San Sebastián, Spain

The air was still crisp with the cool lingering temperatures of late May, but in a way it felt like summer. Our tour bus had crossed into San Sebastián, Spain, and was making its way up a winding road to Monte Igueldo, a viewing spot overlooking Concha Bay. Thick cloud cover was casting a moody haze over the water below, framing the scene as if it were pages from an old book.

View of Concha Bay from Monte Igueldo.
La Concha Beach and San Sebastián, from the viewpoint at Monte Igueldo.

Behind the viewing point sat a 1912 amusement park, and behind the amusement park was an 18th century castle-like tower that had originally been a lighthouse. The place seemed so much like it was out of another time that I expected a calliope to start playing and women wearing long skirts and carrying parasols to appear!

The Monte Igueldo lighthouse-turned-tower stands high above the amusement park.
Old-fashioned characters decorate the center of the little train ride.

We left the scenic viewpoint and headed to Concha Bay, where our bus dropped us off for time on our own. The beach was nearly empty, but it was easy to imagine the beautiful sandy stretch filled with vacationers. A lovely old carousel from 1900 sat along the promenade, as if to complete the theme from the amusement park at Monte Igueldo.

La Concha Beach.
The 1900 carousel on the Concha Bay promenade.
Donostia is the Basque name for San Sebastian - the modern postcard
Donostia is the Basque name for San Sebastian.

We passed the stunning City Hall, built in 1882 as a casino venue during La Belle Époque era of rich cultural and artistic achievements. It was an incredibly elegant building and seemed to just belong in its setting.


I loved the wispy tamarisk trees that lined the promenade.

Next we made our way into Parte Vieja, San Sebastián’s Old Town. We stopped for a coffee and Basque Cake at Pastelería Oiartzun and then headed into the heart of the old city.

Pasteleria Oiartzun's enticing counter of pastries and chocolates.
Pasteleria Oiartzun’s enticing counter of pastries and chocolates.
Herb at our table outside Pastelería Oiartzun.

As we walked down one of the old narrow streets, a building at the end seemed to beckon. All we could see from a distance was a bell and something blue on the top. It turned out to be Iglesia de Santa Maria del Coro, built in 1774 in the Spanish Baroque style. The blue top was the seal of San Sebastián – a sailing ship in a deep blue sea.

Approaching the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Coro.
The San Sebastián seal sits prominently above the Santa Maria del Coro clock.

It was fun to wander the old streets without any destination in mind. We stopped in San Sebastián’s oldest building, Iglesia de San Vincente, completed in 1509, and the Plaza de la Constitucíon, where bullfights once took place.

Street lamps and lovely iron balconies lead the way to the Iglesia de San Vicente, San Sebastián’s oldest building.
San Vicente’s 1509 Gothic interior casts a moody glow…
…and interesting shadows.
On the way to Plaza de la Constitución.
The original seating numbers in the Plaza de la Constitución have been preserved above the balconies.

We walked back to Concha Bay and met our bus for the return ride to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where our ship was anchored. I loved the idea of seeing both sides of the Basque Country – Spanish and French – in the same day. In about 30 minutes, we were at the port and ready for the second leg of our journey.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France

The sign at the Saint-Jean-de-Luz port includes a greeting in Euskara, the traditional Basque language.
The Saint-Jean-de-Luz harbor.

Like San Sebastián, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a summery kind of place, with an inviting beach and amusement park rides by the pier.  And also like its Basque Country neighbor, it’s more of a wandering than a sightseeing town.

We walked down the Rue de la République, weaving in and out of charming side streets, past red-shuttered buildings, interesting-looking shops and inviting restaurants with outdoor seating. At the end of the street was the beach promenade along the beautiful Bay of Biscay.

Red painted shutters, awnings and trim decorate the shops and restaurants of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Linogravure artist Stéphane Pirel sells his whimsical Basque Country posters and post cards at his gallery called Boutique Crusoée.
We picked up some tasty macarons at Maison Adam on the Rue de la République.
Le Petit Train provides commentary as it winds its way through the streets of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
The town serves as a colorful backdrop along La Grande Plage promenade.
Our windswept selfie at the Saint-Jean-de-Luz beach, with the Crystal Symphony in the background!
Our windswept selfie at the Saint-Jean-de-Luz beach, with the Crystal Symphony in the background!

We walked back to the pier along the Rue Gambetta, stopping at the town’s main tourist attraction, Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste. The church was the site of the wedding in 1660 of France’s Louis XIV and Spain’s Marie-Therese, which ended the war between the two countries.

Outside the Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste on the Rue Gambetta.
The Baroque altar features 20 French saints.
A charming wooden sailing ship hangs from the church’s ceiling.
The legend is told that after the wedding of Louis IV and Marie-Therese, the church door was sealed to symbolize the closing of the door of the war between France and Spain.

It was late afternoon when we caught our tender back to the ship. The bay was calm as we made our way out of the harbor.

st-jean-de-luz port
View from the tender as we were leaving the Saint-Jean-de-Luz harbor.
crystal symphony tender at st-jean-de-luz
Passing another Crystal Symphony tender on our way to the ship.

This was our last stop in Basque Country, and I was glad we had been able to experience towns on both sides of the border. I was also happy to have seen these two seaside resorts before the crowds arrived, to have had a sneak peek of summer in the Basque Country.

And now whenever I think of summer by the sea, mixed in with my own memories will be a Belle Époque amusement park and tamarisk trees on the promenade.


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