San Sebastian

This elegant city in the Basque region must be one of Spain’s most attractive cities to visit. Queen Christina made it her summer residence, free from the suffocating heat of Madrid. Surrounded by mountains and bordered by two splendid beaches, the sea is often rough enough for surfing. There is now a new craze of riding the waves in little coracle-like boats.

On a quick visit it would be easy to assume that this is primarily a holiday resort, but in fact the wealth of the city and its region derives from ship building, heavy industry and iron. It is a fascinating part of Spain and full of contrasts. Walking along the promenade you will find local people and visitors mingling and becoming part of a relaxed community enjoying the outlook and watching the other passers-by.

Behind the shopping area between tall graceful buildings are the famous bars where you can call in and buy a glass of wine to go with whatever you chose from the selection of pinchos on sale. Pinchos are the equivalent of tapas in other parts of Spain but are works of art, beautifully presented to tempt the eye as well as the appetite.

The custom is to go from bar to bar so that by the end of your journey you are not only well wined but also full of delicious food. Every September the hotels are crowded with visitors for the annual Film Festival.

A lot of the history of the people is on show at the excellent Museum which includes a replica of a typical Basque country home, but the history comes to life wherever you walk in the old town and see the evidence of its strong sea-faring tradition. There is also of course a passionate political element to the city with general approval from local people that the Eta cease-fire may mark the beginning of a peaceful move toward regional independency.

A lovely place to visit, and for my wife and I there is the added advantage that our daughter and partner have their home there.