San Sebastian July 2015
Why San Sebastian:
I’ve never really thought about going to Spain (if you discount Tenerife). I’ve been on quite a few holidays in nearby countries such as France, Portugal and Italy and so generally when planning a holiday I try to pick places that are culturally different from the Mediterranean. However, this time we were looking for somewhere fairly close that we hadn’t been before and so we thought we’d give Spain a try. We were looking for somewhere a bit less touristy and with a bit of surf for Nick and so we settled on the north. I was keen to try out some of the smaller coastal towns and villages but without a car this was going to be virtually impossible and so we decided to head for the city of San Sebastian of which the guide books said: “It’s impossible to lay eyes on San Sebastian and not fall madly in love.” A city of old architecture, beaches, surfing and amazing cuisine. It sounded perfect and so we booked our flights and set off!
We stayed in a little hostel called Pension AIA which was in a fantastic location just two minute walk from the surf beach. The place was clean and modern with a really friendly host who spoke excellent English and was extremely helpful. Our bedroom had a sink and shower but we had to use the shared toilets. This wasn’t an issue though as there were more than enough toilets to the number of rooms and all were immaculately clean. The room also had a door onto a little area to hang washing out which was really useful as an area for Nick to store a surf board, (the hostel has no issues with sandy surf equipment being brought inside, something that I know a lot of places do not allow). The only issue with the place was that our room didn’t have a window and got almost unbearably hot during the night, despite the relatively cool weather. If it had been particularly hot whilst we were there I don’t think I would have been able to stay in that room. Don’t let this issue put you off booking however as they did have rooms with lovely big windows for a higher price so check before booking.
Our hostel was right next to the surf beach which was a really nice, relaxed beach to spend time on. Being a surfer’s beach there weren’t many families there which suited us and the place was instead full of cool young teenagers and sexy surfers. The surf can get pretty big but there is a smaller area for beginners. This is generally full of children from the surf school though and so if you are an adult San Sebastian isn’t a great place to learn. When the surf is good it’s absolutely full and when it’s not it isn’t really worth going out. One of the reasons we had chosen the area was for Nick to be able to surf in but he ended up frustrated. If you are a more experienced surfer I imagine it would be a better experience for you but still, beware of just how busy it can get for a small stretch of beach as we saw multiple collisions. The other problem was that because it was a small surf beach there wasn’t really much space to go for a swim and so I ended up sitting on the beach and not spending much time in the water which was a little disappointing.
In the centre of town there is another beach which isn’t for surfers and we spent one afternoon here so that I could get some swimming in. This is a family beach and so draws more of a crowd. While it was nice to have an undisrupted swim the vibe wasn’t nearly as good on this beach and so we spent the rest of the holiday at the surf beach which was far more relaxed.
The food in San Sebastian was amazing. Their local cuisine is pinxos which is the Basque version of tapas. These tiny delicacies, usually served on a small piece of bread, are truly delicious. They are served at almost every bar you go to and are eaten as an accompaniment to drink with locals buying one or two with each round of drinks. I love this culture. Our drinking culture in Britain is just to drink as much as possible and then grab a kebab as you stumble home but in San Sebastian this idea of eating small delicacies throughout the evening is much healthier and more sociable. The only thing we found difficult is to figure out what times and days food would be served. Some nights nowhere served food other than pinxos, some nights all the restaurants were closed and some they all only served three course meals. It took us a while to get our heads around it all. The other issue is that I am vegetarian and as most of the restaurants have set menus only and with a severe lack of vegetarian food, I found it tricky to find stuff that I could eat. When we did find food however it was always delicious and good value for money.
Drinking and entertainment:
We arrived in San Sebastian to discover there was a free Jazz music festival on the beach around the corner from our hostel! Right on the beach was a large stage with some fairly big names such as The Earth Wind and Fire Experience playing, and there were some smaller stages dotted around with decent jazz bands playing. The rest of our time we spent in a little bar called La Gaviota where the drinks were cheap and the bar staff lovely.
Despite the weather, (it rained throughout most of the week), and the issues with surfing, we had a lovely, relaxing holiday in San Sebastian and it’s definitely given me a taste for Spain. I’d love to go back and see more of the country, in particular some of the smaller towns in Cantabria and Asturias. The people are cool and friendly and the pace of life is chilled but not lazy. Spain is definitely a country I can see myself spending a lot more time in in the future.