San Sebastián, 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.

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.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    San Sebastián airport is the nearest but you’ll be pushed to find a direct flight there – get to Bilbao (100km away) with Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) from Dublin or London Stansted | or with Iberia (www.iberia.com) from London Heathrow. Biarritz airport (50km away) is accessible with Easyjet from London Gatwick or with Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) from London Stansted or Dublin.
  • Boats

    Brittany Ferries (www.brittany-ferries.co.uk) serves Santander (200km from San Sebastián) from Portsmouth or Plymouth. P&O Ferries (www.poferries.com) sails from Portsmouth to Bilbao.
  • Trains

    Get to Estación del Norte in San Sebastián from Madrid, Bilbao and Barcelona – services are operated by Renfe (www.renfe.es).
  • Automobiles

    The 100km drive from Bilbao should take a little over an hour. San Sebastián is 50km from Biarritz – allow 40 minutes. Avis (www.avis.com) has offices at most airports in the region.
  • Taxis

    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).

Boutique hotels in San Sebastián

Elena Arzak

Elena Arzak

Contemporary Spanish cooking may well be progressive and forward thinking, but, as in most countries, it’s still dominated by men. Elena Arzak, often lauded as ‘the world’ best female chef’, is a welcome exception. Elena and her father Juan Mari Arzak (one of the big beasts of New Basque cuisine) are responsible for Arzak, the triple-Michelin-star restaurant that has been in their family for 118 years and a standard feature of gourmet ‘must-try’ shortlists. It is set in central San Sebastián (across the river from Smith hotel Astoria 7), home to more Michelin stars per square metre than any other city in the world – possibly related to the fact it sits at the geographical and culinary meeting point of France and Spain. In the last decade, Elena (whose professional education, inevitably, involved a period at El Bulli) has emerged as a remarkable chef in her own right, continuing and building on her father’s legacy with unparalleled artistry and improbably brilliant flavour combinations.

Explore Arzak