San Sebastian: the charm of Spain with a difference

Østre Strand i San Sebastian by daghovland

John Hillman remembers back to the days of territorial warfare en-route to the south of Spain, that usually kicked off around San Sebastian

San Sebastian is changing. In the past this was a port that you passed through rather than a destination in its own right. I can remember staring out of the car window as we drove off the ferry and headed south on our family holidays, back in the 1980s.

I always remember thinking that it looked like a perfectly decent place to have a holiday, a much better prospect than having to spend the next three days stuck in the back of my mum and dad’s Peugeot, conducting a relentless territorial war with my sister over precious millimetres of the back seat.

But Mum and Dad were of that 60s generation, having met in Marbella they intended to make sure that their children enjoyed the full Andalucía experience that had so captivated them; regardless of the bruises on my sister’s arm or the clumps of hair missing from the back of my head by the time we’d arrived.

Now a father myself I find that I can’t bring myself to subject my children to those three days of hell: crossing La Mancha in searing 90 degree heat, stopping in roadside bars for oily tapas and suspicious glances from six fingered locals.

I like to think that each generation improves on the last, so I take the Pride of Bilbao ferry to San Sebastian and head to the hills nearby in the summer.

Ok so the beaches aren’t as scorchingly abrasive as the south coast, but that’s just fine by me, the food around here is infinitely superior, no-one listens to flamenco (gracias a Dios!) and I don’t have to be responsible for the acts of violence and recrimination that will inevitably occur on my back seat should I even think about venturing further south than La Rioja.

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