Dreaming of Lighthouses: Hiking in San Sebastian

Iñaki, Madrid & Beyond Insider
3 min read
Ulia Hike

Dreaming of mountains? Of the wild ocean? Of reaching that amazing viewpoint? Of the cool drink that awaits you? Iñaki, our Basque Country collaborator, is here to help you dream as he talks us through his favorite hike from San Sebastian.

“The first thing I’m going to do when lockdown is over is walk my favorite hiking route. A tribute to all those local sailors, fishermen and whalers who have made a living on the rough Cantabrian Sea, The Lighthouse Route takes in four of the seven lighthouses in our region: it climbs Ulia Mountain, one of three mountains that surround the Basque city of San Sebastian. One of San Sebastian’s charms is its “quality”, everything you find here is of exceptional quality – that’s probably why San Sebastian is the most expensive city in Spain. But it’s a price us locals don’t mind paying; we recognize that you usually get what you pay for! And the walking routes are no different, there are great trails to find in and around the city and this is one of the best.”

“The interesting thing about this route is that we can adapt it to suit our guests. This is just one of the advantages of working with a local guide who was born and raised in the area – I still remember the many “adventures” of my childhood on the mountain. The hike starts with a quick visit to the Central Market to pick up fresh fruit and snacks before crossing the Urumea River and passing by La Zurriola Beach, one of four in the city and a good spot for surfing. Once we get to the eastern part of the city, we start the ascent. This first section is the steepest of the whole route, so we take it slowly, stopping from time to time to rest, drink and enjoy the views. The views of Donostia, the Basque name for San Sebastian, are really spectacular and a fitting reward for the exercise. We continue our walk past the old train tracks that once connected the city to the top of the mountain. At the end of the 19th century, this was the location of a popular amusement park enjoyed by European aristocracy and high society.”

Did you know Juan Sebastián Elcano, the captain of the Nao Victoria, the first ship to circumnavigate the Earth from 1519 to 1522 in Magellan’s expedition, was born right outside San Sebastian?

Ulia Hike Ulia Hike

“We follow the path for a while until we turn left to cross a pine forest which connects another path over the cliffs, once used by smugglers and bandits to get to France (just 16 miles away). We arrive a spot where we are literally standing over the Atlantic Ocean, the Bay of Biscay. You can imagine the views, the contrast of colors, the cliffs, the immensity of the sea – it makes a perfect “Kodak Moment”! From here, we have different alternatives, all equally enjoyable: a lovely walk through a forest, crossing a medieval aqueduct, keeping close to the coastline. Whatever route we choose, everybody gets to see the secret Silver Lighthouse and to descend to sea level as we drop down to the natural port of Pasajes.”

We always meet pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in the north west of Spain (a 500-mile pilgrimage that people from all over the world have undertaken since the 10th century). We talk and learn why these brave pilgrims’ have set out on such an adventure.

“Apart from the outstanding views, another thing I love about this route is the refreshing shade of pretty pine and oak forests and the fresh water from the springs which used to supply the city. Temperature is normally good (between 60-90F), with some humidity in the summer and maybe some rain in spring, but always pleasant. On arrival in Pasajes, if we’re lucky, we can visit the local rowing team’s facilities to find out about the brave Basque whalers and fishermen, and the traditional sports they enjoyed which are still practiced today. When we start to feel our legs tire, it will be time to head to a local bar where a selection of cold drinks and pintxos (tapas) will be waiting for us. We’ll enjoy conversations about the sea and fishing life with retired local experts and take a look at a traditional fishing boat before heading back to San Sebastian.”

I just can’t wait to enjoy this route with you once again.