The Basques, pintxos and a swim adventure
Anchor swim in San Sebastián.
San Sebastián oceanswimsafari
Tuesday, August 24-Monday, August 30, 2021
In 2019, we added another exotic Basque experience to our San Sebastián oceanswimsafari -- a visit to the French Basque country, just over the border. It was a terrific success, and in 2020 we're back 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. Over the border, in France, the Basques are just as proud, their culture just as rich, but it doesn't get as much attention as their Iberian siblings.
Our oceanswimsafari will be over six nights, meeting on Tuesday, August 24, and running through Monday, August 30. The centrepiece will be the locals' flagship swim, a 3km journey 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.
Lunch, in the French Basque country.
San Sebastián (Donostia to the Basques) is a beautiful old city, one of the two main cities of Euskadi (the other being Bilbao, just along the coast). Euskadi stretches through northern Spain, the western Pyrenees and into south-western France. The local tongue long has confused linguists because it bears little relationship to the Latin-based tongues of the nations surrounding it. Locals speak both Euskerra and Castillian Spanish (or Euskerra and French), but there's plenty of English spoken, too, so there will are few 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. Its 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 near the beach. This gives us 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.
End of day, 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 28-29.
You'll immerse yourself in the character and the colour of San Sebastián's Old Town.
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.
Good pintxos is simple, but clever.
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. 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.
We'll also head into France for a day to sample the French Basque country, in what has been billed as the heart of the Basque culture, Itxassou, a tiny hamlet nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It's a world away, but only an hour's drive from San Sebastián. We'll drop in to Espellete, which bills itself as the Capital of Peppers (and a stage finishing town in the 2018 Tour de France). We'll have lunch at an elegant old French hotel in Itxassou, under the pergola outside (weather and space permitting).
We'll also visit Le Perla, on the beachfront of La Concha, and one of the great European spas, for a wind down after the weekend's race.
ocean swimmers at play: This can end only one way.
Enquiries and bookings
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Early morning swim, la Concha.
Our chefs at the San Sebastián Cooking School, Miguel (front) and Augus, explain some of the intricacies of Basque cooking.
It's been a big day on the beach. Time to stand easy.