Picturesque San Sebastian is nuzzled in the north of Spain and is often referred to as ‘The Green Spain’ or ‘Secret Spain,’ as it is complete with the crescent-shaped bay of the Concha. The city has it all – culture, some of the best beaches in Europe, amazing hikes and great food (be sure to try all the incredible pintxo bars). But that’s not all; rural San Sebastian has a hidden world waiting to be discovered of beautiful nature, incredible rock formations, crystal clear oceans… and it’s all just a day trip away.
Hike up to the top of Monte Igueldo for the best views of San Sebastian at 184 meters above the sea, or, if you’re not in the physical exertion mood, hitch a ride up in the cable car, which takes you directly into the Igueldo amusement park complete with charming carousels and thrill-inducing roller coasters. Incredible San Sebastian scenery awaits you just beyond Playa de Ondarreta. There’s also an observatory with an outlook towers for more incredible panoramic views of the lovely town, Concha Bay, and Basque countryside. If you’re in the mood for a meal, grab a bite at the Hotel Mercure Monte Igueldo to enjoy the view from its outdoor terrace.
Other than the ‘Running of the Bulls’ at San Fermín in July, Navarra is known for its anonymity, beauty, and diversity. This beautiful crossroads, between France, the Basque Country and the rest of Spain, will have every other person saying ‘hello’ to you in a different language. Make sure to bring a picnic to the fairy-tale Urederra park, famous among locals but slightly hidden from outsiders. It contains enchanting pools, turquoise creeks, and stunning waterfalls folded into the wooded mountain sides.
Famous metal sculptures by Eduardo Chillida lay embedded in rock just beyond the Ondarreta Beach in an area deemed ‘the wind comb’. Watch the waves crash over these incredible masterpieces and up through rock holes, as man-made art and nature collide in an incredible performance. For more history and info, look here.
Just off the coast of San Sebastian sits a small 30-meter wide island perfect for a quick getaway. It’s got a great balance of beautiful scenery and all the civilized creature comforts of the island’s many cafes, restaurants, picnic areas, post office, and lighthouse. Catch the ferry that runs every 30 minutes from June until September and bask on the lifeguard-supervised beach or explore the coast for clandestine natural pools.
23 kilometers from San Sebastian (a quick drive or healthy four- to five-hour hike if you’re feeling ambitious), this charming fishing village can be reached through the 15th-century Puerta de Santa Maria, with winding picturesque streets dotted with historical landmarks. These landmarks include 10th-century Palacio del Rey Carlos V, the gothic church Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, houses with coat of arms facades, or Plaza de Armas, which overlooks the river and the lighthouse located north on Cabo Higuero. Also an incredible spot for food, the village has two Michelin-starred restaurants: Restaurante Alameda and Maison Eguiazabal ideal after a rewarding hike.
Monte Urgull, located just past the old part of the city, is crowned by daunting 12th-century fortress – Castillo de la Mota – and dons a ‘Sacred Heart’ statue. Walk along the promenade of Paseo Nuevo to enjoy views of the shoreline that extends to Urumea River past the Puento Zurriola bridge. If you continue beyond Zurriola Beach you will come across the large Parque Ulna, an idyllic park perfect for a hike and or picnic.
Tucked into the Urola valley, the Monastery of San Ignacio de Loyola (now a Jesuit college) is only a 40-kilometer ride away from San Sebastian. Built between 1689 and 1888 and based on the design of Carlo Fontana, the Baroque church at the monastery boasts one of the most incredible and lavish domes in Spain at 65 meters and created by Joaquín de Churriguera, replete with spacious rooms, ornamental marble inlays, Baroque art, looming alters, and a statue of Saint Ignatius.