With the sky remaining a muddy grey and retaining the distant threat of rain, we were a little wary on our arrival in San Sebastián. This time our aire was located near the western edge of town, so we looped around the southern ring-road, passing by harsh industrial areas that did nothing to sell the town to us. Arriving neatly into town, we found our chosen aire to be a very decent spot, set in a leafy university campus, clean and safe, and still having many spaces available for us to choose from. We located a spacious end bay and parked up, then paid the €6.55 fee for 24 hours of urban parking.
We walked the mile or so into the centre, first along a key tree-lined avenue until we hit the coast, then along a pedestrianised seafront esplanade with many locals jogging and exercising in the cool morning air.
We passed through a short tunnel in the rock and emerged to full panoramic views of the main San Sebastián harbour. La concha bay, the sea calmer in the protected waters, hosted a rugged small island and headland, sailing boats moored neatly on buoys, a wide expanse of golden sand today home to a junior aquathlon competition, framed by a busy wide promenade and tall, grand early 20th century hotels in a Parisian style; simply a stunning setting, even on a cloudy say. in the moments when the sun crept through the blanket of clouds, the bay and buildings lit up in a truly spectacular fashion.
The bay is overlooked by Urgull, a small, green hill with a defensive castle walls and small chapel. The walls are the remains of Mota Castle, a 12th century fortification that helped protect the city for over 400 years, before becoming obsolete. Added in 1950, a 12m high statue of Jesus Christ now stands atop the chapel within the fortifications and watches over the bay. The walk up the hill through the trees, past the small port of San Sebastián, afforded a changing vista of the town at each level reached, revealing more at each turn.
Known as Donostia in the local Basque language, the city has a long and chequered history, from Roman occupation through Franco-Spanish border disputes in the 16th century, to British and Portuguese bombardment in the 19th century Peninsular War, to being occupied by fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. Each event and time has left its mark on the development of the city as it is today. San Sebastián has also been recognised as the European City of Culture in 2016.
The Parte Vieja, the Old Town, is the traditional core of the city, with narrow streets lined with bars, restaurants and cafes. These were rammed with people as we passed through, with rows and rows of pintxos (similar to tapas) set out in expectation on every possible surface, and these were being snapped up by hungry visitors at a rapid pace. We passed by the Basilica of St Mary of Coro, set at the end of one small bustling street, allowing a long vista of the main baroque facade from the main square.
We walked on to a second, less busy but also quite lovely beach on the northern edge of the centre called playa la Zurriola. There were a few willing surfers trying to catch a wave and, as we discovered, nudism was also an interesting feature of this beach. The weather cleared nicely in the afternoon, freshening the air, as we had a lazy walk through the old town and back along the beach, enjoying the warm sand and cool sea on our toes. A short but fascinating visit, and a place we would be very happy to return to, some future day.