San Sebastian. Our pilgrimage back to the ocean.

Friends, its Court back again. My Seadreamer has come down with a serious case of man flu so I am back at the blog again. I hope no one is too disappointed.

As the saying goes, salt water is the cure for anything; this is something that rings true to the both of us. Raised in coastal towns, the ocean has always called to us. Barcelona had been a bumpy ride emotionally and mentally and we knew that we needed to continue to reboot somewhere that felt more like home.

With a week remaining open in our calendar, before our journey to Paris, we decided to move on.

In previous years back in Australia, Zak had heard so much about San Sebastian and long ago had placed it onto his ‘would love to visit’ list. From travel shows, surf pros, and foodie blogs, San Sebastian for these various reasons and more, sounded like a city for us. Being so close to Barcelona, and almost on the French border, it was calling our name and we listened.

San Sebastian, from the moment we arrived on the train platform, OMFG. It was beautiful. We wandered with our luggage, giddy, through the cobbled streets on our way to our new digs. The filigreed balconies and Belle Époque building facades wowed us at every turn. This classical french elegance juxtaposed with the smell of salt water air and the sounds of crashing waves made us feel alllllllllll the feels. We knew that this was the place that our spirits needed.

Situated in Basque Country at the western edge of the Pyrenees mountain range, San Sebastian immediately felt different to any other Spanish town or city that we had visited. It was different in almost every way, the people were different, the climate, and the architecture. Only the obvious Spanish trademarks remained; language and the collective love and excess consumption of Jamon. —> Jamon and baguette anyone? For Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Midnight snack? Even if you’re not hungry, put some in your pocket for later.

Our apartment was a two minute walk to glorious promenade and surf of Zurriola Beach. Here we spent many an afternoon relaxing, lying on the jetty and watching the waves. This area was always buzzing, the vibe was perfect. No matter the temperature there was always surfers lingering in the ocean to catch a wave, desperate people sun baking trying to catch the last of the autumn rays, people roller blading, riding their bikes, playing basketball, siesta-ing and groups of friends sharing beers. Everyone seemed to embrace the outdoors here, a lot more than the rest of Spain. I guess, when you aren’t battling with tourist-bus sized groups of people at every turn, life is a little more chill.

Around the literal corner from our local beach, is another bay. It is crazy that although only separated by a couple hundred metres, this beach is sheltered, calm and flat enough for a newb to paddle board on. This beach is popular among the locals to wade, kayak, sail and like mentioned before, SUP. This is where we rented a kayak and had our own afternoon out on the ocean. This was another honeymoon registry suggestion by our pals B&E. Thanks guys! We kayaked until our arms were tired (and by our arms, I mean Zak did all the work), then we floated and watched the sun go down.

San Sebastian in Autumn has a mystical feel about it, the new cool air brought with it a thick fog which on most nights shrouded the town and mountains. Some nights as we strolled, we could only see a few metres in front. Occasionally this fog lingered through to the following day, when the temperatures were particularly chilly. These made for some magical days. Fog like this is so unfamiliar to me – well, cold temperatures full stop are unfamiliar. But I felt especially fascinated by the fog, watching it move, watching it over the ocean, and watching what it did to light.

We had two days where sun came out and we saw blue skies. The fog receded and the temps climbed a few degrees. These were the days that we explored the gardens, the parks and climbed around the beaches to explore the lookouts.

Yet another first for us, the colours of Autumn. Wowee! The colours of the leaves in the parks and the trees along the streets were intense, especially when the sun was out. Autumn was in full swing, and the warm colours of a new season were everywhere. When I think of San Sebastian I immediately see the a spectrum of blue. But, when I look back over our collection of photographs I am reminded of the colours of Autumn. Reds, yellows and hint of green.

Beyond the beach, this seaside town is known to be foodie heaven, a world-class gastronomic paradise. Although we did not have the wallet or ambitions to swing meals at the squllion Michelin Star restaurants around the town, we did have a good crack at Pintxo-bar dining like a local.

To find a great pintxo bar in San Sebastian all you need to do is look down. If the floor is filthy you are in the right place. Remember the black toenail rule of thumb for Jamon? Here, the local custom is to throw your used napkins on the floor. With this in mind, we set out to find pinxto bar gold, searching for the ‘mouth-watering’ combination of black toenails and grubby floors. #somuchNOforsomuchYES

Occupying the bar are plates of tantalising foods like manchego cheeses, anchovies, sardines and salmon, ready to be scooped atop pieces of freshly toasted bread and eaten with your drink of choice. Vermut, cider, or wine. To plan properly, you should also know the house specialty, particularly at old-school places that excel with a single ingredient or dish.

The pintxo bars, like bars that we are familiar with, vary in degrees of authenticity, refinement and finesse. The more upscale pintxo bars have internationally celebrated chefs and themselves can earn Michelin Stars. The pintxos that are created here are mini marvels. They are created with the precision of a french pastry chef with deftly tweezer skills and insane abilities to pack a mouth explosion of flavour in bite sized portions. Umami and all that jazz…
Some of these prize winning pintxos are even sculpted to look like models of international buildings like the New York Guggenheim.

On a less swanky note, one of our (many) fond pintxo memories was a rather laid back drizzly Thursday night. Around the corner from our apartment in the Gros neighbourhood, we happily partook in a local bars happy NIGHT! That’s right, whole night. Every Thursday night, this bar offers free pintxos with every drink purchase… and the drinks cost about 2euro. Man oh man, we drank a lot of wine and vermut and enjoyed the shit out of those free nibbles. Even small plates of paella were on offer!

Anyone who knows us, is aware of our love affair with Byron Bay. In many ways, San Sebastian felt like the Byron of Spain. Coastal, but surrounded by green hinterland. Laid back but somehow a bit swanky at the same time. Like Byron, there is also a huge focus on local produce and local businesses supporting each other. It was wonderfully familiar, but not something we had come across in our time overseas until now.

We loved finding our local coffee hang roasted its own beans and sourced its bread from a local artisan baker and its croissants from a different, but likewise, local patisserie.

Another cafe we liked to visit with our laptop had a cheese cart in the front, operating in the middle of the lounges and bookcases. We spoke to the man with the goods (AKA our new best friend) and he excitedly explained each and every cheese on offer to us. He could tell us where each of them were made. All of the cheeses were made in the outlying areas of the town. He personally knew all of the cheese makers and explained that when he isn’t working in San Sebastian selling the produce he goes to the farms and helps his friends make the cheeses! Naturally, we bought A LOT.

We are definitely partial to a bottle of cider or two. So we were chuffed to find out that the Basque country has it’s own version. Here the cider is naturally fermented and served in a bottle akin to the size and shape of a wine bottle. The cider is not bubbly but instead you are supposed to aerate it by pouring it like Moroccan mint tea. The higher, the better. It tastes amazing and we happily sampled various bottles from local orchards and subsequently ‘long-poured’ much of it onto tabletops. #andourmouths

It’s no secret that San Sebastian is foodie heaven, and we were initially cautious on what such a reputation would mean for the price of eating here. We pleasantly discovered that eating in San Sebastian can be as affordable or high-end as you want. Perhaps it is because of the high concentration of local products, that keeps the prices reasonable but quality sky scraper high.

San Sebastian was awarded the 2016 European Capital of Culture and we certainly understand why. There is a perplexity and depth to San Sebastian and we loved every minute here.

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