It’s taken a month’s worth of blog posts to describe our two-week trip to Spain, but that’s what slow travel is all about. No longer are we limited to 10 days of vacation, where we had to jet across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and then try to jam in as many destinations as possible to make the journey a good value. This trip began and ended as do most of ours these days by a walk to/from our local train station, a relaxed meal onboard with time for reading and listening to music before exiting the train at a downtown station and walking to our overnight accommodations. For this trip’s last night in Spain we were in San Sebastián (cathedral photo on the left), one hour south of the French city that we found to be very similar, Biarritz including lots of Bs: Beach, bay, Basque, and beauty.
Our first “stop” of the day was more of a stroll as we walked the kilometer-long seafront that is lined with Victorian-style ironwork (featured photo at the top) on the bayside and sometimes matching high rise architecture on the other. A surprise awaited near the western end of the beach in the form of a summer palace in an English Tudor style. It was opened in 1893 when members of the Spanish royal family began vacationing there, welcomed by the Habsburg coat of arms, a part of their family tree. It’s now used as an events center but the gardens are still maintained as if royalty lived there so we enjoyed the greenery and the views over the sea.
On the other end of the boardwalk is another impressive building from the same time period. This former casino, known as Ayuntamiento, played an important role during the Spanish Civil War and bullet holes from the citizens’ uprising of 1936 remain in the columns on the face of the building that has become City Hall.
We were now at the edge of Old Town and the guidebook we were using said to stroll “the quaint cobblestone streets in search of traditional Basque tapas” known as pintxos and I stopped counting after we passed by the 12th restaurant. In the same area is Plaza de la Constitución that used to host bullfights but now all we saw were even more restaurants tucked under the stone arcades surrounding the square. The city’s oldest church, Iglesia de San Vicente from the 1580s is nearby as is the Basilica with its elaborate “wedding cake” exterior of carved pillars and capitals.
Although we stayed at sea level while exploring the city, there are at least two vantage points that can provide a bird’s eye view of San Sebastián. There is a 12th century fortress on Monte Urgull that can be accessed via a winding footpath behind the Basilica and on the other side of the bay is Monte Iqueldo with its own funicular to the summit. We were very happy right in the middle of Old Town trying to decide which pintxos to try next. Hint: we hired a local guide to make the choices easier!