We slept soundly, weary from our run, despite the pounding rain bouncing noisily off Benny’s roof. When morning arrived the deluge had dissipated and the sun was out – it was time to move on. We followed the busy coast road west, slow behind unpassable tractors and cyclists on the narrow roads, in the direction of Spain. We passed through the pretty looking Saint-Jean-de-Luz, spotting a messy aire tightly packed with manoeuvring motorhomes set in a great central position, before dropping down to cross the notional country border at Behobia.
We had driven this road before, a little over two years ago, and we mused on how much we’d seen and done in the time since. Benny was almost new then, with less than 3000 miles on his clock, in comparison to the near 29000 miles we have driven now. We stayed off the tolled motorway, preferring the coast road into San Sebastián, knowing we only had a short drive day. We arrived at the central aire near the university and were surprised to see it so packed, although many spaces were coned off for large buses to use. We nabbed one of the few remaining spaces, bought a €3.30 overnight ticket and headed to see the bay.
Despite having been here before, we were again stunned by its easy, natural beauty, regal buildings and sparkling sea. The day was clear and bright, and in direct sun it was scorching, skin blistering hot, unseasonably warm even for Spain. We had slept through the worst of the predicted heavy rains and were beyond the ugly reach of the nasty hurricane currently battering Portugal and southern Spain; it all couldn’t have worked out better for this visit. We walked to the old town and nosed around the busy tapas bars in the tiny streets, loving the colour and variety. This trip for us had been built around several interesting 10+km runs, a means for us to experience familiar places in a different way. Part of our plan was to be tee-total for the duration, as we’d been hitting the pop with our new neighbours a little too hard. Nowhere was this self-imposed exile from our tasty lubricating friend harder to endure than in these sociable back-streets tucked behind Spain’s most beautiful bay.
The only downside of this visit was realising just how obviously rusty and basically useless our Spanish had gotten in our time away – we need to visit more. We skipped out of the bars before temptation won us over and instead ate takeaway snacks on the beachfront, soaking up the view and the sun. After eating our fill and enjoying a lazy bout of people-watching, we walked back around the combined length of Kontx and Ondarreta beaches, slowly dragging our toes in the cool waters and dreaming of owning the domed paradise of Santa Clara, with its beautiful solitary house set deep in tall trees, a focus point just off-shore out in the curved bay. We watched several hardy swimmers cross the wide bay and began making plans to mimic them, mañana.
We awoke the next morning to find a grey blanket had descended, and the air a near-frosty 15 degrees; normal weather service had resumed. We postponed our swim plans until the afternoon and instead grabbed our bikes for a morning’s exploration. We rolled along the beachfront again, this time continuing to the bay’s third beach, Zurriola. We paused near a Conference Centre and watched groups of surfers take lessons. We saw other groups, carrying boards in pairs, walking in lines towards the water, and we were sure they were school classes heading not for maths or history, but for double surf. Nearby, other school kids noisily played basketball, choosing dunks over tubes. We were stopped by fencing at the end of the beach, the route blocked to protect against falling rocks.
We doubled back and hugged the coast behind the Old Town and Mont Urgull, enjoying the raw power of the breakers smashing persistently into the tall protective walls. We reached a dead end high above our onward path and had to take a glass elevator down to the lower level, just squeezing our bikes in alongside a couple of bemused locals. We headed back to Kontx beach, then south through more residential areas, and climbed a steep hill to reach a park we had noted on a city map. At the gate we discovered that riding bikes was not allowed in Parc Aiete, so we instead pushed our steeds up the leafy, shady hairpin track. Nearing the top we arrived at an interesting small grotto, before carrying our bikes up a final series of steps to reach a grassy, formally-laid out plateau.
The Palais d’Aiete, a large white building sat here all closed up, looking lonely. We had hoped for views during our climb, but the bay and beaches were hidden by tall townhouses, so a sea of rooftops was our only prize. At least we had one reward – a long, flowing descent from the hilltop back to where Benny was parked, passing screaming school kids as we whizzed by. We had a lazy lunch to refuel from our 20km jaunt around town then cycled back to the beach, this time with rucksacks stuffed with wetsuits, goggles and towels. Our patience had delivered; the air had warmed sufficiently, to 22 degrees, and had convinced us to swim.
At Ondarreta beach there were lockers and hot showers available for €1.50, so we locked up the bikes outside, changed and lockered our gear, then headed to the water. We passed guys skilfully playing footie-volleyball and a few other swimmers now resting wearily on the sand. The sea was around 18 degs, clear and blue, generally flat but with the occasional bout of high waves that swelled menacingly from nowhere. We swam east, parallel to the shore, aiming roughly for the centre of Kontx beach. With each breath our view was filled by Santa Clara island and Mont Urgull, both framed by a moody, greying sky. Changing our plans we didn’t go ashore as the fierce breakers had grown in intensity and we thought we might struggle to get back out. Instead we turned around and headed back, staying away from the frothing surf in relatively calmer waters. Nearing our start point we cut diagonally back in, covering only 1km but contented to have finally had our long-desired swim in beautiful San Sebastián bay.