Welcome back to my musings on the beautiful area of the Basque country in northern Spain. The long wait is finally over to hear all about "the most accessible hotel I've ever stayed in".
Now, I know I'm a positive optimist with a 'glass half full' perspective on life. However I've never said such a huge compliment before about an accessible travel accommodation. That is until I stayed in Astoria 7, San Sebastian.
As I rolled into the lobby everything looked familiar and usual. Of course the parking, step free access and lift were essential. This rightly is becoming more normal these days for disabled travellers. Then we headed for the room, named the 'John Travolta' room (every room is named after a famous actor due to the San Sebastian film festival theme). After being struck by the many photos of the famous actor, I was struck by many more surprises.
We were shown how the ceiling hoist (something you rarely ever see in a hotel) was designed to go from the bed to the bathroom, over the toilet and into the wetroom shower. There was also a double drainage system allowing a support assistant to stand with more room (and without floods).
The real kicker for me was the assistive technology that was installed. By using a variety of hardware options (a large or small remote control, or a bleeper system for those without arm function, or the iPad provided, or your own smart phone with the relevant app installed) everything was possible!
I could open and close the main door and bathroom door. I could turn on and off the lights. I could raise different parts of the bed. I could operate everything on the TV. I was in accessible tourism heaven!
Unfortunately I couldn't stay in the room for the whole trip. There was serious accessible tourism work to do. So back to our itinerary...
After the vineyard discussed in Part One, we visited the small area of Getaria. With some tapas and coffee, we enjoyed the views and spoke about the project together. Then after some press interviews, we headed for a Michelin Star dinner at Kokotxa Restaurant.
Those who know me will agree I've always been a fussy eater. Or 'tiquismiquis' in Spanish. Fortunately my beautiful Kasia is slowly kicking this out of me. Nonetheless I can still appreciate good quality food and drink. Our trip to Kokotxa didn't disappoint.
We were served up local delicacies including:
- Seasonal vegetables and tubers
- Ravioli squid cooked with broth and corn
- Hake pil pil (one of my favourites!)
- A delicious piece of Iberian pig
- Raspberry sponge, cakes, fruits, yoghurt and mint.
The flavours. The smells. The colours. What a fantastic experience!
On the third and final day we started with a round table discussion. People from local disability groups, the local governments tourism department, private sector tourism businesses, and so forth, all attended.
I'd had a feeling of some magic ingredients at play throughout our trip. The inclusive sports centre on the beach front. The accessible bars and restaurants. The accessible transport. The super hotel. I was surprised how accessible the whole city was! At the discussion it all fell into place.
Local disabled people were very integrated in local decision making. They were accepted as citizens with rights and customers who have money, like anyone else. This equality, joint decision making, and co production resulted in many amenities being accessible.
The clever guys from Bask For All saw an opportunity to package up the area as an accessible destination for disabled holiday makers. The general tourism department understood the economic benefits of this too.
Naturally the local disabled people and the prospective travellers will demand more from San Sebastian, the Guipuzcoa region, and beyond. However in creating and showcasing such an inclusive place; it creates a catalyst of opportunity, success and goodwill from all stakeholders.
We finished the day with a cooking class at San Sebastian food. We learned all about the history and culture of the Basque people, and how it's showcased in their food. I had a height adjustable table, cut the meat and peeled the potatoes. No more excuses for me!
Afterwards we all ate our final meal together. It was delicious. Doubly delicious because we had made it. It was great to chat about our experiences together, how everything was so accessible, and how it should be a blueprint for the rest of the world. Well done and thank you to Bask For All, San Sebastian Tourism, Guipuzcoa Tourism Diputación and Basque Tour.
Have you been to San Sebastian before? Did you find it to be very accessible too? Do you know of similar destinations elsewhere? I'd love to hear your experiences too :-)
Ceo and Co-Founder Disability Horizons
Co-Founder Accessible Traveller