Zarautz & San Sebastian: a final few days in Spain

Sadly the crossing of the border at Hendaye did not miraculously produce the longed-for Spanish sunshine and our coastal campsite was a soggy and dismal affair.

We quickly felt like ‘long termers’ bedded in for four nights as every other British, German and Dutch van moved off after only one night’s stay wheel spinning and carving up the grass causing the Spanish owner to shake  his head and complain loudly in animated Basque.

Pitched: Midsummer’s day in Spain

But the weather can’t spoil the charm of seaside town Zarautz. On the coast of Gipuzkoa, the small ciudad is a beach-goers paradise and attracts thousands of surfers from all over the world.

From our camp high on the cliffs we walked down the challengingly steep ‘bio path’ to the long curving beach where its mile and half of perfect sand was packed with slippery wet suit wearing surfers.

A view of Zarautz from the campsite

The old town behind the seafront has winding streets of three storey balconied shops and ‘pensiones’, including a trio of tower houses, and cavernous and dimly lit tapas, or pintxos, bars.

Alongside the many fish shops, grocers and bakeries the old town also has probably the best town centre supermarket in Spain, the Eroski. We stocked up on favourites of light and feathery mushrooms, hot peppers, seasoned olives, avocados, a kilo of fresh gambas, Verdejo wine and Aurum beer and barely broke into a €10 note. Ace Eroski!

Just beached on Grande Playa

After a great sleep and a peaceful night (when the rain eventually stopped pummelling the roof) we marched down the steep hill to the train station.

A shiny new Euskatren took us the half hour ride across the green hills to the gorgeous belle époque town of Donostia – San Sebastian.

Donostia-San Sebastian

Curved around the pretty oyster-shaped bay of La Concha it is protected from the crashing Atlantic by a wooded islet and overlooked by a gigantic Rio de Janeiro style stone sculptured Christ.

Its colourful history includes being sacked 12 times since its founding by the Romans, including being utterly destroyed by Wellington’s victorious army, and each time being rebuilt by a determined local population often supported by a sun-worshipping Royal family member or two.

Playa de la Concha

A welcome sunny morning brought hundreds onto Playa de la Concha and we meandered along the elegant promenade of the Paseo de la Concha leaning over the balustrades to watch the beach activity.

The old fishing harbour was full of leisure boats dodging canoeists, splashing dogs, diving children and fishing lines of the old boys lined along the harbour walls gutting their catches of fresh bass. Up on the rampart walls we felt the stiff cool breeze that is ‘combed’ by the huge cliff side iron sculptured prongs of the town’s famous artist Chillida.

Puerto Vieja before the clouds gathered

Back in the old town, we sought out a favourite pintxos bar from our visit the previous year and were quickly lost in the narrow streets packed with ‘foodies’ looking for the best place to stop for a tasty morsel or two.

We found ‘Txalupa’ on our third circuit of the many tiny bars and bodegas – San Sebastian has more eateries per square meter than any other city in Spain.

A small but scrumptious feast of pintxos proved to be a crab salad stuffed red pepper, a tortilla and cheese wedge, a slice of bread topped with Serrano ham, goats cheese and caramelised onion and prawn and mayonnaise ‘inside out’ sandwich.

Bar Txalupa – found eventually on Calbeton Fermin

The practice is to visit the many pintxos bars spending no more than the time it takes to devour a couple of tapas in each, but after our helping of stuffed chillies and crab meat at a second bar we declared ourselves ‘out’ and headed back to the beach to walk off lunch.

Grey clouds had people leaving the sands so we strolled along the graceful boulevards back to the station mindful of the long haul uphill back to Bertha. Eventually back at camp there was just enough time to shower and cook dinner outside on the cadac before, once again, the heavens opened.

The rain in Spain fell mainly on……….us

Our last day dawned bright, sunny and hot. Dammit. It was an easy drive to the port at gleaming Bilbao reached through an impressively engineered new bypass through the mountainside.

The 20 minute drive on the new road saved at least an hour navigating the centre. 27c at 6pm and we were sitting outside Bertha with a cerveza suddenly remembering the searing heat of Greece.

Sleepin’ on the dock of the bay: one final trip night at Puerto Bilbao

What strange weather we have experienced and Bertha has coped with. From -10c in Berlin at the start of our adventure, to +40c in Greece.

A truly extraordinary journey and fittingly, we clocked up a landmark 3,500 miles today (3,537 in total) with views of the Bay of Biscay and our sea voyage home…