San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian quickly became the favorite city of those I’ve visited in Spain. Much smaller than Barcelona and Madrid, the lifestyle in the small town (relatively) was much more my pace. After the heat and hills of Portugal, the cooler temperature and flatter land was a welcomed change of pace. The city itself is mainly a beach town on the Atlantic Ocean, only a few miles from the French border. In fact, it’s one of the 7 Basque regions, of which 4 are in Spain and 3 in France. Many locals don’t recognize themselves as part of Spain, and even during the Spanish Euro Cup football games, I couldn’t find a single Spanish jersey. While they do speak Spanish, it is often secondary to their own Basque language, which has no known origin and is unlike any Romance language.
My favorite part of San Sebastian is the landscape – a beautiful cove with a picturesque island in the middle, yachts in the harbor, and rising hills on both sides. Hiking up Monte Iqueldo reveals even more stunning views of the coastline and bay. La Concha, the larger beach is mostly used for sunning and swimming, while Zurrioula is known internationally for its surfing – and rightfully so – the surfable waves are both intimidatingly large (for this perpetual beginner) and non-stop. After a couple of hours in the water I was absolutely drained.
The Old Town of San Sebastian consists of streets between 3-5 story yellow stone buildings, where nearly every shop is a “bar.” Bars in San Sebastian are usually one room with a few tables if any, where the bar-top is completely covered with plates of small snacks called “pinxtos,” which cost between €2-5. You enter, order a drink, grab a plate, and load up whatever pinxtos you want. My hostel friends and I would often wander from one bar to the next, having a drink and a few pinxtos at each. A note on beer in Spain: when at a bar, you often only order the size of the beer, instead of the type. They’ll serve you what they have – a light lager similar to your Bud Light. The craft beer scene has definitely yet to find it’s way to Spain.