When we cross borders – more often than not – our emotions and opinions go through a makeover. An obvious change given we’re thrown in an unfamiliar locale.
And as we continue, hoping to make memories, we might encounter events we’d rather not, and that’s okay too.
This unusual mix of the good and the bad helps our innate curiosity find a place to belong… making traveling a beautiful affair.
Now, why am I spouting this philosophical rant?
Because a simple fact became obvious as I hopped from one country to another early this year – our emotions impact how we view and interact with our surroundings.
This realization ended up becoming a turning point in finding something unique in every destination I added to my itinerary. I developed a sense of ‘belonging’ that felt real when I associated emotions to places I visited.
This post (the first in the soul guide series) is my attempt to help you find a deeper connection to little-known places in an unexplored land like I did.
Almost like a travel guide but instead of focusing on what to see, I’ll highlight what feelings these places may kindle in you.
Let’s start with one of the most popular travel destinations – Spain. Its vibrant architecture, scrumptious gastronomy, and dazzling culture inspire wanderlust in a plethora of travelers worldwide.
All cities in Spain are remarkable… each urging us to discover its wonders through our eyes. Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, Valencia are almost in everyone’s Spain travel plans. They‘re all hypnotic and overflow with Spanish culture, history, and life.
But its San Sebastián that makes traveling to Spain a heavenly experience.
The crown jewel of Spain’s Basque region, San Sebastián is on the country’s northern sphere near the France border. It has its own language and culture that’s as diverse and lively as you’d expect. Called as Donostia by locals, the city boasts of stunning landscapes and amazing lifestyle.
So, let’s dive in and see which ‘must-see’ San Sebastián attractions will captivate your wandering soul.
Walk to San Sebastián’s Playa de la Concha beach. You will find happiness by the shore, standing beside you, as the hypnotic waves beckon you.
The beach, tucked near the outskirts of San Sebastián’s Old Town (Parte Vieja), overlooks the Bay of Biscay and is in the gorgeous shell shaped Concha Bay.
The white sand and shallow shore fill your heart with shades of sapphire blue as you mold the steps along one of the most stunning beaches in Europe. The Concha promenade – outlining the beach – offers beautiful views of nature dipped in San Sebastián culture.
All you need to do is open your eyes (and heart) and let happiness take over.
Other beaches in the Concha Bay are Playa de Ondarreta and Playa de la Zurriola with the latter being home to the young and wild (surfers, basically).
Head up on Monte Igueldo with a funicular ride to see Basque and Donostia in a panoramic wonder. The view begs you to see Spain in a different light.
There’s also the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park at the end of that ride up the mountain. Perfect place to get a strong dose of laughter with a hint of nostalgia.
What makes Donostia and Basque region an amazing travel destination in Spain is its sheer charm to show a different side of the local culture. Like a breath of fresh air…
And once you step out of San Sebastián, this feeling grows even stronger with each mile. Within a few hours’ distance, you come across fabulous Basque towns like Pasai Donibane, Hondarribia, Irun, Zumaia, Getraia, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and Getaria.
They become the quintessential day trips with surreal landscape and mouthwatering Basque cuisine. Based on your interests and itinerary, you can explore one or all of them at your own pace (I’d suggest do the latter). Here’s a travel pass you can get.
The iconic shell (concha) shape of Concha Bay is beautified by Monte Igueldo and Monte Urgull with Santa Clara Island happily sitting in between them. This island is a paradise soaked in blue and green hues.
All around the year, you can visit the island and its 30m long teeny-tiny beach via several ways, based on your level of spirit. You can swim, kayak, or take a boat. The boat service operates from June 1st to September 30th and on Easter every year.
The island has bars, restaurants, and lifeguards (in the summer).
San Sebastián Old Town is a maze you’d love to get lost into. Wherever you turn, you’ll always find something to admire, explore, and enjoy. The laughter emanating from the pubs, the wafts of smell from food or the serenity of draped-in-flowerpots architecture… the city’s Old Town takes your senses for a ride.
Treat yo’ self
San Sebastián pintxos are the eighth wonder of our world, at least to me. And you’d do good by your stomach if you treat it to some appetizing, tasty Pintxos while you’re in the city.
You’ll come across many food establishments in the Old Town, Concha promenade and other city neighborhoods. I’d recommend going to pintxo bars in the Old Town that have locals congregating in big numbers.
Take a pick and get your butt in any of them to experience the true pleasure of delicious food. And believe me when I say – you won’t look at Spanish food (even tapas) the same way again.
Tip: Borda Berri is a great and cheap spot in Old Town to eat pintxos that locals love (I left a part of my heart there). Must try: Avocado tartare, fish of the day, pork kebab, and risotto.
When I say ALE-HOP, it may seem like a recreational facility. You wouldn’t be off the mark. It’s a local chain of shops you don’t want to miss.
You’ll know you’re near one once you spot a fake cow with a pink ribbon positioned on the pedestrian street, (almost) blocking your way to the La Concha. That was my cue to enter.
It’s a time portal wherein you’ll find quirky, fun, and awesome hanging out together in the form of fashion accessories, gifts, and décor. I can’t recall any shop making me overcome with so much excitement as ALE-HOP did in such a short amount of time. I was smiling the whole time I was in there.
And although I steer away from shopping when I travel, it would’ve been a sin not to in this mecca.
. . . .
San Sebastián is the perfect manifestation of ‘love at first sight’. You can’t help but be mesmerized by this city, its culture, cuisine, people, and scenery. And I guarantee you’ll feel more alive in your body and soul with every step you take.