San Sebastián Overview
- Belle Epoque Basque beauty
- City life
- Gourmet gorging, beach basking
An elegant city sparkling under several Michelin stars, San Sebastián is on the shores of the Bay of Biscay in the Basque region of northern Spain.
This waist-expanding gastro hub takes food very seriously. The finest feasts in Europe come either Michelin-starred or in miniature – pintxos (Basque tapas) are served in every bar and if it’s not market-fresh that morning, you’re not in San Sebastián. The dazzling coast is home to La Concha bay, a curved shore backed with lush green hills – Montes Igueldo, Urgull, Ulia, Pasaia and Adarra. This city with two names (it’s also known as Donostia) has a Belle Epoque charm, and lots of graceful architecture – the sandstone columns of the Victoria Eugenia Theatre and the shuttered balconies of the Plaza de la Constitucion in the old quarter, at the base of Monte Urgull. And it plays annual host to San Sebastián International Film Festival – so in September, you’ll get film stars with your fine food.
Suitably San Sebastián
There’s a tradition in San Sebastián known as txikiteo – basically a bar crawl through the public houses of the old town, each of which has their own pintxos speciality. A drink and a pintxo is taken in each establishment until you’re suitably stuffed with Jabugo ham, fried guindillas (green peppers from the region), chicken croquettes and the like, all washed down with the fine, young, regional wine, txakoli, or a spicy red from neighbouring Rioja. You keep tab of what you’ve eaten and then tally up with the trusting bar man. Discard your napkin on the floor (it’s custom, not littering) and move on to the next place.
- Stations have ranks and you can flag taxis in the street. If you want to book, try Vallina (+34 (0)94 340 4040) or Taxi Donosti (+34 (0)94 346 4646).
- Siesta and fiesta
- Shopkeepers get sleepy between 1pm and 4pm–5pm, then stay open until 8pm–9pm. Don’t expect many shops to be open on a Sunday. Bank hours are 9am–1pm. Lunch is generally 2pm–4pm and dinner from 9pm. Bars will be busiest after 11pm.
- Packing tips
- Hats, headscarves and sunglasses to work the ‘don’t recognise me’ film-star look. Stylish swimwear to strut around the perfectly formed La Concha bay.
- Recommended reads
- Brush up on your Basque history with The Basque Country – A Cultural History by Paddy Woodworth and The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky. All the petite pintxos will make you mad for miniature so buy a copy of La Alta Cocina Vasca en Miniature by Peio Amiano.
- Regional specialities
- In the gastronomical capital of Spain you can expect edible delights – such as the double-decker Basque cake, filled with almond-flavoured pastry cream and cherry jam. There’s also a hundred or more pinxtos to try (foie gras with figs, grilled baby squid, sheep’s cheese risotto…). Idiazábal is known for its cheese (there’s a cheese centre in the town), and Guetaria for its txakoli wine. Astigarraga, around 8km from San Sebastián, has 17 cider houses.
- Euro (€).
- Time zone
- GMT + 1.
- Dialling codes
- Spain: +34; San Sebastián: 943.
- Do go/don't go
- For the most buzz (and the chance of a celeb spot), go in September when the film festival brings the A list to town. Winters can get quite wet; the best weather is between May and August, but the population swells during June and July.
Don't go home without...
buying a Basque beret. You’ll want to see if you can pull off the look as well as the men of the town.