Fascinated by her strength and beauty... and perhaps also by her feminine curves, legend has it that here, many years ago, a cook tried to take advantage of a woman from this town... Big mistake!
The female in question was a boatwoman, charged with transporting people and goods in the barge that, many years ago, would cross the dividing water, thereby forging a link between Pasajes San Juan and Pasajes San Pedro. The cook got a severe telling off while the supposed actions of the boatwoman were testimony to the character of such women, a source of fascintation for poets, writers and kings alike, all accustomed to the more fragile and refined members of the sex. Writers and narrators of the era would describe them as young, vigorous and beautiful, these women who crossed the waters in their boats.. and like amazons, pity he who dare to mess with her. Such was the legend, that a sculpture now stands near the river in San Juan in memory of their kind.
These days, however, the boat which travels between the two banks of the river no longer requires a boatwoman thanks to possessing a small motor. And surely this is the best way for us to begin our visit of this special little town, specially since here there is little traffic. Luckily, this guide can tell you the exact place to climb aboard: Quay (google maps.
The town of Pasajes de San Juan rose up more or less along side its neighbour, Pasajes de San Pedro on the opposite shore, each one taking its name from the local parishes of Saint John and Saint Peter. Strangely, until 1770 San Juan remained under the feudal ownership of Hondarribia, as in those days its port was hugely important, thanks to the development of the Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas as well as the construction of the shipyard. From here, whalers, merchant ships and fishing vessels would all set sail. Not to mention ships belonging to the Crown; real killing machines, with up to four bridges all bristling with cannons, such as that which so surprised Felipe IV when he dropped by in 1660...
Boxed in between the sea and one side of Mount Jaizkibel, San Juan has just one main street, calle San Juan, along which you can stroll between the various buildings, alleyways, arches, cantilevers, restaurants and other nooks and crannies that reflect the towns unique personality... Pasaia is one of those rare places where time has stood still and simply by being there you are transported to another era...
Of course, to have charmed and captivated one of France's most important romantic poets, Victor Hugo, Pasaia must have something special to offer. Writer, politician and intellectual, Pasajes clearly proved a source of inspiration for Hugo since he spent some time living here; specifically, in the building which now houses the local tourist office. The following is a quote in which the writer made reference to the town: “magnificent and charming, like all those that possess the dual characteristics of joy and grandeur; this unsung corner is one of the most beautiful I have seen or that any tourist may visit, this humble patch of land and sea that would be admired were it in Switzerland, famous were it in Italy, but remains unknown because it is in Gipuzkoa, this little Eden to which I have arrived purely by chance”.
After parking in the outskirts of the town (unauthorized vehicles are prohibited from entering the streets) one comes across the Church of San Juan Bautista (St John the Baptist), which boasts a mix of barroque and neoclassical architecture. Continue walking, and on our left we pass the house-museum of Victor Hugo, before arriving at the plaza de Santiago, where you'll often catch children trying to rescue their balls from the sea. Presiding over the square is the ancient and barroque Town Hall while just a few metres on is another church: the Santo Cristo de la Bonanza.
Keep walking along the town's only street and eventually you'll reach what looks like a walled house and garden. This is the old Castle of Santa Isabel, from where the town's much-coveted port was defended from the 18th century onwards; A fortress much-desired by many as a prize for the spoils of war, including the famous Cardinal Richelieu who even managed it for a few weeks during the summer of 1638 before having to make a run for it when his arch-rival, the conde-duque de Olivares, sent in his army.
What better way to end our visit than to enjoy a few sardines washed down with cider in the little restaurant located at the end of the street? During the summer months, this is an ideal spot from which to enjoy the sun setting over the sea while sitting outdoors in the terrace.
Without doubt, Pasajes de San Juan is one town you simply Must See!