2 days in classy San Sebastian

San Sebastian is in the Basque country of  northern Spain, close to the French border. What a delightful place it is. The sun was shining brightly on the Sunday afternoon as we got off the bus that bought us from Bilbao airport. So the first stop had to be the wonderfully soft sands of what must be the best town beach in the whole of Spain, and that is saying something.

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The beach stretches around the bay in an almost perfect crescent, pulled between the two rocky hills which anchor its ends where the sea first broke through to the softer rock. Tall elegant apartment blocks and a wide promenade look down to the sands through a intricately patterned wrought iron balistrade. Families and friends lie out on a mosaic of towels absorbing the warm autumn rays and enjoying the cool waters of the Bay of Biscay.

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The Old Town is a grid of narrow streets which hide San Sebastian’s signature hot spots – eateries. Flash Michelin Star restaurants play neighbours to so many pintxos bars of all shapes and ages which provide a feasting experience for locals and visitors alike. Pintxos is the Basque word for tapas. They are a great way to sample some of the most fantastic cuisines in the world, cheaply and risk-free. Portions are small, prices low, and service quick. Many bars have food on the bar-top that you can either help yourself to or point to purchase. 101 Pintxos in the Old Town 3

And the best thing? It is all washed down with red Rioja at 1.85 Euros a glass. Heaven.

Days are spent window shopping in the elegant shopping streets or finding something more local in some of the smaller alleys of the old town. It was reassuring to still find specialist shops flourishing like chandellors or hat shops or the ‘bedtime shop’ which sold pjamas, dressing gowns, bras and hats (hmmmm).  Old churches can still be found in numbers around the backstreets which lead to the harbour.

103 Basílica de Santa María del Coro110 Harbour 1105 Church of San Sebastian

Squares and open spaces provide a relief from the heat of the summer and the storms of the winter and provide the town with a feeling of culture and elegance. Constitution Square is one example.

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All in all, San Sebastian has a feel of class and elegence and grace, both its buildings, its boulevards, its atmosphere and the dress and attire of its inhabitants, particularly the older generation. There are things going on which contribute to this cosmipolitan feel – theatre, music, street art. I loved it.

Tenerife – an island of mixed contrasts

Dawn on the last day dawns. The weather forecast predicted solid sun all day. It’s more like solid cloud all day. Now we know the island we know what to do. Go seek the sun….and within a 10 minute drive the cloud cover breaks and clears and a blue sky stretches from horizon to horizon. That is how it remains on the south coast until we drive back and hit the clouds in the north and temperatures drop a good 15°. This island is so fickle. When its cloudy and cool in the south it’s clear and hot in the north and visa-versa. It seems the sun can always be found somewhere.

So we find a bit of scruffy, rocky beach and while away the day with no-one & nothing to disturb us except the roaring surf rushing to break itself open onto the land and some manic wind turbines exhausting themselves in the high winds.

So another trip comes to an end. This is a island of contrasts – historic centres surrounded by sun-seeking resorts, lounging sunbedders and striding, booted walkers, the scruffy east coast and the exotic west, passionate locals & resorted tourists. There is one motorway that runs most of the way around the edge of the island and loads of squiggly roads that take you inland to the mountainous centre and nature park. A local bus service takes walkers out along the coast road to drop them off so they can walk break our their other way around. Really good for those intrepid hikers.


Tenerife is full of contrasts, yet a great place to explore.

A misjustice to Puerto de la Cruz

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Yesterday I wrote that there wasn’t much in Puerto de la Cruz. Last night I got to thinking that if all these other, smaller towns have an historic district them so must Puerto de la Cruz. Set I did some sleuthing online and found it….a collection of old white washed buildings around the old church. It was particularly will hidden amongst the resort pleasure domes that had repelled me in the first place. So apologies to Puerto de la Cruz.

History shines through Tenerife’s west coast resorts

Having spent the first days of the trip exploring the east coast, it was time to move over to the west coast. The island is absolutely amazing in terms of weather. It can be cool and windy in one place and full sun 10 km down the road. The west side is so very different to the east. Tall cliffs face the ocean with luxuriant vegetation sprouting from every crag & crack – cacti, palms, bougainvillia in full, intense blooming bloom. The ocean beats itself up against the base of the cliffs, its soft, perpetual, roar providing a calming influence to all that goes on. The view from the balcony is serene.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The sun sets in glorious technicolour to set expectation high for the next day.

For a change the next day brings some cloud so it is off in the car to explore the west coast of Tenerife. Every hillside seems to grow terraces of Angel Delight-coloured villas and apartments. Butterscotch and Caramel seem to be the favourite with chocolate and vanilla thrown in. Blocks of Neapolitan ice cream also provide variety.

Every bay is home to the resort hugged around every sandy patch of black sand. But look hard, really hard, and that bit of Tenerife history can be found. Although there’s nothing much that can be found in Puerto de la Cruz but I took a picture to share anyway.

Lunch is at a restaurant overlooking Rambla de Castro which is a route through a vast banana plantation. A derelict building marks Tenerife’s first steam engine which was used to draw water to irrigate the land. It also home to St Peter’s heritage and the fort of San Fernando, built in 1808 to protect the area from harassing pirates.

