San Sebastian: Another kind of wonderful

Itinerary:
– Tour of San Sebastian

Our glorious, sunny day began with a bus and walking tour of San Sebastian. There are several beaches and coves around the town and a Positano-like view of the homes spilling down the hill at the point. At each of two points there are impressive iron sculptures from two competing artists, Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza.

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The town shows evidence of human occupation dating back to 24,000 BC, was occupied during Roman times and invaded by Napoleon. In 1813 the British captured and sacked the town, leaving virtually nothing standing. Reconstruction began in 1817.

Historically, Spanish Royals have spent their summers here, and we saw one of the summer palaces overlooking the the whole span of the beach. Now it is used for cultural events and hosts a music school. Music drifted out the windows across the lawns.

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At the far end of the beach is the Old Town, with narrow, cobbled streets and pedestrian traffic only. At its heart, the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria. There is also a stunning town hall which was originally built as a casino.

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Typical throughout Spain was the early practice of holding the bullfights in the town square, and doors were numbered so homeowners could rent out their balcony sections to the audience.

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Basque country is famed for its gastronomy and San Sebastian has more Michelin starts than any country but Kyoto, Japan. Even our hotel restaurant has one Michelin star. At the annual festival of Saint Sebastian in January, townsfolk dress up as chefs and celebratory dinners are held in the best restaurants and gourmet dinner clubs. Our guide recommended a “menu” lunch at a particular restaurant and, as usual, it did not disappoint. The Spanish take advantage of their siesta, a four-hour break in the middle of the day, using at least half of it to eat the main meal of the day. The “menu” lunch consists of a starter, a main and a dessert, served with bottled water, wine and coffee. The coffee (in my case cafe con leche) is taken as a fourth course following dessert. A meal like this costs 10 to 15 euros.

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We started with tender white asparagus with two sauces and a fabulous main course of monkfish, very similar in texture and flavour to lobster. A few days later, we would see a monkfish at the Oviedo market. How could such a hideous creature produce (near its tail) some of the best seafood I have ever tasted? Flan, similar to creme caramel, is the Spanish dessert choice.

After this leisurely lunch we wandered the shops in the old town and meandered back toward our hotel via the beach, where we went into the Atlantic up to our knees. The water at the shoreline was warm and the sand soft. We stopped at one of the patios along the promenade for a refreshing beer.

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The rich and famous visit this town and their hotels line the beach. Ours was modern and very comfortable, a short walk up from the beach.

Still stuffed from lunch, we had a late salad at the hotel before gathering in the hotel’s sitting area for our recap of the day and a nightcap. Rosa has taken to testing our retention levels with a quiz based on the day’s tour. We generally achieve moderate success, but the quiz does help us to synthesize what we’ve learned.

Pamplona had held its own surprises for us, with the religious procession, music and El Camino pilgrims. San Sebastian was, by contrast, an oasis in our busy schedule to enjoy summer heat, sun and beach. Another unexpected, but no less delightful, day in our lovingly prepared itinerary.

Jan

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