After our sprint around Barcelona, we elected for a change of pace and a short flight from Barcelona to stay in an apartment for 4 nights in the old town of San Sebastián.
This is truly a foodies paradise, with hundreds of excellent restaurants and the famous charming pintxos (tapas) bars lining the narrow streets. The tradition here is to sample a couple of small plates with a small glass of beer or cider then move onto the next bar to try something different. It makes for a very fun, social progressive dining experience at very reasonable prices. The local rioja wines are also cheap and very drinkable! The town also has a nice beach and with everything being so close, made an ideal base to explore the surrounding Basque region.
The Basque country is very different to the rest of Spain and France, with its own language, culture and cuisine. This is definitely rugby country and a major rugby festival was taking place in San Sebastian during our stay with some pretty fanatical supporters from as far afield as Paris attending! Signage here is in Basque first, then Spanish/French, then English, but most people do speak a little English. These are popular tourist destinations for the Spanish and French as well so retain a more ‘local’ feel than other tourist hotspots like Provence or the Cote D’Azur which attract larger numbers of visitors from further afield.
We hired a car and crossed the nearby Spanish/French border (San Sebastián’s airport runway touches the border) to explore the nearby coastal resort towns of Biarritz & Bidart with their beautiful beaches and the lovely St Jean De Luz with its very pretty boutique shops. You will use a number of peage (pay roads) when exploring but the motorways are fast & excellent. It’s worth noting that most hire cars here are manual rather than automatic and the smaller the vehicle the better for navigating narrow streets or for parking in one of the many underground car parks.
We also drove west to Bilbao to visit the famous Guggenheim museum. The building and its outdoor sculptures are as impressive as the artworks inside. The spider and floral puppy are the current star attractions!