San Sebastián - Donostia and Pasai Donibane - Pasajes de San Juan

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

Pasai Donibane

On arrival here, I was very excited and, besides it was quite hard to park the van somewhere, I was not disappointed. On the contrary, Pasaia or Pasages or Pasajes (de San Juan) (sorry, I am not aware of the local sensitivities on its name) is definitely worth a visit, because of its views, authenticity and relaxed atmosphere. We also found a nice restaurant. Anyway, for us the best place to land in Spain that day coming from France.  

Pasai Donibane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

The Bay of Pasaia with a view on the 17th century built Bonanzako Santo Kristo basilika that is dedicated to the sailors, was used to pray and ask for their safe return and good luck with the fishing. The photo has been made from the Ermita de Santa Ana and is probably th most famous view in Pasai Donibane.

Pasai Donibane, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Pasai Donibane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

Pasai Donibane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

Today one can still see the fences on wheels at the edge of this characteristic square, the Plaza Santiago, in Pasai Donibane-Pasai de San Juan, ready to enclose it for the next bullfight. On this day there was a second hand bookstore on the street with old photobooks of Pasai Donibane and its surroundings closely situated San Sebastián. I had a nice chat with the vendor and showed him the photos of Kurt Hielscher from Pasai Donibane. The man showed me the wooden beams on the old photo that were already there over a hundred years ago to support the balconies. We had a great lunch at Yola Berri at the opposite site from the square, only 5 meters from where Kurt Hielscher made his photo. A party tent made it hard for me to make the exact same photo. Some houses changed a lot but there were plenty of elements that match between the old and the new photo, so I think I did a good job.

Pasai Donibane, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Pasai Donibane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

View on Yola Berris Restaurant where we had a terrific lunch with sardines and again the Basilika de Bonanzako Santo Kristo in  Pasai Donibane-Pasai de San Juan, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

Next to the passage below one can find the house where the legendary French writer Victor Hugo lived during the summer of 1843. Victor Hugo (1802-1885), who is most famous for writing the Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Miserables, stumbled upon this quaint and hidden fishing village by chance while visiting San Sebastián and decided to stay here to write his travel book 'The Alps and Pyrenees'. His daughter's sudden death prevented him from completing the book as he intended, but it was published five years after the author's death. The 17th century waterfront house, now a museum, consists of three floors and pays tribute to the writer, his time in Pasaia and his works.

A passage at the Kalea, Pasai Donibane, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher. 

A passage at the Kalea with working men fixing the pavement. In the back near the stairs my youngest son, Pasai Donibane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

View from a small pier at the Plaza Santiago on the Ermita de Santa Ana and the huge modern harbour complexes in the back, Pasai Donibane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

Just when I thought that I would make the turn back to the van, I recognized the stairs, that were photographed by Kurt Hielscher over 100 years ago. At the middle of the Bonanza Ibilbidea you can you can see a "new" arch. Kids were playing there that day ( see also photo above), playing with a football and jumping into the water. I imagined that this scene would repeat itself every day during the whole of the summer. In Roman figures I noticed the year of construction on the arch: MCMXXXV, so the main mystery in the difference between the photos was solved. The arch was built later. It also seems that the quay was made wider, but besides that I could have taken a few steps to the left as well. I don't think this is one of the best photos from Kurt Hielscher, but I think he put it in his book, because somehow Pasai Donibane got him, like it got me.

Pasai Donibane, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Pasai Donibane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

Built on the site of an older chapel in 1758, the Ermita de Santa Ana serves as a hostel for pilgrims and walkers on the Camino de Santiago.

Ermita de Santa Ana as seen from the Plaza de Santiago, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Ermita de Santa Ana, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

Photo: Siebe Molenaar.

Below: view on Pasai Doniabane, 17th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

In the footsteps of  Kurt Hielscher