positive thing that the weather wasn’t perfect as the promenade wasn’t full of people: it was virtually empty!
This little red train has been running since 1912, ferrying visitors up and down Monte Igueldo. It’s a short trip up the tree-lined rail, but a nice way to see back across the bay from the window. It won’t cost you much, less than 2 euros, especially if you do as we did and walk back down like the forest explores that we are.
Higher up than Monte Urgull, the best views across both bays but mainly over Playa de la Concha are to be had at the top of Monte Igueldo. At the top is a small boat ride which was closed on the day we went, but which possibly still opens to visitors who want to float dangerously close to a cliff edge (tempted?). The views are absolutely stunning even on a cloudy day, though we were happy to see skies clear slightly before our descent. You will mostly be walking round the curved tarmac roads, but there are also some forest paths and steps and on a quiet day especially, it’s a lovely little walk which shouldn’t take more than an hour.
Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián
This is the biggest religious building in the city and the region and is very pretty. Situated in a small square amongst the shop-lined streets south of the old town, the Cathedral is nestled in a lovely green location and is worth a visit, even just to behold from the outside. All around it are shops and small places to eat, and the better weather made for a great wander around these streets.
This sums up the main sites we saw in San Sebastián, a lovely city that we really enjoyed exploring despite the less than desirable weather. We stayed in the delightful Urban House which I would absolutely recommend for it’s comfortable, clean and bright rooms and helpful staff. Located just inside the main square by the old town, Plaza Gipuzkoa (also worth a quick visit as there is a little park), it’s perfectly central for absolutely everywhere you could wish to go. It’s also next to one of the BEST bakeries we went to on our trip! Stay tuned for the second San Sebastián instalment which is all about food (the most exciting part of any trip)!