Updated: Sep 10
One of the reasons we picked Biarritz as a destination is that it is very close to the Spanish border. Elisabeth was a Spanish major in college, and spent 6 weeks in Valencia, so Spain is near and dear to her. Steve and the girls had never been, so we knew we had to go.
We took a FlixBus from the center of Biarritz. Our first challenge was finding the bus stop, which indicated a street, but no street number, and the bus stop location description was extremely vague. For a while there were several groups of us wandering around asking people where we should go. Thankfully, a group of backpackers seemed to have taken this bus (final destination Bilbao) before, so they showed us the correct place to wait.
FlixBus markets itself as a budget friendly easy way to get around Europe. They promise USB ports and plugs at every seat, wifi on the bus, etc. The tickets we had stated we had 4 reserved seats.
You guessed it, when we got on the bus, seats were first come, first serve (and since this bus probably came all the way from Paris it was already pretty full), and there was a power strip in the middle of the bus in case people wanted to charge a device. We managed to find 4 seats sort of near each other, and off we went. The trip took about an hour, and we arrived at the bus station in San Sebastián/Donostia, very close to the beach and the old town area we wanted to visit.
Donostia is the Basque name, and San Sebastián is the Spanish name. In Biarritz, signs are in French with Basque underneath; here signs are in Basque first with Spanish underneath.
We walked to the beach (signage was excellent) and discovered the Playa de la Concha (Seashell beach), San Sebastian’s famous beach with the statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking it all.
The waves here were much milder than in Biarritz since the beach is located in a cove. We walked along the “boardwalk”, which was more of a sophisticated paved promenade with restaurants, a bike path, and lots of benches for sitting. There are also ice cream stands, bathrooms and another walking area underneath, closer to the level of the beach. The wrought iron railing along the Paseo de la concha (seashell promenade) is beautiful, and it has become one of the symbols of the city.
These are details of the rather flashy bridge that we walked across.
Toward the north end of the promenade, we saw City Hall, which had bullet holes in the walls from the Spanish Civil War, and a lovely fountain.
We walked to the old town area, and saw many churches, including San Sebastián (you can see him being pierced with arrows at the top).
Old Town had narrow cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants. Pintxos are the basque version of tapas, and they are advertised everywhere. We headed for the Plaza de la Constitucion (constitution plaza) where we were grateful for tourist restaurants that open early (by Spanish standards).
We sampled some pintxos: croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes), albondigas (meatballs), and of course tortilla de patatas (potato omelet). We had some others, but those are the only ones that survived long enough for pictures.
The plaza was the center of city life for a long time. It was also used for bullfights, which is why the windows have numbers above them.
After lunch we returned to the beach for some ice cream. Elisabeth learned some new Spanish (or maybe Basque) words for “cup“ and “cone”, and promptly forgot them again (google translate is unhelpful). We all learned the Basque word for street which is “kalea”.
Since our return bus was not until later, we decided to visit the San Telmo museum of Basque culture. It was in old town, in a former convent. The exhibits covered Basque history, art, and how the Basque culture has influenced the world. The building was also beautiful, combining old and new.
After all that culture we walked along the Urumea river and found a delightful coffee shop where we had lemon granizados (a sort of slushy made with lemon juice, sugar, and lemon peel), bombas de nata (cream bombs-just the kids had those lol-they were donut like pastries with a large amount of whipped cream) and Steve had a cappuccino. Then we sat at our cafe tables on the avenue and watched the world go by.
Though we knew where to go to catch our bus, and the bus station was very well organized with departure and arrival boards and numbered bays for the buses, our bus didn’t get an assigned bay for a long time. A lady came up to us and asked, “does any one here speak English?”, and was making sure she was in the right place. We were all a little anxious, but finally, one minute before departure time, our bus was listed and it arrived. We got on, and noticed it was much more luxe than the one we took that morning. No wifi, but you can’t have everything.