San Sebastián, Spain & Biarritz, France
31.08.2014 - 07.09.2014 27 °C
Much to my happiness, my skin now has that slippery, oily feeling that only comes from the continual day-to-day slathering of sunscreen. Our time in coastal Basque Country has been a hazy marquee of blue waves and white sand by day and cold beer and yummy pinxtos by night. We have rested like absolute whales on two gorgeous beaches and enjoyed their endearingcultures while crisping under the sun.
The first half of the week was spent in San Sebastián, located in Spanish Basque Country and locally known as Donostia. Like so many other parts of Spain, the Basque region is very culturally distinct and still harbours its own dialect and customs. The Basque dialect is near impossible to pick up as a tourist, it is a rushed muddle of Xs and Ks. This made ordering pintxos a bit of a circus because the name for 'cheese ball' might read 'xkacix'. Yep, lots of pointing and smiling. Pintxos are Basque tapas, normally small rolls with meat or cheese presented on a toothpick. Perfect to nibble on over a sunset drink. My favourite was this spicy meatball coated in tempura batter.
Apart from its vibrant bar scene, San Sebastián's major drawcard is its sensational beach. The main tourist beach, La Concha, lays nestled between two mountains (we had ambitions to climb one but ended up glued to the sand) and is an impressive stretch of ocean perfect for swimming and fishing. We definitely got a shock the first time we dived in; the water we have become accustomed to is much warmer than the Bay of Biscay's. But it was still a bath compared to Torquay. San Sebastián is a beautiful and ritzy hideaway from the aridness of Spain, and proved one of my favourite destinations.
For the second part of the week, we moved 90 minutes north-west to Biarritz, also belonging to the Basque region but definitively French (the French are very serious about the 'one nation, one identity' kind of society within its borders). Biarritz is sleepier than San Sebastián, an elegant town perched on a glorious shoreline. There are two kinds of people in Biarritz: wealthy French retirees who enjoy the yacht club and sunset walking groups, and grungy surfies with perfect tans and battered combi vans. Walking down the street, it is perfectly normal to see Hermes and wetsuits sharing a shop front.
Biarritz had some of the most picturesque sunsets I've seen, gently disappearing behind the rocks and reflecting golden and rose on the water. I loved visiting the old fisherman's village, now home to cool little bars and cafés, and watching the nightly spectacle.
Hodge and I put on a spectacle ourselves one evening when we decided to visit the local casino, which seemed to be the pride and joy of the town. It turns out that playing Blackjack in French is harder than you'd imagine. Still, we got the hang of it eventually and successfully commandeered the table. Not to say we won, of course.
Our week on the beach has been an absolute blessing in terms of rejuvenation. It was lovely to strip off the backpacks and money belts for a few days and enjoy doing absolutely nothing under the Basque sun. You'd struggle to find two better places to do so.