San Sebastián. We were staying in St. Jean de Luz on the French side of the border. San Sebastián is (two) easy train rides away. We took French regional rail to the border, walked about 100 feet to a different station, and then hopped on the ultra-modern Euskadi rail to take us to San Sebastián (about 30 minutes from the French border). Here are some of the highlights from our visit to the lovely seaside town.
Bright White Promenade
When we arrived, the sun was shining and the effect on the beach side promenade was stunning. Whitewashed lampposts and railings dazzled with crystal clear water beyond.
Old School Food Halls in a Modern Setting
We love visiting food markets when we travel. In San Sebastián, they are no longer housed in atmospheric halls but rather in the basement of modern malls. Despite the utilitarian setting, we had fun exploring the produce, meat, and fish on offer.
Time for Pintxos
No trip to San Sebastián is complete without a pintxos crawl. Pintxos are elaborate tapas set-out on the bar every afternoon. We enjoyed bar hopping and trying the specialty of each place. San Sebastián is the undisputed capital of pintxos. We stopped in three different bars all within easy walking distance of each other. We could have easily stopped at ten more had our appetites allowed.
Pouring Wine with a Flourish
Pintxos are even more fun when served with Txakoli, white wine aerated to give a light fizz by pouring from above the bartenders head. It was entertaining to watch and even more fun to drink. The light wine paired perfectly with our selection of pintxos that afternoon.
Dipping Toes in the Crystal Clear Water
We walked off our pintxos with a stroll along the beach. The water was so inviting that we rolled up the legs of our trousers and dipped our feet in the water. So idyllic.
Strains of Music Wafting Past at the Music Hall
After our feet had dried, the sand had been removed, and we'd slipped back into our footwear, we hiked up a large hill of rolling green grass toward a spectacular mansion. Turns out this building is now used as a music hall and we could hear strains of various individuals and groups practicing as we sat on a bench out back admiring both the views and lovely array of sound.
Picking (Horse!) Chestnuts
While we were up at the music hall, we got stuck in a bit of a surprise downpour. We took shelter in a grove of trees. While we were standing there, I noticed a ton of chestnuts that seemed to be dropping from the trees before my very eyes. I love roasted chestnuts and thought this could be a great opportunity to make some for ourselves. I must have collected about 30 chestnuts only to realize later that these were actually horse chestnuts which are apparently slightly poisonous. Thank goodness for Google...at least I found out before they were roasted and in my belly!
San Sebastián has fabulous atmosphere even away from its sandy shores. We discovered a variety of gazebos dotting squares and parks in the the center of town. Fortunately, the rain had stopped at this point and we could admire them from afar rather than huddled under the protective roof.
Letting it All Hang Out on the Beach
As we were walking along the promenade we noticed that the locals are certainly not shy. We saw at least two topless bathers and an older, heftier man that I thought was wearing a Speedo but then soon realized he was casually talking to someone on the beach in the buff. Folks were also not shy about changing into and out of their bathing suits in public. I saw countless women and a couple of guys wearing towels or a long t-shirt rip off their bottoms and replace them with fresh undies for the walk home.
2016 European Capital of Culture
We noticed signs about the place showcasing San Sebastián as one of the 2016 European Capitals of Culture. This EU initiative is designed to show-off the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe, celebrate elements of shared culture, and foster development of culture to help develop cities. With this in mind, it was easy to see why San Sebastián was selected. The culture we experienced on our day trip was definitely unique and lent a special atmosphere to the city.
Hopefully we'll have a chance to return to San Sebastián during its 'reign' as capital of culture!