I often hear people say San Sebastian is not a weekend destination due to its distance from the airports. This is true, it’s not a “15 min transfer”, more like an hour long drive or coach through the beautiful Basque countryside. Elsewhere you may have to endure the suburbia or various below ground trains, but here, the drive/bus/coach trip is so thrilling it’s a steal at 10 or so euros. Another way around the “weekend” predicament is to simply go for longer. Steal a day off work to go Donostia. Lie, be sick…resign but make sure you go.
London to Bilbao. The obvious and quick route. Low cost Vueling and Easy Jet will get you there in just under 2 hours…quicker than your commute to/from work….think about it. You can get a coach from the airport direct to San Sebastian.
London to Bordeaux. Slightly shorter flight at one and a half hours but a longer drive or coach ride at 2 and a half hours.
London to Biarritz. Options from Ryanair, Airfrance and others. Unless you are driving the transfer is complicated. Coach/bus probably easiest but there is also Eusko train but you have to get to the train station, Hendaye, from the airport. Personally I think Biarritz is a great destination in itself so perhaps plan to visit and eat your way around town before moving on to Donostia (as part of your 6 week grand tour of the Basque Country!).
Ok so you’ve resigned, packed up and decided to take the slower lane in life. Forget security checks, long queues, seatbelts and other restrictions that offset the speed of air with the frustration of the entire process. Sleep your way there on…the train.
From Kings Cross catch Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord station. You have to change station in Paris to Gare d’Austrlitz, which is annoying but by cab it’s only 15 euros or so. Don’t get the Metro as it doesn’t fit in with the vibe of this slow motion option of getting there. You will be travelling overnight, leaving around half nine and arriving in Hendaye at 9am, from here you get on the charming Eusko train to San Sebastian.
This is not luxurious travel but an experience in itself. The couchettes are small and old but on our trip were very clean and comfortable. Of course you don’t want to share, if you are 2 so make sure you double check the options when you book. Don’t forget to buy at least two bottles of French wine, some baguette and other bits for the train picnic. More info available here
Train and luxury
Take the train hotel that is Elipsos, a Spanish operated overnight service from Paris. It’s the more expensive option but nothing selling your car and house to finance your permanent move to the Basque Country won’t cover. There is one unsatisfying experience here, the train arrives to Vitora-Gasteiz at 4 o’clock in the morning. An hour drive will get you to San Sebastian.
Just as slow but not as comfortable (if you suffer frm travel sickness anyway!) option is to go by ferry. The allure of the sun, sea and fresh air is quickly brought to its knees by the comedy show, expensive beer and the truckers. Maybe a bit harsh…how do I put it, don’t go with your girlfriend/boyfriend…group of guys, yes. There is only one reason to get the ferry, the boot of your car rental and the back seats. The Duty on “good times” in the UK is, Wine £2/btl, Spirits £7.41/btl, Sherry £2.67/btl sad times I know, so get a lot of boot space and leave the kids at home because HMRC limits allow the following: