Calling San Sebastián de La Gomera a capital city is a stretch. It’s really a small seaside town with a few rather grand old government buildings clustered along the foreshore.
Most people arrive in San Sebastian on the ferries from Tenerife, do a quick tour of the old part of town, then head up into the hills for the laurel forests and the landscapes. However, San Sebastian deserves more than just a cursory glance.
It’s a peaceful sprawl of houses, cobbled streets and parks full of palm trees and flowers. The old part of the town, between the seafront and the church, is well worth a slow wander as it’s largely unchanged since medieval times.
Holding the fort where Columbus stayed
The main attraction is the Torre del Conde, the oldest surviving fort in the Canary Islands and the most southern medieval building anywhere. It was besieged by the island’s stone age aboriginals in 1488 and hosted Columbus on at least a couple of his journey’s across the Atlantic. Local rumour has it that he was more than friendly with Beatriz de Bobadilla y Ulloa, the island’s leader at the time.
If you want to know more about the island’s aboriginal history, head to the archaeology museum in San Sebastian. The town’s main church, the late-Gothic Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de La Asunción is rather Portuguese-looking thanks to its Manueline facade.
It contains a rather splendid fresco celebrating the town’s 1743 defence against a Royal Navy fleet led by Charles Windham. He joined the inglorious club of British sailors who failed to take a Canarian port. Just 50 years later,the illustrious Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson also got his membership after a rare failure at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
These days, the closest San Sebastian gets to the excitement of a naval battle is when the local kids play their reggaeton music a bit too loud on the beachfront. Don’t let it put you off because the town's two beaches are excellent.
The main beach, the 600 metre Playa de San Sebastian, is right in front of the famous Torre del Conde. It’s dotted with thatched parasols and have a lovely new section of decking under the coconut palm grove at the marina end of the sand.
The water at Playa de San Sebastian is calm and warm and there is plenty of local activity to keep you entertained while you sunbathe. This beach comes to life in the late afternoon and at sunset when the locals come out for a walk along the promenade and to play beach volleyball.
If you fancy a snack head to the kiosks along the promenade behind the beach or just cross the quiet road into town. The main plaza, shaded by ficus and palm trees, has several cafes where you can have a coffee or a local meal for just a few euros.
Climb the rock at Cave Beach
The other beach in San Sebastian, Playa de la Cueva or Cave Beach, is north of the marina. You can’t see it from the town but it’s just a few minutes walk away. The sand is slightly darker than the main town beach and La Cueva feels wilder and has a few surprises in store.
It’s called Cave Beach because you walk through a short cave to reach the rocky headland at the town end of the beach. A set of crooked stone steps takes you all the way up the headland, known as the Punta de San Cristobál, to a cross at the top. From here, you get a great view back towards San Sebastian, the harbour and the beach, and also an uninterrupted view of Teide volcano and Tenerife across the sea.
Playa de la Cueva is calm and the water is clear and a vivid blue once you swim out over the rocks.
Underwater, Playa de la Cueva is just as beautiful. It’s a popular dive spot with lots of exotic species like trumpetfish, grunts, damselfish and moray eels. Access is via the beach so La Cueva is a great dive for beginners; ask in the dive shops in the marina or in town for information.