Lining up for the start in San Sebastián.
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The Basques, pintxos and a good swim
We're back in 2017 for another go at some of the best food, some of the richest culture in the world. San Sebastián is the heart of Spain's Basque country (Euskadi), where the locals know the town as Donostia. San Sebastián is also one of the most famous surf spots in western Europe.
Our oceanswimsafari will be over six nights this time, meeting on Wednesday, August 23, and running through Tuesday, August 29. The centrepiece will be the locals' flagship annual race, a 3km swim around Isla Santa Clara in the bay of La Concha. There's a carnival atmosphere about it as it takes place on one of the world's most famous city beaches.
Dinner at the San Sebastián Supper Club is cutting edge: at the spot where the Gulf Stream meets the European coast, warming the surrounding countryside, the Basque region is a food bowl producing a vast array of outstanding local produce.
San Sebastián is a beautiful old city, the capital of Euskadi, which stretches through northern Spain, the western Pyrenees and into south-western France. The local language long has confused linguists because it bears little relationship to the Latin-based tongues of the nations surrounding it. Locals speak both Euskerra and Spanish, but there's plenty of English spoken, too, so there will be no problems in understanding.
The Basques have their own, very strong cultural identity. San Sebastián (Donostia) was severely damaged during the civil war between 1936 and 1939, and was rebuilt afterwards. It's old town remains a hauntingly beautiful, vibrant and cosmopolitan centre (at the eastern end of the beach in the photograph above). The post-civil war reconstruction led to the development of the unique San Sebastián cuisine of pintxos, as the bars offered bite-sized treats to attract construction workers on their breaks.
In San Sebastián, we'll be staying in apartments by the beach in an elegantly renovated old building. This gives us more room in our digs, and the ability to organise our own meals if we wish. This makes a stay in a city such as this cheaper than if we were eating out all the time. We can just pop down to the bakery in the morning for the bread; cook for ourselves when we wish... We've found apartment stays much more cost-effective and pleasant than hotels, particularly when staying in one town for as long as we will be here.
The bay of la Concha.
What we'll do...
Our oceanswimsafari takes in the best, and sometimes least expected of the Basque culture, as well as the centrepiece swim. We'll stay near the heart of town, near the beach, which means plenty of informal swims as well as the formal event on the weekend of August 27-28 (we expect the formal swim to be Sunday, but in 2015 organisers switched it shortly before swim day to Saturday, due to tides).
A local wine, txakolí, requires theatre in the pour: the drop brings it to life. You'll try this on our Pintxos Walking Tour.
We'll be handy to all the best the region has to offer. We'll do two walking tours of San Sebastián, one of them of the old town, the other of San Sebastián's great cuisine, pintxos, the bar food of the old town. Our guide, Keith, is a native English speaker who has married into a Basque family. He'll show you his city in a fun way and will impress you with his extensive local knowledge. We'll learn about -- and sample -- txakolí, the Basques' favourite bar wine. And we'll get access to the cider cellar for the Basques' other favourite tipple, with a visit to the region's Cider Museum, including dinner in the Basques' own special style. We'll finish off swim day with dinner at the San Sebastián Cooking School Supper Club, an exclusive experience where we sit around a Captain's Table while our chefs prepare our food before us. The Basques have a particular style of cooking. This is a very special experience that won't quickly fade from memory.
This can end only one way.
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On the first booee in San Sebastián, you might like to hang wide.