June 17-26, 2011
“Welcome to the best beach in the world!”
Those were the exact words that Ainhoa (my Spanish host student) said to me as we beheld Sopelana Beach, one of the few beaches of the coastal city of Bilbao. We had just taken the short, 7-minute walk here from her home, traversing the small hill overlooking the ocean as well as all of the hillside homes of her neighborhood, an exciting little adventure in itself. And now we were standing above the most gorgeous beach I had ever seen.
Alright, the beach is not the the best in the world as I’m sure many of you will argue once you see it or even if you have experienced it. Ainhoa was clearly biased since this is her home. However, I’m definitely going to go out on a limb here and say that this Sopelana is my favorite beach in the world. And don’t let the fact that the only beaches I’ve been to are the few in Northern Spain and like five or six beaches in New England (not much I know) play it down. Going to Sopelana Beach almost every day, during my stay with Ainhoa’s family, was definitely one of the highlights of my trip, and I’ll tell you all the reasons why this beach is the bomb. If you’re ever in Bilbao had to only choose one of the close beaches, skip out on the nearby Getxo Beach and the deserted Barrika Beach, and head to Sopelana.
It’s easy to enjoy – sun or no sun
When people think beaches, they usually think of endless sands to stretch out on, and most importantly, perfectly sunny weather to enjoy. I’d hate to say it, but travelling across the world just to sunbathe and to tan is almost the same as travelling across the world to get your hair dyed.
Alright, I know, absolutely horrible analogy, but what I’m trying to say is that you can lie down on some sand, basking in the sun with your eyes closed in many different places, as long as it’s warm out. You could go do this practically anywhere it’s warm, not just this one spot. Most people don’t have the luxury of living in a place, or close to somewhere, that gets warm weather, so they’ve of course got to travel to somewhere that is. However, individual beaches should be enjoyed for more than just the ability to dry out and burn in the sun.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE all beaches. Sunbathing is always a fun and relaxing activity, and you will often find me sprawled out in the sun at the popular Hampton Beach of New Hampshire in the summer. But you’ve got to see a beach for more than just that, especially when you’ve flown across oceans to get to it.
And whether it’s sunny out or a cloudy, calm-before-the-storm kind of day, Sopelana is awesome. On the days when optimum, sunny conditions do not prevail, the beach is practically deserted. Therefore, you have it all to yourself to watch ominous, gray clouds make their way in, and the incredible sight of the HUGE waves crashing, all while being beneath huge rocky cliffs towering over you magnificently.
And let me tell you, those waves were massive. Especially on days like the one I’m describing when there’s a storm approaching. On that specific day, the lifeguards had raised the “red flag” at the beach, indicating that it was way too dangerous for anyone to go in the water. I could see why as I sat on the beach, watching these huge waves, at least ten feet or taller crash into the water and onto the sand. It was definitely an awesome sight. On a day like that, I would’ve been crushed if I decided to venture into the water.
And on regular, nice-weather days, when the “yellow flag” is up allowing people to go swimming in the ocean water, the waves aren’t nearly as big, but they’re still pretty big. For any surfers out there, which does not include me, this is definitely a good spot for you.
Spend an entire day here – no boredom included
I was serious when I said I came to this beach almost everyday of the 10 days that I lived in Barrika with Ainhoa’s family. We came here at some point everyday except for my arrival day and the one and only day that it rained. And after my first visit, it was easy to see that one does not simply get bored of Sopelana.
First of all, the landscape as well as the size of the waves could amuse anyone for hours on end, same with sunbathing. And the sun stays – like all day basically. In Spain (during June at least) the sun doesn’t set until 10:30! It’s crazy, I love it. Be at the beach till 9 or later and it still looks like late afternooon.
And above all the amazing cliffs around you, you’ll often see paragliders flying around and hot-air balloons in the distance. Unfortunately, I did not get to do either, but they are both DEFINITELY on my bucket list. But beyond that, at one end is a small cluster of beach shops, a small bar, and ice cream vendors every five steps you go, while a the other end there is a seafood restaurant higher up and looking down upon the beach. Two guesses where I frequently was.
No I was not at the bar! Shame on all you who thought that. However, despite being only 17 I could’ve easily gone and ordered a beer, like many of my fellow American students did. I on the other hand spent many a euro on the ice cream at the beach. Did I mention Spaniards seem to have a thing for ice cream? Because you could most certainly find vendors practically anywhere you went in this country, in some cases on almost every block of a city.
So yes, I admit it, I spent a euro a day while at the beach, buying delicious little ice cream sandwiches and other treats to enjoy on the sands of Sopelana. I highly recommend these ice cream treats to anyone going to Spain, since they are so good and pretty cheap too.
And in addition to all of this, one of the days a group of people put on a mini African drum show! Imagine that.
Put it all together and you’ve got one fantastic beach, plus a ton of good-looking people, whether you be male or female, gay or straight. A word of caution though: it may not be a full-out nudist beach, but many women do walk around topless, along with a majority of the young children without clothes.
But besides that, memories of Sopelana are ingrained in me and I often dream of returning to this wonderful beach, whether it be the best in the world or not.