San Sebastian has never really been on my travel radar or bucket list. I honestly did not know much about the Spanish beach town until the past year.
As Reed and I got more and more interested in food (especially over the last year), we began watching food documentaries, following chefs and restaurants, and, as you know by now, trying to seek out any and every kind of food experience. We have some friends who are equally, if not more, interested in food and food experiences. They shared with us San Sebastian is on their travel bucket list because of its food. Following their recommendation for this destination, we began researching and quickly decided we needed to add this to our itinerary.
We arrived at our hotel Sunday night, so couldn’t see anything until the following morning. However, our late arrival did not deter our dining. Everyone in Spain keeps a late schedule, so arriving at dinner at 10:00pm was just on time! We had researched some dinner places but once en route to our Trip Advisor recommendation, we decided to ditch it for a busy tapas bar. Not having much experience with tapas, we quickly felt intimidated. If you’ve never been, typical tapas bars are long bars filled with what looks like appetizers. Small plates of little sandwiches, meats, fish, cheese, etc. and you pay for what you take. There’s usually not a lot of ordering, just grabbing and paying for what you eat. Everyone is standing around, eating, and chatting. Its loud and we don’t speak a lot of Spanish, so we were nervous to order. (If I’m being totally honest, I finally googled “How to order tapas at a tapas bar!”) A kind waitress finally saw our struggle and helped us. Despite a huge language barrier, she walked us through it (not a lot of words, just a lot of pointing and gesturing) and we ended up having a great meal! (It really is pretty simple and we now feel a little foolish for not knowing, but you just need to have a little confidence to step up and get what you want!) We even returned the following evening for dinner, this time choosing a sit down meal. The same waitress served us, but we asked her to choose her favorites for us (which in our broken Spanish sounded something like “tu favoritas para dos?”)… again, we were not disappointed! Through our travels, we have found some of our favorite meals have been when someone else is ordering for us!
We woke to an amazing beach view. Originally a port and naval base, most of the city is situated in regards to the sea – everything wraps around the coastline. We spent our first morning trying to get our bearings, aka – trying to find some coffee and a place to do our laundry. After that, we really got going exploring the town. We quickly found it is a very walkable city. Small streets and quaint squares make for picturesque scenes.
When I used to think of Europe, I imagined every city looked like the movies – small streets, outdoor markets, church bells ringing and little cafes. To some extent, you can probably find that in every city, but like anywhere else, cities are just that.. cities. San Sebastian was the exception to this. Walking around, this was the Europe I had imagined – cobblestone streets, markets, and cafes on every corner!
We love dining al fresco, so we decided to have lunch on the beach. We ran to the market to grab a few bites. On the outside, their markets look like a typical grocery store, but on the inside, they feel more like a farmer’s market… individual vendors for different items such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. We got an assortment of fresh goods and hit to the beach! The weather was perfect – sunny, but with a gentle breeze!
We also visited several churches throughout San Sebastian. It is so fun to be exploring such small streets and then it opens up to a square, revealing a huge church! I won’t go into detail of all the churches we visited, but I will show you my favorite, San Vicente. Rather empty when we walked in, San Vicente was very dark. There were a few other couples in the pew as we looked at the beautiful high altar. We were having a hard time seeing and figuring out the design on the altar when we heard someone drop a coin into a metal box. Instantly, the altar was illuminated, a stunning reveal.
The multilevel altar showed the story of the crucifixion of Christ. Beautifully intricate and delicate carvings, paintings and statues told the most sacrificial story in history. In each scene, from Judas’ betrayal to Christ hanging on the cross, you can see every detail, muscle and facial expression of each person. The art truly drew us in and reminded us of His ultimate sacrifice. Although we both know and have heard the crucifixion story many times, Reed and I both felt this was a unique retelling of the story. We sat in awe for quite some time observing each scene.
As stated in my first blog post, our goal for this trip was to experience God’s creation in all shapes and forms. We firmly believe His creation includes the gifts He has given people – art, music, food, and so much more. We loved how this creative expression of art was not just for retelling a story so many already know, but reminding us of His love and the reason we worship Him.
Another day in the city, we hiked Monte Urgull. The hike was relatively mild, but the views were incredible. The winding path leads up to the remains of La Mota Castle. Originally dating back as early as the 12th century, the castle served as a naval base and port. Changing hands about as many times as the country changed ruling parties over the following centuries, the castle experienced many attacks, demolition, and new construction. It became a public park in the early 19th century and received the Statue of the Sacred Heart (Jesus Christ) in 1955. Now, the castle remains have been turned into a museum telling the castle and city’s history. The viewing decks give the perfect bird’s eye view of the city and mountains.
As I’m sure you can guess, we experienced many other restaurants while in San Sebastian… Reed has another food review coming soon!