Much has been said about San Sebastian in recent years and most far more eloquently than I could have written. The New York Times wrote that ‘to visit the city is to fall in love…’ Now this may at first all seem a little over-inflated. Yet when I consider my own time in San Sebastian it was certainly the start of an ongoing love story.
When you first see a photo of the city you would be forgiven for thinking you are looking at an image of Rio de Janeiro; the crescent shaped bay framed by a Sugar Loaf-esque Mountain and topped like a Hispanic wedding cake with a Christ statue. However the two cities are exceedingly different. For romance, Rio would be a holiday fling whose reputation precedes that of the discreet San Sebastian – a Basque treasure that has a far softer side but is an equally exciting option on the doorstep for Europe.
The first selling point of San Sebastian is two in-city beaches, which shape the geographical layout of the city. Both have their own distinct atmosphere and are adapted to different needs of visitors. La Concha (the bay) is protected from the sea by an outlaying island and is perfect for sunbathing and people watching. If you fancy a challenge many people swim the mile out to the Isla Santa Clara – although we’ll understand if you are busy laying still at that point.
On the other side of the old town, but within walking distance, is La Zurriola. This beach is far better for surfing. It is also used as a nude beach by the locals, which we were unaware of until the obvious happened.
San Sebastian is scoring well on the first date.
Secondly, you could not write about San Sebastian capturing your heart, without mentioning your stomach first. Gastronomes flock to this foodie paradise, but if you want to avoid the huge lens of a DSLR encroaching on your plate then hit the Pintxos bars, which provide an experience to rival all the Michelin stars the city adorns. Just prepare yourself for a carbohydrate overload. Although the city has culinary delights on par with Paris and the other greats, paying more here does not guarantee a better experience. In San Sebastian money doesn’t buy you love. The mini-Kobe burger and banana chips at Fuego Negro (No. 31 Abuztuaren) is a must and might even make you consider pushing your relationship with San Sebastian towards something more serious.
In the evenings the life of San Sebastian moves from the beaches to the old town (Parte Vieja). This area is a patchwork of architectural and cultural decadence, with narrow streets and beautiful facades. Parte Vieja also contains more bars per square meter than any other place in the world. Yet San Sebastian miraculously avoids the atmosphere of a constant stag party and retains its charming atmosphere even after dark. Regardless of your drinking inclinations, this fact alone will continue to set the heart a flutter, and possibly the liver to shudder as well.
For the completion of this romantic journey there is no comparable view of the city than that from Monte Igueldo at sunset. There is a funicular railway at the end of Concha bay, which takes visitors to the summit of the hill and runs until 21:00. Once at the top you can look back at the city and out towards the Bay of Biscay and appreciate the complete beauty of the city. Even after all the excitement of drink and nude bathing, San Sebastian still has the capacity to induce feelings of romance and sentimentality. Now this is true love.
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