BIG WAVES IN SAN SEBASTIAN
Thanks to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, the Basque coast gets more than its fair share of rain. That means that cloudy, windy, and showery days like today are common here in San Sebastian. Hardly the best weather to go hiking in, so rather than risk slipping off a cliff and ending up swimming with the fishes, we forwent our plans to go tramping through the hills and instead focussed our attentions in and around town. In between rain showers we made our way around La Concha Bay to Mt Igueldo, stopping to watch the waves crashing over the harbour wall for a while and enjoying views across town from the top of the mountain.
We started our morning with a stroll along the San Sebastian Paseo Nuevo (i.e. New Promenade), where waves moving in from the Atlantic were crashing against the sheer sea walls. We were mesmerised by the show of raw power and stopped for a while at the mouth of La Concha Bay to watch the breakers roll in.
With dark clouds looming on the horizon the sea was a tumultuous mass of white, green, and grey water. Some of the waves were big enough that, when they broke, the salt spray and water drenched passers-by walking along the Promenade. After watching this happen a few times we chose to continue our stroll on the far side of the walkway – furthest from the ocean!
Along the beaches the waves were smaller, but big enough that there were a few surfers out. Big waves are fairly common here and surfing draws a lot of tourists to Spain’s Atlantic coastline. Mind you, the water was cool enough that all they were all wearing full length wetsuits.
We saw a little of La Concha beach the other day, but hadn’t walked its length. Taking advantage of a break in the weather, we kicked off our shoes and set out across this 2km stretch of golden sand.
La Concha beach is the best known of San Sebastian’s 3 beaches, and in summer is always crowded with sun-lovers keen to enjoy its turquoise waters. There weren’t many beach-goers out today, but a few hardy souls were braving the cold, choppy waters – though not many stayed in the water long; aquick dip and most of them were straight back out again!
In the middle of La Concha bay we could clearly see Santa Clara island, an uninhabited islet covered in forest that used to house the city’s lepers and plague victims. In the 18th century and lighthouse was built on the island, but it stands empty now.
Between La Concha beach and the next stretch of sand, Ondaretta beach, we stopped to explore Miramar Palace. Once the summer abode of the Spanish royal family, Miramar Palace is today owned by the Basque University. Its grounds are a public park and the palace itself is used for conferences and lectures.
Around the headland we came to Ondaretta beach, a smaller stretch of golden sand that sits right under the slope of Mt Igueldo. We stopped here for a coffee and again stopped to watch the waves rolling in, transfixed by the colours and shapes.
Our final stop for the day, before the inclement weather drove us into the warm embrace of a pintxo bar for the rest of the afternoon, was Mt Igueldo. This small mountain stands at the far Western end of La Concha Bay, overlooking San Sebastian and affording some amazing views of the town and its beaches.
We took the funicular railway up the mountain, marvelling at the fact that the 100 year old system was still operational (if a little clunky).
The funicular railway took us right up into to the Mt Igueldo amusement park, a hideous fairground built in the 1970s that just seemed empty and sad today. Maybe in summer, when families and holiday makers add a measure of life to the hilltop, it’s a fun place to be, but today it just looked like something out of a kitsch old movie.
The views from the summit of Mt Igueldo more than made up for the tackiness of the amusement park however. To the East we could see all the way across to the hills we hiked along yesterday, and to the West the undulating shape of Spain’s Northern coastline could be seen fading into the distance.
Despite the looming clouds and occasional showers, it was still great to spend the day by the beach, enjoying what San Sebastian is famous for. This will be our last view of the ocean for a while too as tomorrow we’re heading inland, bound for a town famous for its annual Running of the Bulls.