San Sebastian is the main urban city in the Basque Country portion of Spain. While this is, yes, technically Spain, you’ll find a culture and atmosphere unlike nowhere in Spain.
To get here, you have to take a train or a bus, which winds and twists and turns before dropping you into a gorgeous coastal city. I tried both and have to say there’s not much difference, so just choose what’s best for you, though there is direct bus service from the city to Bilbao airport, the closest larger city which is about 60 miles away.
Here’s one of the many breathtaking views of the Basque coastline – this is a view we had on one of the many walking trails around the city.
San Sebastian itself has a very cosmopolitan feel, despite being a smaller town. It’s well-known for it’s culinary scene; there are pintxo (prounounced “pincho,” the Basque word for tapas) bars all over town, each with its own specialty from bread makers to foie gras purveyors. I know I’ve said that I love the food in Madrid, but the restaurants in the Basque country are some of the top in the world; quite literally, as many of the entries on the “best restaurants in the world” lists are all found here.
However, if you’re here on a budget, you don’t need 3 Michelin stars to have a happy belly – just wander up to a pintxo bar, order a beer and a few pintxos, and you’re all set. You can literally just roam the streets and see what you find – it’s next to impossible to have a bad snack or meal here.
To walk off the calories, head around the gorgeous beach promenade and then head up to one of the best (and most famous) views of San Sebastian from the top of Mount Igueldo. Gorgeous, isn’t it? There’s also a bar near the top here, if that helps tempt you.
If you aren’t up for all the hiking, you can simply take one of the paths down to the shore and put your feet in the ocean, or just walk La Concha, the city beach (the latter offers umbrellas and chairs for hire). San Sebastian doesn’t have a lot of attractions, such as museums, but the city’s cosmopolitan vibe extends to its shopping scene, which is high end and very fashionable – worth the window shopping alone, if you can’t afford custom couture.
If you have access to a car, there are several interesting cities in the area – the French border is just a couple of miles away. Three small cities I would recommend: Hondarribia (wonderful view, sites on French border), Beasain (pretty mountain town), Oñati (very quirky, interesting church).
It’s not easy to get to, but the Basque country is worth the effort. I hope you’ll find it as charming as I did.
Photos by: Ross Huggett & Andy Hayes.
Posted : Thursday, April 18th, 2013 at 10:00
Andy Hayes is based in sunny Portland, Oregon. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he works on his own lifestyle publication, Plum Deluxe.