Contributed by Danny Dietz
As we hopped off the Eurail in San Sebastian, Spain, we were surprised by the discovery of yet another language within the same country. In nearly three weeks of travel, we had yet to cross a national border but had traversed three of the 17 autonomous regions that break up Spain into small prideful districts. Each district we traveled through retains its own language. We traveled from the Catalan-speaking Barcelonans, past the Castellano-speaking Madrilenians and the capital territory, to finally to end up amongst yet another language of the Basque-speaking San Sebastians.
Basque Country (El País Vasco) is one of the most culturally unique places of Europe. Their language, Euskedi, arguably has no direct origin – somewhat of an anomaly in the world of linguistics. Because the area is so protected by the Pyrenees Mountains and the Bay of Biscay, its history has the recurring theme of failed foreign invasions; therefore, the region has very few outside influences. For those countries that fell short in their attempts to control this area over the centuries, it was their loss. El País Vasco is not only home to some of the most proud citizens, but some of the most beautiful combinations of beach and scenery I have ever experienced. San Sebastian, also known by its Basque name of Donostia, is one of the highlights of the Basque Provinces.
As we exited the main Eurail station in San Sebastian, we finally deciphered the signs and took the short walk to the local Euskotrain station. Our first, short impression of the city was a warm and sunny one that had a slow-paced neighborhood feel and a lot of green in the city center. San Sebastian is situated, like many European cities, on a large canal which contributes to the tranquillity of the town. But we were headed about 20 minutes outside of San Sebastian via train to an Australian-run surf camp in Zarautz.
Upon arrival, Jimmy, the always cheerful manager of the surf camp, greeted us warmly at the train station. We hopped into a rugged van, lined half in leather and half in a sand-salt grime that was not necessarily unclean, but more a testament to their passion for surfing. My fellow traveler, Drew, and I were pleasantly surprised by the large camp site that even had large an enclosed tent with Wi-Fi, fridge, and stove. The camp also had toilets and hot showers.
Often people flock to surf spots only in search of the perfect wave with little else considered, but this can be a mistake as sometimes great waves come at the expense of, well, everything else. In Zarautz, we had a forgiving sandy beach bottom, perfect for surf lessons, instead of a rocky/reef bottom. The mountain backdrop created a beautiful setting; and we had a wide beach that was not overrun by sunbathers, which allowed for relaxing after a surf. As we began the descent down the cliff side to the very calm looking water, I was quite confused as we were at a surf camp but the water was as flat as some of the East Coast US spots I’m so familiar with letting me down. However, once we paddled out quite a ways, the swells came in and I can honestly say they were comparable to those of either Hawaii (Maui, Kauai) or Australia (Surfers Paradise). We were quickly worn out so we found ourselves back at camp before sundown to relax and wait for more friends to arrive.
We spent the better part of a week at the camp site, and then two days back in San Sebastian. There, we stayed at a house owned by the surf camp that can really only be described as “full of character,” although several luxury hotels are available in fashionable San Sebastian for those who don’t relish quite so much “character” or sand in their beach tents!
Visiting the first week in June, we were welcomed by warm weather that was unfortunately followed by two cold days. Despite the inconsistent weather early in the season, we still were able to wander the town if we didn’t want to brave the cold waves in wetsuits; however, lying out on the beach was not an option for those two cold days. This was a blessing in disguise as it encouraged us to venture away from the beach to see picturesque San Sebastian those couple of days. The Old Town is filled with bars, restaurants and fishmongers, there is a nice park near the train station and the town has a wonderful, festive atmosphere in the summer.
San Sebastian/Zarautz has to be one of my top 5 beach destinations because it offers exactly what I look for in a beach: good surfing, while not compromising the actual layout of the beach; good weather, while not being the sole attraction; and an atmosphere that allows for options other than the constant beach going. San Sebastian is also a good base for day trips into the surrounding region. If you would like to plan a surf or beach vacation to this popular area of Spain, please contact Covington’s vacation experts to arrange all the details.
Danny Dietz is a 2010 graduate of Hampden-Sydney College with a major in Economics and a minor in Spanish. His love of travel drew him to the tourism industry and he happily began his career with Covington Travel immediately after graduation as a Corporate Support Specialist where he provides research and booking support in the business travel division. Photos courtesy of Danny.