Asher On Aspen: San Sebastián Dreams

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen

One year ago, today, I was meandering around Spain and all was right with the world.

With the inability to plan any sort of getaway right now, my gypsy soul aches for the ability to travel again. My mind wanders to last year at this time when I was exploring the beautiful cities of Barcelona and San Sebastián. Barcelona took my breath away with its dazzling beaches, vibrant nightlife and rich architecture — but at the end of the day, it was San Sebastián that really stole my heart.

Located in the mountainous Basque region of Northern Spain, San Sebastián is a legendary beach town filled with lively pintxo bars and Michelin-starred restaurants. Brimming with charm and sophistication, the town feels a bit like Spain’s best-kept secret. The delightful town is best known for its romantic ambience, world-famous cuisine, prestigious film festival and friendly locals who proudly show off the Basque culture to tourists.

When I reminisce about my trip to San Sebastián, I fondly think about the hours we spent roaming through the historic Old Quarter. Here, we were met with a maze of winding cobblestone streets — dazzling our senses with an overload of charming shops and quaint pintxo bars. It felt almost as if time stood still here. However, it wasn’t until we discovered Txakoli (cha-koh-LEE) that we really fell in love with the town. This is the local white wine that is poured from high, in a somewhat theatrical fashion, to aerate it and to add sparkle. Txakoli pairs perfectly with the abundant seafood cuisine and it quickly became our new favorite drink.

Basque bars distinguish themselves by wonderfully displaying platters of pintxos (local specialties, similar to tapas) allowing customers to snag a plate and grab what they want. The selection of food will have you drooling, wide-eyed with how delicious everything looks. Barhopping in the Old Quarter is a terrific way to spend the days. When looking for a place to start, Bar Borda-Berri should be on the list. Despite the low-key vibe, the food is phenomenal. You can smell it before you can even see it. We indulged in the specialties here, which consisted of melt-in-your-mouth beef cheeks (carrillera de ternera) in a red-wine sauce, risotto with wild mushrooms, and grilled goose liver (foie gras) with apple jelly.

The bars are small in size and often we would find ourselves bellied up to the bar or standing around a table outside to munch on our tasty tapas. We learned that you must be assertive when ordering — fighting the crowd to get your order in is common. I distinctly remember rehearsing my order to my travel partner and making sure he thought it was correct before I attempted to order our food. Traveling always reminds me that no matter how much you know, there is always more to learn — a language, for instance.

To work off the tapas, we rented bikes to explore more of the city. We rode along the coast until we reached Playa de la Concha — San Sebastián’s pride and joy. The beautiful stretch of sand, bordered by the Atlantic and anchored by mountains at either end, is a popular hangout. Well-dressed families, couples in love, street musicians and worldly backpackers adorned the 2-mile long promenade. It was easy for us to lose track of time here while admiring the immense beauty and the esteemed architecture of the city.

My favorite day of the entire trip was when we hiked to Mont Urgull — home to the statue of Jesus Christ visible from almost everywhere in the city. Locals find it calming to look up and see Christ no matter where they are — as if he’s always watching over the people of San Sebastián. Once we reached the summit, we were rewarded with a beer and live music from a hidden bar that was disguised by castle walls. In my opinion, this is how every hike should end. We enjoyed a Caña con limón (beer with lemon soda) while listening to local tunes and it was a great way to wind down our week.

In retrospect, I don’t know what I was doing going to Spain. I most certainly couldn’t afford the trip at the time. As they say, travel is the only thing you can buy that will truly make you richer. Well, I can honestly say that this trip made me richer. It changed my life. It shook me up a bit. I have never felt so disoriented and removed from my comfort zone. Overall, it made me a broader minded and more understanding individual.

I dream of the day that we can all travel the world again. It will come and when it does, remember to book the ticket and worry about the money later. While that statement may seem a tad irresponsible — at the end of the day, it’s all just money and experience is far more valuable than money ever will be. There is nothing more magical than exploring a foreign country with someone you love. Until my next trip, I will daydream of the days well spent in San Sebastián.

Aspen Times Weekly

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