28 July 2012

Weekend at the Beach: San Sebastian, Spain

In Spain, where I live, people go on vacation in August. The whole month is not unusual depending on their resources. It's either the beach or  traditionally families have a place from their original village and many  go spend time there during the brutal heat of August.

We thought we'd get a jump on that mass exodus of Madrid and went to the beach for a 3 day weekend in July. We'd heard from Spanish friends that San Sebastian is one of the prettiest cities in Spain and it has one of the Spanish people's favorite beaches - La Concha.

We almost pulled the plug on the trip because we couldn't find a reasonable hotel. Prices were crazy high even for Europe. We still paid what is a lot for us --  and we stayed in a dormitory/hotel on the university campus there. It was a decent, basic room with our own bath and only a 10 minute walk from Ondaretta Beach. I was a little disappointed because I was afraid it was too far away for us to get a chance to visit La Concha. Turned out my fears were in vain.

The whole city was quite walkable and had tons of bicycle paths too. It's a flat little carving out of city right before the mountains start. It hadn't been damaged by the civil wars and had a lovely mix of architecture. Art nouveau, 18th Century and revival styles. As one friend put it, it has lots of beautiful little squares and neighborhoods, not just one main plaza for tourists.

You could easily walk down Ondaretta Beach, climb some rocks with the aid of steps and be on the La Concha Beach. It was pretty. I don't know if I know why it is a favorite for Spaniards or not, but the city lines the beach and some of it with the nice historic architecture. Some lovely victorian glass pavilions right on the beach have been converted into restaurants where you can have a sandwich or a coffee and look right out over the water. Prices were reasonable too -- maybe cheaper than Madrid.

We would drive in the evenings from the hotel to the main downtown area. About a 5 minute drive and the paid parking was cheaper than Madrid too. Evening meals tended to be more expensive of course and the seafood area by the bay had really high prices which we decided not to try, but we still ate good just exploring the city. We had our seafood at the Chinese pick your own food to grill place.

The weather in the north is much cooler and we needed a light sweater and jeans at night and even had the chilly temps drive us off the beach with clouds one afternoon. But that part of the country is known for rain and cooler weather so we were fortunate.

Always remember when you go to the beach in Spain that you'll see some skin, but some beaches are more family friendly than others. These seemed to be the family friendly variety. Some topless bathing or changing into your swimsuit on the beach but no big exhibitions. So that's either really good or disappointing -- depending on your perspective. ha!

It was glorious to be out of the heat of Madrid, but one drawback we faced was that MadrileƱos had indeed already started going on vacation. The result of all these city dwellers going to the beach or to the old family homestead for the weekend is huge traffic jams getting back into the city on Sunday night (or leaving on Fridays). We spent one hour in a crawl as the autopista approached the city ring highways. In July! So much for beating the vacation traffic of August. But those traffic jams jump up to 5 and six hours when August comes, so maybe it wasn't so bad. Next time we'll ask for Monday off and come back without traffic.


  1. I really like the image of the lights against the water. It looks like a spectacular place to visit. I'm surprised it was cool enough for sweaters. Is Spain, even northern Spain, that far north?

    Sounds like you picked the right time to visit if this isn't even the busy season yet and you were seeing crowds.

  2. I typed a comment that never posted... The north is mountainous and rainy in general -- totally different than dry, hot Madrid. It's nice to get up there and see lots of green things!

  3. Indeed there many beach resorts in Spain offer a large variety of water sport activities such as water-skiing, whitewater rafting and windsurfing. Ibiza Island is very popular for summer parties, while Playa d'en Bossa is the longest sandy beach on the island.

  4. My next vacation plan is to go to the Algarve area of Portugal and see how the beaches and atmosphere is there. I'm planning on relaxing after a busy time.