San Juan de la Rambla is situated at the end of an excellent beach. Founded in the early 16th century, many of the buildings, and the church of San Juan Bautiste, date from this time, built by the first European settlers. They were drawn here by the good agricultural land which is still seen in the plantations of bananas that are found on the outskirts of town.

Garachino was the island’s largest port handling local produce and wine in particular. In 1706 the port was filled with larva following a huge volcanic eruption and trade moved elsewhere, leaving it to develop as a day-tripping destination. Convents, monasteries and colonial buildings still share the space with squares and churches and houses of the previously rich and wealthy.

Dig deep and the history on the west coast can be found. All good stuff.

The ghosts of conquistadors haunt Candelaria

Candelaria is a small city where the past oozes from its volcanic pores. Situated a few miles down the east coast from Santa Cruz, it is a small settlement where the first Spanish ships would have made landfall. Back in 1390 it was an empty, deserted area inhabited by island shepherds. The story goes that two natives found the image of one of their gods on a rock on the seashore. They moved her to local caves. They identified her with the appearance of their mother of all gods. The early Christian conquerors insisted she was the image of the Virgin Mary and constructed a hermitage in which to house her and then a basilica. The Basilica de Candelaria has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The current one dates from 1959 and has space for 5,000 pilgrims.

The large square outside, the Plaza de la Patronas de Canarias, is the meeting place for pilgrims and the space where festivities and celebrations take place.

Around the sea edge are statues of the Aboriginal kings who ruled the nine guanches, the native kingdoms of Tenerife, that existed before the Spanish arrived. They look remarkably European to me.

Behind the basilica its the Cave of Blas. This is the first temple of Christian worship in the Canary Islands and was built over the spot where local guanches undertook their ceremonies. It is a remarkable place. A chapel has been constructed around the entrance to the cave, giving in a spiritual atmosphere whether you’re a Catholic settler/pilgrim or a native inhabitant.

I can feel these early Hispanic conquerors landing here and setting up churches and abbeys to gain God’s protection on their next huge leg across to the new kingdoms in the Americas. The streets and the local population seem to merge seamlessly with their history.

Men & women sit around chattering, leathered and charred by sun and salt spray while a few plaster-torn buildings give impressions of past times.

Classy, cultured Santa Cruz

La Laguna, the old historic centre, is linked to Tenerife’s new capital of Santa Cruz by a tram line. The journey from one terminus to the other takes 20 minutes. I really don’t know why UK cities don’t all ban buses and build a tram system to cut down on pollution and improve the transport system. This one is modern, fast, efficient…a tram runs every 5 mins for 1.35€ a journey. A snip. The impact can be faif on every street corner-the town is quiet, clean, calm. Seems to be a no-brainer especially as places like Oxford have councils who are trying to clear up their centres.

You cannot tell that you are on a volcanic island off the coast of Africa. Santa Cruz is like any other Spanish town in Spain with wide streets and open squares and numerous green parks with cooling fountains and shady trees.

Tall apartment blocks with balconies and shuttered windows stare down from a high number of storeys. It is a very picturesque, rather modern Spanish city with new paint, new buildings, new roads, new port facilities. There’s lots of greenery planted around the place to break up the streets and create a shady ambiance.

Feels like money has been used wisely to calm the place down but, at the same time, keep a classy, cultured feel to its streets and promenades. So no clever images. Just a few pics to give you a flavour of the place.

The harbour was really bustling with a cruise liner in port and four different ferries mooring up and packing or unpacking their vehicular cargoes of lorries and vans and cars, avoiding little columns of anti passengers bouncing and clanging down walkways and ladders to get on or get off.

Tenerife’s southern flank

Having spent a few days exploring the old streets of La Laguna, which definitely displays the city’s historical past and local Spanish culture, it is time to get out of town and follow the only motorway down to the south of the island. One reason was to find the real Tenerife. The other was to find the sun. The weather is completely different depending on which part of the island you are exploring. Clouds, dense clouds hang over the central spine of hills and mountain like an approaching wildfire, hiding everything of any beauty.

This had been the morning greet from the balcony. The colours and flat roofed buildings remind me of Africa but certainly not the cloud cover. I think all Tenerifians (!!) have to use one of four colours to paint their homes.

Driving 10 minutes south east and the sun puts his hat on and celebrates the day with everyone. Los Christianos is a large resort which seems to have got its time zones muddled up. Crescents of plastic sunbeds each accompanied by a sentinel of a similar coloured parasol map the line of the wide crescent of a beach of dark brown-grey sand. The vessel giving cruises around the bay is a Viking longboat, complete with shields and dragon heads. Apartments and bars and tat shops and burger joints creep down from the klinkered cliffs to the harbour. Not inch of anything old remains to admire.

On another 20 kilometres brings Los Gigantes. It is made up of newly built apartment blocks, an old harbour protecting a marina of glitzy motor boats, a few bars, mostly occupied by Brits watching the Livepool game and the smallest black beach you have ever seen.

It does give a wonderful view of the cliffs down the coast.

Cool using failed to find the real Tenerife today it is back up the motorway. A simple swing off into a small coastal hamlet brings quiet relief from crowds & traffic with glorious views up and down the coast and peaceful solitude beside the volcanic rocks.

This is more like it.