Seeking Sunshine in San Sebastian
If you ever find yourself curating a European bucket-list of must-visit destinations, the seductive seaside sparkle of San Sebastian cannot be ignored. Declared their ‘favourite destination’ in Europe by two close friends, a week-long getaway to the Basque coast was swiftly booked when a week of vitamin sea, sunshine and good food was needed.
We rolled into the waking city bright and early during a busy week for the region, with Running of the Bulls taking place daily down the road in Pamplona. Blurry eyed and in need of a strong coffee, I was surprised to see how many locals of all ages were up with the sun, dressed in white with a dash of red bound for the festivities.
San Sebastian has two main beaches - the photo-famous Playa de la Concha with the city lying behind it and Zurriola, full of waves and salty youthful energy. We opted to stay on the Zurriola side, in a characterful Airbnb a stone’s throw from the custard-coloured sand. We loved the chilled, laid-back vibe of Zurriola, full of locals and surfers alike spending long evenings recounting the day’s break in the many sidewalk bars that spilled onto the streets.
Our agenda for San Sebastian was beautifully sparse. 1) Relax, preferably at the beach. 2) Eat (check out our food diary here). 3) Relax, again (as one should after eating) and 4) stretch our legs with a leisurely stroll around town. You could often find us staking claim at the beach, kindles in hand with one eye watching some of the most beautiful bikini-clad bodies I ever did see. At five months pregnant, bump cocooned under a cover-up in the sun, I felt positively fully dressed as girls paraded past in two-pieces which added up to be smaller than my bikini bottoms. If I hadn’t thought about post-baby-body goals by then, it was definitely parading in front of my face now.
San Sebastian has a handful of sights to see, and one cooler morning saw us heading up to the lookout hill of Monte Urgull for a bird’s eye view of both bays. We walked the length of Playa de la Concha to catch a glimpse of Peine del Viento, and Sam grabbed a surf lesson on a calmer day. The city is not packed with sights to line up for like Gaudi’s Barcelona, but the relaxed buzz and agenda of the city suited the pregnant me just fine.
One thing I was not expecting from this beach-side city was the phenomenal shopping scene. Particularly when it came to baby boutiques. Baby Howell (now known as George) did much better than anyone else, claiming almost all additional items in my bulging carry-on en-route back to London. Towards the end of the week we had to avoid the shops altogether, as ‘just a quick look’ became too dangerous for our bank balance and suitcase zips. Arsene et Pippettes and IKKS Kids were my favourites, and I was particularly impressed with how boy-centric both stores were in a world which usually seems inundated with sequins and skirts.
Ask a Spaniard, and they’ll tell you San Sebastian has a reputation for raining. True to form, we did have three days of rain in a row which saw us ditching the beach for a day-trip to nearby Bilbao. The city is a near-perfect example of how a beacon of culture, namely the Guggenheim Museum, can turn what might otherwise be 'just another city' into a winking destination. The building is the city’s star, so make sure you take the time to walk right around its perimeter to take in the architectural triumph before heading inside. Following our visit we decamped to rooftop bar at Azkuna Zentroa to mop our brows and clink our glasses. The handful of hours we spent in Bilbao were all we needed.
San Sebastian is full of charm, with something for everyone. From the young, bronzed bodies skipping in the surf and fêteing on the sidewalks, to the silver-haired generation dolled up for their daily amble and black coffee, the town embraces and has something for everyone. Next time we’ll hire a car, to explore the rest of the beautiful Basque coastline. Gracias, San Sebastian!
With Love, Kate
(P.S San Sebastian is a total food mecca. I have captured our food touring here - enjoy!)