Our drive west through the highways and many toll gates was swift – 5 toll gates in fact between Lourdes and San Sebastian. We were entering the Basque region, a small autonomous area of northern Spain. Arriving at pur Air BnB accommodation in the Jai’Alai district (named like the famous hurling sport), we got lost trying to find the keys to our room (which were dropped off at a cafe in town). Tired from a day or cycling, we slept for the next hour, to be woken by our host Abel. Abel was a Moroccan translator and a great host, serving us morrocan tea and cakes despite or being Ramadan. We were joined by Amina, a Kazakh medical student.
San Sebastián is mostly famous for its tapas, known locally as pintxo. Thursday nights in the nearby Gros district are popular for the locals and the deal that does it is Pintxos Potes. At any bar displaying this sign, for 2 Euro you can get a pintxos to eat and a beer or wine; After about 20 euro we were well on our way. On the beach the Jazzaldia festival; a large free jazz festival, happened to be on the same time. We wandered onto the beach and sat, listening to the beats, watching the ocean roll in.
Next morning we had to pack our bags to stay at another place as could only book 1 night with Abel, which was a pain. Making our way through to the old town over the Rio Urumea river with Amina we saw the mamy street performers. Climbing up to the statue of Jesus on top of the Urgull Fort afforded an amazing view or the cutter. A swim at Bahia de la Concha beach was a competition for space; a few thousand others jostling for a place for their towel. For us, getting in a good bit of water because we rarely get the opportunity to swim was rare – at good beaches too.
Amina took off to go look at some more sights and we took our bags to our next accommodation down the road. We were in for a bit of a shock. The place on arrival reeked strongly of weed as we were welcomed by the wide eyed German hostel host. After some long winded awkward chat, we left quickly and decided not to go back until we had to sleep. There was some more surf at the new town beach Mompas Punta, so a quick sleep in the sun to work on our tan/freckles passes time.
Dinner back in the old town saw us get some pintxos that were a bit more out of leftfield and much tastier. San Sebastián boasts its share of Michelin star restaurants, but the dishes on display at most places here were at the same mark. We found the interesting combinations containing tapioca, fish eggs, black pudding, quails eggs, crab, anchovies, squid ink and goats cheese were more than mouthwatering. Trouble was…which ones to pick! We moved from place to place picking up one or two from each of the ones recommended by our friends Marc and Kim. At about 2-3 euros each, they were still great value and the walking meal was the best food we have had in Europe to date (sorry Bulgaria, you’ve been knocked off the top spot). We thoroughly recommend the following restaurants – Borda Berri, La Vina and Zeruko (we can’t remember many more) – La Vina had the best Spanish Cheesecake.
At one of the bars we bumped into an American mother and daughter who had been traveling around and they gave us some good tips for driving up the Basque coast, which sounded like a good plan for the following day. After another night listening to some more jazz music, we settled into our shabby beds pushed together at the hostel and aimed to get an early depart. The German host and the others staying at the hostel managed to come home, make a lot of noise with tin foil and then eat a lot of cornflakes in the kitchen between about 4am and 5am.
Our first beach on our trip up the Basque coast was Hondarriba, which in the early morning was still quite sleepy. There were a few retirees headed down to the beach for some prime real estate, before the midday rush. Passing back into France and arriving in St Jean de Luz, recommended by our French friend – Céline, we attended the local farmers and fish markets, full of fresh produce and found enough to pack into a baguette and make a meal at the beach. This beach was more of the idyllic French beachside, full of families in a sheltered bay.
Down the coast at Biarritz, we stumbled up on Fetes de Bayonne festival, similar to the Pampalona running of the bulls with the red scarves – although in Bayonne they only have cow races. The beach was full of American teenagers, dragging their large trundler bags down over the sand to sunbathe. The bodies here were all pretty stunning, tanned and often topless, as they do in Europe…then again, there were some that were the complete opposite and let it all out to bare also.
Driving to Pau for our quick night stay we packed our bags and found a sleepy city (everyone was away at the beach) with a fondue restaurant. After our fill of cheese and oil, we passed out in the hotel waking up in the morning to Mitch smacking his head on the window getting up for the alarm. After a bit of blood passed, we drove back to Toulouse where we were bled again by the car rental company for small scratches that had now “transformed” themselves into dents…Mitch was fuming at the double standards and the excessive bill handed over – not our best year with the rental cars, good planning that we had renewed our insurance policy.
After a few more baggage handling fees stung us for our bikes, we managed our flight back to London a lot poorer than when we woke up, but satisfied with another good holiday.