It’s time to explore San Sebastian’s heart. After a morning of homework and trip planning, we load into the Golf and navigate through labyrinthine streets to old town parking… driving in Donostia is an adventure. But there are plentiful underground lots and after a few exciting wrong turns we manage our way into the Broadway lot near the old town market, an obligatory stop for Sue. It’s functional but lacks the charm of older Spanish markets… the action here is above ground strolling between Pintxo bars.
We dip into one mid-day at the Constitucion Plaza and find a seat upwind of the inescapable human fumaroles. It’s a pleasant square, lined by numbered rooms once used to view the bullfighting matches it held. Today it serves as a place to gather, celebrate and occasionally protest, though I expect that happens less now: EU membership favors tribes as much as nations, and the Basques have bettered themselves economically – the separatists seem sated.
After lunch and a meander the old town’s streets, pause for churros and chocolate, and climb the hill past old baterias, a british graveyard and on up to visit the crest’s castle and its musty history museum. It’s a warm hazy day but the views are still impressive as we descend to the harborside aquarium, always a hit with the boys. Donostia’s is as much a maritime museum as an aquatic zoo, with impressive displays of seafaring history, ship artifacts and models… but down below the lobsters are huge and the oval-shaped “Nautilus Room” with circling sharks, rays and fish does a nice job of conjuring up a Captain Nemo experience.
Friday morning I slipped out for a a short bike ride around noble little Kristina-Enea park. Upon my return the family is up for the day’s adventure – a journey north across the border to the French Basque town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. En route I take the opportunity to preview our transfer for Sunday… we plan to manage down travel costs by refueling then dropping the rental car at the San Sebastian airport, taxiing across the border to Hendaye for a 9AM Sunday train ride north to Bordeaux. What could go wrong? Plenty… so we’ve learned to test the transfers. Check.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a pretty little seaside town famous for harboring Basque corsaires as well as for hosting the marriage of Louis XIV and Spain’s Maria Theresa, an important contribution to the end of the Thirty Years’ war. We caught the town during the annual celebration of its namesake Saint, with locals and balconies festooned in Basque red and black. The town is packed but we manage to find central parking. Our first stop: a waterfront crepe. With full bellies we walk the seawall and stroll the Rue de la République from Place Louis XIV to the beach. There are plenty of sugary temptations here… well presented at lovely little shops like Maison Adam. Sue and I could stroll and eat all day, but our pants don’t fit anymore and the boys grow bored, so we eventually work our way back to the car and home to Donostia.
There we leave the bored boys in the flat and finally venture out for a date night of famed San Sebastian Pintxos. Sue has all the best spots tagged on Google Maps… some are closed, others are too crowded to enter, but we squeeze in to a few winners and enjoy the salty, rich vertical tapas, local wines, and friendly street vibe. San Sebastian is lovely by night.
We’ve got one more day here in Donostia so go for the greatest hits… the Funicular Monte Igueldo takes us from La Concha beach up to Parque Atracciones Monte Igueldo, the quaint old mountaintop amusement park a bit like a tiny Tibidabo. I’ve managed the boys expectations so they enjoy the corny horror cave and quaint mountaintop rollercoaster. The bumper car sessions are generously long, which makes them a huge hit. Sue gets to relax and take photos while we boys bash the testosterone out of each other – everyone wins!
The surf report looks good so in the afternoon we head back over to Zurriola beach for one last European beach day. Then to cap it all off we drag the boys back over to the old town so they can share in a bit of the Donostia’s evening magic and Pintxos culture. It’s
Saturday night and the town is alive… we stumble upon a traditional parade, talented street painters and a beautiful sunset… a fine and fitting finish to a wonderful 6 weeks in Spain. We’ll be back.