UN PASEO A PASAIA
After last night’s decadent pintxos feast we decided to head out today for some much-needed exercise. Luckily San Sebastian is surrounded by hills and criss-crossed with hiking trails, so we didn’t have to look too hard to find a route that involved a little bit of effort and offered spectacular views as a reward. And so we went for un paseo (i.e. a stroll) to Pasaia.
Pasaia is a small fishing and port town about 7km from San Sebastian. It sits at the base of Mt Ulia, a long, low hill which can be traversed on foot from San Sebastian. The walk from San Sebastian to Pasaia runs along the ocean-facing side of Mt Jaizkibel and affords gorgeous views across the rugged Atlantic coastline – as we discovered today.
We set our early this morning (early by Spanish standards that is – i.e. 10:00am), making our way across Zurriola Beach and up Kalea Zemoriya (i.e. Zemoriya Street). The street soon petered out, becoming a rough path through the dense vegetation.
The first kilometre or so of the trek was pretty steep, as we rapidly ascended Mt Jaizkibel. It was worth the effort though: arriving at the top of the ridge we stopped to enjoy the wonderful view back down across San Sebastian.
Red and white marks guided our steps along the path, making it easy to find our way. The path is really well maintained too, which meant we didn’t have to concentrate too hard on watching where we put our feet, we could enjoy the vistas and just relax.
Being early (and out of peak summer holiday season), the path was empty – we only saw a dozen or so other people the whole day. And there was nothing but silence, beyond the chirping of birds and the sounds of waves crashing on the rocks far below us.
Thanks to rains brought by the Atlantic currents, the hills around San Sebastian are covered in forests and a dense undergrowth of ferns. With the coming of autumn many of the ferns have turned a rich russet red, which contrasted beautifully with the vivid green of the evergreen pine trees that make up a lot of the forest around here.
We stopped at the promontory of Mompás, where the ruins of an old building were visible far below us. The signs told us this was once a whale watching output, dating back to the 18th century when hunting whales was a wildly popular (and profitable) activity along the Basque coast.
All along the way the eroded sedimentary cliffs plunged straight into the waters of the clear blue waters of the Atlantic. The ocean was so clear that we could see fish swimming in the shallows from way up on the hilltop!
Towards the end of the hike a lighthouse came into view. Surrounded by gulls, the La Plata lighthouse is named after the cliffs its stands on. “Plata” means silver in Spanish and apparently the sandstone cliffs here take on a silvery sheen when they’re wet (which is quite often given how this region receives almost 2m of rain a year).
For 4 hours we walked along the clifftops, enjoying the sunshine and dipping in and out of the beech, oak, chestnut, and pine forests. Finally, however, the track began to descend and we caught sight of the deep harbour that gave Pasaia its name (“Pasaia” = “passage”).
Soon we had left the serenity of the forest behind and were in Pasaia proper. The town itself was pretty ugly and entirely dominated by the massive commercial port its centred around. There was a huge ship in port when we were there, being loaded up with scrap metal. The town’s only real redeeming feature were the cute old houses lining the original harbour.
We had thought to linger in Pasaia and have lunch there, but the town didn’t really excite us so we caught the next bus back to San Sebastian and dined, once again, on pintxos.
As we were sitting in the pintxos bar replenishing ourselves after the morning’s exertions a storm blew in from nowhere*, soaking San Sebastian and its surrounds. Makes us glad we set out early(ish) this morning and made it into Pasaia before the storm hit! It’s still raining now, but we’re dry and warm here in our cosy little room so we don’t mind. Hopefully the storm wears itself out overnight though – we have more walking and touristing to do tomorrow and sunshine is always nicer! Fingers crossed…
*This is not uncommon around here apparently – seems the weather that blows in from the Atlantic can be rather temperamental.