Monday, 3 October 2016

Euskal Herrian ongi etorria

La Bastide D'Amagnac to San Sebastian, 122 miles. 
Camping Igueldo, €17 per night.

The road to Spain
La Rhune, its square profile means you are almost there - au revoir France, hola Espagna.
The smidgeon of Basque in the title means 'Welcome the Basque Country', which thanks to Google translate I was able to figure out when faced with an incomprehensible roadside sign. It's a very nifty app, and we use it a lot on our travels. Google Translate is chunk of the future anticipated by the late great Douglas Adams, who proved prescient, but not infallible, as the real life version of the babelfish does enable us, more or less, to translate anything anywhere without the inconvenience of having to pop a fish in your ear. 

Anyway, enough pre-breakfast rambling, back to reality - Last night was our second at Camping Igueldo, and we are planning to stay one more, partly so we can revisit the lovely city of San Sebastian, especially as the weather is very summery, sunny with temperatures in the mid twenties. We need to stop for more boring, practical reasons too, like doing some laundry and letting the driver recover from burgeoning 'whitelineitis'. 

So, why should you put San Sebastian on your bucket list? Our Lonely Planet guide book claims that the place has 'arguably the finest city beach in Europe '. Normally when I mention 'Lonely Planet' it's to fulminate about its hipsterish tendencies, but in fairness, I think on the question of San Sebastian and its beach, our 'right-on' guide for Guardian reading travellers has got it dead right. It is difficult to imagine a more beautiful urban beach, a perfect semi-circle of soft sand over looked by wooded hills, the bay itself enlivened by a conical green islet. Even in early October the water was comfortable to swim in, and the huge beach busy, but hardly overcrowded, with a nice mixture of wrinkly swimmers, castle-building kids, beach dudes and babes, and a lone beachcomber who slowly patrolled the sands like an automaton, swinging metal-detector in one hand and small folding shovel in the other.

San Sebastian's fabulous city beach.

Aside from its spectacular setting, the city itself is a pleasing mixture of old and new. Ondarreta on the west side of the bay is modern, a row of mid-rise blocks beneath Mont Igeldo. A funicular connects a small amusement park on top of the hill to the beach area. The city plan provided by the campsite dubs this area 'family' friendly. By some mysterious process we must have known this, as it was this beach we ended up on back in 1993, with small children in tow, the first time we visited San Sebastian, more or less by accident. 

Yesterday we headed to the old town on the opposite side of the bay. It has a mixture of districts. The sea front is overlooked by an impressive town hall, probably dating from the late 19th century by the look of it. Behind is a grid of avenues laid out at a similar date where the main shops are located. Like many Spanish cities it is full of inviting small green spaces and broad boulevards like miniature versions of Barcelona's Las Ramblas.

The city hall overlooks the promenade.
The central area is full of small parks
and wide boulevards with lots of seats
and a beautiful modernista bandstand.
To the east of here lies the old town with narrow streets, again on a grid plan. In the middle of it lies 'Constitution Square', a stylish arcaded plaza with lots of café's. The long vista up Calle Major is dominated by the curvaceous facade of the church of Santa Maria, however it is not the architecture which gives the place its renown. The streets around here are home to a clutch of world famous pintxos bars. From lunchtime until midnight their bar counters are covered with trays of pintxos, bite size culinary delights. You take a plate, pick two or three, and wash them down with a glass of local wine. The cost, about €7 - €10 each, great value for something so unique and delicious.

The outrageously curvaceous facade of Santa Maria
Constitution Square
The narrow streets buzz with activity at lunch time
Bar Portaletos was a good place for rookie pintxos eaters to start.

The staff spoke English and explained what to do...
Simple - like a buffet, ask for a plate, choose what you want, order a drink, and pay for it at the bar....
Towards the sea, beneath the headland of Mont Urgull, which is topped by a massive statue of Christ, lies San Sebastian's fishing port. The quayside is lined with some very nice looking sea food restaurants. We promised ourselves we would have lunch in one when we come back here. I think we will return, it's that kind of place.

The fishing harbour
The de rigeur multi-coloured bows shot...


Mermaid and pirate tiles
Whaler carved door panel 
Beyond the headland a coastal path leads to the district of Gros, on the right bank of the Urumea river which meanders through the east side of the city. The area overlooks Zurriola Plage, San Sebastian's surfer beach. Our map dubbed this part 'Youth Style', however, by now our feet were feeling less than youthful so we decided to save its pleasures until tomorrow. 

Instead we headed back to the main town beach - La Baja de La Conche. By mid afternoon it was really warm with no breeze at all, so I went for a gentle post-lunch swim. Bliss. Then back on the no. 16 bus to the campsite. Fabulous day, perfect weather, excellent lunch, dip in the briny. Life is good, well, it is in pintxos sized morsels; if you can't seize the day, then savour the moment!

somewhere beyond Gill's toes I am bobbing about in the briny.

e

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