Monte Igueldo: San Sebastian’s Quirky Amusement Park

San Sebastian’s coastal peaks and valleys have made it a prime destination for tourists from Spain and all over Europe to escape the summer heat. Since the Spanish royalty made San Sebastian it’s summer home, the city has exploded as a tourist hub. In 1912, a funicular was built to the top of Monte Igueldo, which looks over La Concha Bay and the greater city. A funicular is a type of cable-pulled railway that pulls a train up the side of a steep mountain. This funicular was the first in the Basque Country, and the third to ever open in Spain. For a long while, this funicular was the only way to reach the top of Monte Igueldo other than hiking, the ride itself was just like if we rode in 1912. The train was nearly original with it being completely made out of wood and having manual gates that the attendant had to close before and after every trip. During the ride, you get great views of the city appearing from below once you get above the station. Despite having one station at either end of the mountain, the funicular was designed to run two trains at a time, so we had the chance to see a train descending while we were ascending.

The funicular inside of the station

Once we got to the top of the mountain, the views leaving the station were magnificent, with one of the first things you see is the full San Sebastian skyline. This view was one of the poorest sight lines on Monte Igueldo since we were still two flights of stairs away from the summit. On the summit, you’ll find a mountain-top amusement park that I could not compare to any amusement park I’ve been to in the United States. This park featured rides for the whole family, with staples like bumper cars, a carousel, a water ride, and a charming haunted house. While those attractions were all charming and magnificent with the scenery, what I was looking forward to the most as a roller coaster enthusiast was their coaster, Montaña Suiza, a 1928 scenic railway that holds numerous records such as the oldest steel coaster in the world and the oldest coaster in Spain. The ride itself transverses the whole summit, giving great views of San Sebastian and the Bay of Biscay. The ride itself is not intense at all, with a max speed of 31 mph and a max height of 32 ft, so you can imagine that it only features a few dips and turns.

Montaña Suiza climbing up it’s 32 foot cable lift

 Despite Montaña Suiza’s age and stature, it has catapulted up my coaster rankings. I have ridden over 80 different coasters across North America and there hasn’t been a single one that comes close to the uniqueness that Montaña Suiza at Monte Igueldo provides. Where else can you ride a coaster that is nearing 100 years old on top of a mountain that’s adjacent to a city and the vast ocean? During my time at Canobie Lake Park as a rides operator, I’ve heard guests remark “I can see my house from here!” or “I can see Canada from here!” a countless amount of times. However, on Monte Igueldo, I was actually able to see the residencía we are staying at and Biarritz, France! Although I was having the time of my life at the park, it was quickly approaching closing time so we got churros before taking the last funicular down. Next up was The Comb of the Winds sculpture that’s situated at the base of Monte Igueldo directly on the rocky coast of La Concha Bay. These art pieces were installed in 1976 by Luis Pena Ganchegui, a Basque sculptor. Three steel structures were built into various rocks and cliffs that have been eroded away by waves slamming against the mountain. Although very abstract, the steel figures are supposed to represent combs that the sea breeze is supposed to pass through before reaching the city. What I found the most interesting was the placement of each of the combs. One comb was placed right on the viewing platform, another one was placed on a rock maybe 20 feet to the east of the first comb, and the last comb was roughly 200 feet from the viewing platform.

The Comb of the Wind and the setting sun

An interesting interpretation that I learned was that the three combs represent the past, present, and future. The comb on the viewing platform represents the present since we can physically touch it, the comb just to the east of the platform represents the past since even though it’s near, we can not touch it, and lastly, the far-out comb represents the future, something that is rather hazy and seems unattainable from the viewing platform. Ending the day on La Concha Bay in front of these art pieces was spectacular. Seeing the sun disappear behind Monte Igueldo and reflect off of the water is something I am going to miss once I return home.