San Sebastián from New Heights

Kaixo from the beautiful Basque Country! On Friday, June 25th, we started our adventure via funicular up to the top of Mount Igueldo, which is located at one end of Ondarreta Beach. Following a week of spontaneous and sporadic rain, we lucked out with clear, blue skies and a calm breeze. We could not have asked for a more perfect day. From the top of the mountain, we were able to enjoy the best view of San Sebastián and even get a glimpse of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France from across the ocean. Our options to take in the breathtaking sights varied greatly. We snagged photos of the city from the safety of the outlook and even captured videos in between shrieks on the rollercoaster, called the Swiss Mountain. This one-minute railway rollercoaster circles the top of the mountain, giving you a full 360 view of San Sebastián, as well as the neighboring province of Biscay. Swiss Mountain is the oldest steel rollercoaster in Spain that is still operating to this day! I was surprised by the operation of the rollercoaster, as the speed was controlled by a brakeman that sat between the two carts. The ride itself was terrifyingly thrilling, but the views helped to mellow the fear of it. I definitely recommend this rollercoaster to anyone that ventures to the top of Mount Igueldo, as the views are quite impossible to beat.

From the peak, we were able to spot the various neighborhoods that collectively make up the extensive and rich cultural history of Donosti-San Sebastián. We pointed out Antiguo, where we reside, la Parte Vieja, where we dine on pintxos and Basque cheesecake, as well as Gros, which is a newer, trendier neighborhood near la Zurriola Beach. This experience allowed me to gain a new perspective on the entirety of San Sebastián, both figuratively and literally. It was eye-opening to glance at the city as one whole piece, rather than just the individual neighborhoods that the city is composed of. From this new point of view, I was reminded of the depth of not only San Sebastián, but the Basque Country as well.

View from Mount Igueldo

I learned that it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in front of me. While San Sebastián may be home to fantastic Spanish tortillas, beautiful beaches, and a handful of Michelin star restaurants, it is also home to hundreds of thousands of Basque people and their culture.

When traveling, it is easy to forget why a place is so special when caught up in completing a checklist of must-dos. However, in San Sebastián, it is of extreme importance to focus on the Basque culture as it makes the experience worthwhile and illustrates the significance of this beautiful city.

Following our trip to Mount Igueldo, we walked towards the art sculpture, the Comb of the Wind, which is also located at the end of Ondarreta Beach. Basque sculptor, Eduardo Chillida, created this three-piece sculpture in 1976 and it was later installed in 1977. He drew inspiration from his fascination for the waves and wind that hit this corner of San Sebastián. Each piece is made entirely of iron, which is very prominent in Basque history due to the multitude of rich iron ore deposits. In this piece, Chillida integrates nature into his art, via the use of iron and the attachment of each piece to the mountain or rocks. On top of this, he placed his art out in the open, allowing nature to alter his work and continue telling the story. 

Eduardo Chillida’s Comb of the Wind

Given that this art structure has been left up to the interpretation of its visitors, many have speculated and developed their own theories as to its meaning. One popular belief is that one comb represents the past, another the present, and the final the future. The comb representing the past is warped and twisted, displaying how life experiences shape a person. In the middle of Chillida’s work is the comb that many associate with the present. It lies equally in between the past and future combs. It should be noted that this comb is the most photographed and is even sat on by visitors for pictures, which I believe is their way of embracing this theory. Distant in the back, one can study the comb of the future, untouched and intact. This comb tells a story of promise, reminding those who visit of the beauty that lies ahead. Overall, Comb of the Wind serves as a reminder to live in the moment because if you look too far forward or backward, you’ll miss the present. I truly enjoyed learning about this sculpture and its significance to San Sebastian. All in all, I believe this excursion happened at the perfect time in the trip, prompting me to appreciate and focus on the now during my stay in the city. Being present amidst this exciting and new life experience is key and I hope to absorb as much information as I can throughout this amazing adventure. Agur!