After a day of art and soccer in Bilbao with Bryan and Denise, it was time to head up the Basque coast towards San Sebastián and the French frontier. Though I wouldn’t admit it in certain Castilian company, the Basque country has some of my favorite coastline in all of Spain. This time we covered a short bit of coast just west of San Sebastián. It’s pretty slow going on the curves and narrow lanes, but the scenery rewards the patient.
Arrival in San Sebastián marks a different world from the beaches and fishing towns elsewhere in the Basque country. Though still coastal, San Sebastián retains an air of the Belle Époque, while sporting a modern cosmopolitan and posh population as well. This time around we made it up to the top of Monte Igueldo at sunset to catch the last daytime view back on the Playa de la Concha. It’s a cliché vista, but it’s spectacular nonetheless. I would say it really topped off our day in the city.
Descending from Igueldo, we booked it to our rural accommodations about 11 km from San Sebastián, Hotel Gurutze Berri. Gurutze Berri was really a treat in and of itself. It was truly a multi-generational, family-run operation. From the rooms’ balconies, you could see down to San Sebastián in the distance. It’s also just a stone’s throw from the French border, which made it a great place to spend the night before heading to up to Biarritz and Bayonne.
After a good night’s sleep at the hotel, we hit the road towards France. It’s kind of exhilarating still to see that sign saying FRANCE as you cross the open border. But the exhilaration turns quickly, admittedly, to a bit of grumpiness on my part when the first Frenchman I meet is an impersonal toll collector for the state-run highway. At any rate, Biarritz was a new stop for Amanda and I. It’s similar in many respects to San Sebastián. Though only a few kilometers from Spain, and still part of the French Basque country, it’seems much less Basque and much more thoroughly French. I suppose that’s the effect of Paris’s long-time centralized grip over the entire country. Regardless, Biarritz is situated with a beautiful beach and some charming streets. We enjoyed a nice stroll through the town and then made our way to enjoy French cuisine.
Our last stop was Biarritz’s neighbor town of Bayonne. While not one of France’s must sees, I liked the understated atmosphere and somewhat unpolished old town. A quick stop was sufficient for us, but I think it has its merits with a French Gothic cathedral and colorful shutter-adorned row houses.
It was a great time in the Basque country all in all. Unfortunately, we had to get back to class, so back to Spain we went.