San Sebastian – Been There

It’s not crazy if everyone is doing it

The annual Christmas Day swim at La Concha attracts around 150 brave souls, who have to swim 400 meters. The Hotel de Londres, the former residence of infamous spy Mata Hari, who has a suite named after her, offers a warm broth to everyone who takes part.

Photo by Juan Herrero / Alamy

San Sebastian – Been There

It’s not crazy if everyone is doing it

Taking a daily swim in the cold waters of the Bay of Biscay is a ritual for some who live in San Sebastian – but only the bravest.

Kike del Olmo
Kike del Olmo Travel Photographer

San Sebastian’s zirimiri is a drizzle so soft, so fragile and imperceptible that it’s as if it weren’t falling at all. Then, after a while, I realize it has soaked me down to the very bones. It is a mark of local identity that has been slowly disappearing. Some blame its loss on climate change.

The people of San Sebastian allow neither the rain nor the cold to put a damper on their plans, as you can see every December 25 at noon. I take a stroll along the Playa de la Concha on Christmas Day and discover some 150 men and women taking a plunge in the icy Bay of Biscay, swimming out to a buoy and back. It’s an annual event that supports a worthy local charity.

Many take this dip in the sea each and every day of the year as a form of healthy exercise. “We never catch colds,” says a woman in her 60s as she comes out of the water, her skin purple with cold but her eyes sparkling with life. “The sea is our doctor and, besides, I like it cold like this. In summer, the beach is full of people and the water is warm. I come just the same but don’t enjoy it as much. In winter, walking out of this water is rejuvenating.”

When the swimmers emerge from the waves, they pass people walking on the beach wrapped up in warm coats, scarves and hats. The contrast gives them even more strength, and makes them feel even more alive.

Take me there!

The annual Christmas Day swim at La Concha beach has become a traditional way to raise money for...

The annual Christmas Day swim at La Concha beach has become a traditional way to raise money for charity. The Gulf Stream helps moderate water temperatures, and daytime highs are around 12C in December. Photo by Kike del Olmo

Kike del Olmo

Kike del Olmo

Nikon D800

Aperture
ƒ/8
Exposure
1/200
ISO
200
Focal
85 mm

The annual Christmas Day swim at La Concha beach has become a traditional way to raise money for charity. The Gulf Stream helps moderate water temperatures, and daytime highs are around 12C in December.