Donostia/San Sebastián


Besides the food, the famous pintxos, San Sebastián offers terrific beaches, a pleasant city centre and impressive views from all sides. The day before we visited San Sebastián, we made a stop at nearby Pasai Donibane de San Juan, just a 20 minutes drive from the city center to the east, but less than just 6 kilometers as the crow flies. Pasai is picturesque situated halfway a deep inland bay, the Bahia de Pasaia. It is also a huge harbour area, but one can still feel its authenticiy. Kurt Hielscher made several beautiful photos and it was a huge pleasure for me to get into his footsteps here too. The results you'll find below in the second part.


The time we spend here was just close to perfect as is this photo. I think Kurt Hielscher took his just from a slightly higher standpoint, but I did not check how close to perfect it was at the time. 

San Sebastián/Donostia, Guipuzkoa, Spain, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

San Sebastián/Donostia, Guipuzkoa, Spain, 18th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


Descending Mount Ulía where we spent the night in the camper van, it was my last chance to take the photo Kurt Hielscher took here over a hundred years ago. I stopped the van at the side of the small road downwards to the city, grabbed my camera, jumped out of the van, and ran barefoot into an empty restaurant. Later, I learned it was Restaurante Mirador De Ulia, quite a luxurious restaurant, it seemed. The tables were neatly covered. I took the photos through the glass windows of the restaurant. The view was overwhelming. When I came back to reality, I quickly took six photos trying to avoid the reflection of myself in the window. 

The old arena was demolished in 1973. 25 years later, in 1998, a new bullfighting arena was opened at a different location in San Sebastián. 

When I left the restaurant, the rest of family had also left the van and were enjoying the view from a balcony next to the restaurant as well. The van was still parked on the narrow mountainous road. Luckily there was not so much traffic at the time. I was just happy that the kids and Kim also enjoyed the view at daylight as well but they did not dare to go in the restaurant with the full open view. The night before at the parking on the top of Mount Ulía, there's no view on San Sebastian at all, because of the trees. That evening we went in the twilight dark to the nearby youth hostel Albergue de Ulia. Though the view might have been closer to the one from Kurt Hielscher, the photo turned out worse, because of the dark and also because the view to the closest beach, the Zurriola Hondartza, was hindered due to the woods that have grown here over the years. Anyway, it was a good start of the day,  there was still a day ahead for us in San Sebastian, with even some more photos from Kurt Hielscher, and of course siome pintxos and a swim.


The Beach of La Concha, Kontxa Hondartza, in the city center of San Sebastián/Donostia with its Town Hall facing the beach, 18th of July 2019. Photos: Casper Molenaar.


Here's the view from the harbor on a part of Monte del Urgull with the Guardetxea, the building with highest tower on the photo next to the crane, nowadays a concerhall, in the back. The eyecatcher of this photo is the famous and stunning Basilica Santa Maria del Coro (1774). I've put some photos from more nearby below. The buildings in front of the Basilica got some extra floors over time. There's also a characteristic building on the left with a clock in its tower, the Capilla San Pedro Apostol. There's a plaquette on it with a date year: 1912, but I don't understand what it means. I've put a photo below too. Maybe, somebody can inform me?

San Sebastián/Donostia, Guipuzkoa, Spain, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

San Sebastián/Donostia, Guipuzkoa, Spain, 18th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 


The impressive Basílica de Santa María del Coro or in Basque, Koruko Andre Mariaren basilika, and its interior. And from nearer by the Capilla San Pedro Apostol, 18th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


That day we could park the van on the otherside of Mount Urgull at the seaside and stroll around it towards the city center, the beaches and then you pass the harbor. When I tried to make the photo, the rest of the family already went for a swim and when I was finished I also jumped in.

A beauiful day in San Sebastián should end with a stunning sunset, Kurt Hielscher already noticed a century ago, but we already had left after our swim, to find a new spot to spent the night in the van. When I hurried to go for a swim with the kids I simply forgot about this photo. Later I found a post from Tete González in a Facebook group "Porque somos donostiarras !!!" - with three photos with a beautiful sunset. I recognized the view from the Kontxa Hondartza (Playa de la Concha). I contacted Tete immediately, explained the purpose of my Facebookpage and he said it was okay for me to use one of his photo.

Sunset by Kurt Hielscher, 1914-'19.

6th of October 2019. Photo: Tete Gonzalez


The difference between low and hightide. And ofcourse no sunset and a rather grey day, but still excellent temeratures for swimming. Photo: Casper Molenaar, 4th of August 2022.


Beautiful Belle Époque style building in which today the Federación Guipuzcoana de Piraguismo, the Federation of Canoeing, is housed just next to La Perla, Queen María Cristina's spa. With Kim posing on its balcony. Photo, Casper Molenaar, 4th of August 2022.


Queen María Cristina wanted to spend her summers in San Sebastián. Halfway La Concha beach, meaning "shell", a name that was already given in 1541 to the beach, La Perla spa, a center for thalassotherapy, using seawater for therapy, was built in 1912. La Concha extends about 1,350 meters in length, with Ondarreta beach continuing for another 600 meters. The railing that runs along the Paseo de la Concha was installed in 1910 just before the arrival of the queen. It has become an iconic symbol of the city. Below some photos of the beach and its surroundings in Belle Époque style with the today's City Hall that opened in 1887 as a Gran Casino and the entrance to the Aquarium.

The funiculair to Mount Igeldo was inaugurated on the 25th of August 2012 by Queen María Christina and was thus already there when Kurt Hielscher made his photo. It climbs in only 4 minutes a height of 151 meters on a 312 meters stretch reaching maximum slopes of 58%. Initially it was mainly meant to transport visitors of the Casino but after the gambling ban of 1924 it became an amusement park.


The stunning view from Mount Igueldo on San Sebastián. Photo: Casper Molenaar, 19th of August 2022.


View on San Sebastián from Mount Igueldo. Photo: Kurt Hielscher, 1914-'19

View on San Sebastián from Mount Igueldo.  Photo: Casper Molenaar, 19th of August 2022



View from Mount Igeldo to the East.


At the beginning of our holidays we also visited the Gros neigboorhood in the north, the area where the bullfight arena was during WWI. Now it is a lively urban area, still city centre but more for living than for tourists, though there are plenty of terrific pintxos restaurants and that Friday evening it was busy and quite hard to find a place to sit, but we found one at Meson-Bidea Berri.

A compilation of photos from the Gros neighborhood.


Below: view from Monte Igeldo on San Sebastian, 19th of August 2022. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

In the footsteps of  Kurt Hielscher