Hidden among the trees in the Miramón Forest, Arima Hotel brings striking design and destination dining to San Sebastián’s leafiest suburb, leaving an impressively small footprint in the process. Built to the strict energy-efficiency standards set by the Passivhaus movement, this green-minded hotel is the first of its kind in Spain, having slashed its energy consumption to a fraction of its peers. Eco-friendliness is at the heart of everything here, influencing the aluminum-clad exterior and the restaurant’s insistence on organic ingredients, which go into gourmet tapas dishes befitting of San Sebastián’s foodie scene. For now, you can get your healthful kicks in the forest, glass-walled yoga studio and the stylish rooftop infinity pool. A state-of-the-art spa is soon to follow, slated to open in autumn 2019.
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A welcome drink and a snack each; GoldSmiths also get late check-out (subject to availability)
Double rooms from £88.52 (€98), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates don’t include breakfast, an organic buffet with fresh bread and pastries; freshly squeezed juices; fresh fruit; cereals and various milks and yoghurts. There’s also an à la carte menu with hot and vegan options.
Every room has a recycling drawer in the bathroom, enabling you to do your bit by separating used plastic, glass, paper and organic waste.
Every room is styled with space-maximising minimalism, and has at least one large window that floods the room with light. We’d go for one of the junior suites, which have spacious living areas and guaranteed forest views.
The infinity-edged pool – only open in summer – is on the roof, commanding a view over the canopy of the Miramón forest. It’s unheated and filled with water that’s treated with UV radiation and a low dose of bromine, avoiding chlorine and its eye-irritating effects. Sleek sun loungers and chairs are arranged around the sides, and there’s a pool bar for cooling cocktails and snacks. It's open from 15 June to 29 September every year.
The hotel's spa is currently in the works, slated to open in autumn 2019. In the meantime, you'll have full use of the 300sq m gym, which is full of top-of-the-range Technogym equipment.
Bring a steel water bottle so you can ditch the plastic when making your way around town.
All the common areas are wheelchair accessible, and two of the Standard Passiv rooms are adapted.
All ages are welcome, but the hotel isn’t particularly geared towards children. There are family rooms, however, and the restaurant has high chairs and cutlery for kids. Babysitting can be arranged for €30 an hour; one day’s notice is needed.
Built to the rigorous energy efficiency standards set out by the Passivhaus movement, Arima is as eco-friendly as hotels come. Inside and out, the design pushes the boundaries of efficiency, with 77 per cent of the hotel’s energy needs coming from aerothermal and geothermal power. Insulation, triple-glazed windows and aluminium tiles boost its ability to store heat or stay cool; rainwater is collected, filtered and used in the gardens and toilet cisterns; all waste is separated; and the duvets, pillows, bath products and ingredients used in the restaurant are all organic.
Minimalist Scandi threads will chime well with the pale-wood panelling and modernist furniture.
Not only living up to San Sebastián's culinary credentials, restaurant Misura also suits the hotel’s green outlook to a T, only using organic ingredients that comes from nearby farms and suppliers. The kitchen is very much part of the elegant and light-filled dining room, enabling the chefs to put on a bit of a show as they prepare tapas-style plates with signature Basque flair. Alongside the à la carte options, there are several tasting menus to choose from, including vegetarian and vegan options. Tilia Deli & Café is a more casual eatery, serving breakfast, light bites and bistro-style lunches and dinners.
Drinks are served at Misura, Tilia and the rooftop bar, which matches the pool’s seasonal opening hours. Try one of the many biodynamic wines or keep cool with a classic Aperol Spritz.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 10.30am. Misura is open for dinner from 8pm to 10.30pm every day except Tuesday and Wednesday; lunch is served on Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 3.30pm. Tilia serves food and drinks from 9.30am to 10.30pm daily.
Arima Hotel is in the forest that fringes Miramón, a leafy neighbourhood just outside of San Sebastián’s centre.
San Sebastián regional airport is closest, but if you’re coming from outside Spain, you’ll be better off flying into Biarritz (a 40-minute drive away) or larger Bilbao (a 70-minute drive from the hotel).
Renfe services from Madrid and Barcelona pass through San Sebastián–Donostia, a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Make sure you get tickets for a direct service, which takes around 5-and-a-half hours from either city. Travelling on a slower, connecting route will drastically extend the length of your journey.
It’s easy enough to get into the city centre by bus or cab, so you won’t necessarily need your own car (if you do want to hire, however, the Smith24 team can arrange it). There’s underground parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Overlooking the leafy canopy of the Miramón Forest, the hotel feels a world away from the bustling city centre – even if it’s only a short bus ride away. The placid surroundings and calming, wood-clad interiors are quick to bring on a state of bliss, but you’ll get there even quicker with one of the yoga classes, held in a minimalistic studio with double-height windows facing the forest. Once you’ve limbered up, ascend to the rooftop to reward your efforts with a healthy dose of vitamin D, lounging by the pool with a freshly squeezed juice from the bar. With the forest right on the doorstep, you couldn't ask for a better spot for strolling or cycling. The hotel has a fully equipped bike room with storage space, meaning you can bring your own two wheels or rent an electric bike during your stay. Down on the coast, go for a walk along curving Concha Bay, the most famous of San Sebastián’s beaches. At the far end is the Parque de Miramar, a leafy hillside that’s peppered with some of the city's’ finest historic mansions. For the best sea views, head to the summit of Monte Igueldo, reached by a wooden funicular running since 1912. At its foot is Ondarreta beach, where you’ll find the Peine al Viento, a trio of pink-granite sculptures by celebrated Basque artist Eduardo Chillida.
San Sebastián is rightly famous for its concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, but it’s the pintxos bars that are the bread and butter of the city’s dining scene. Bars and cafés across the city turn out a huge range of these traditional Basque snacks, which are usually layered over bread and skewered with a cocktail stick. Locals wash them down with plenty of txakoli, the local white wine, but they pair just as well with a tall beer or glass of rioja. There are many places to choose from, and it's sometimes the most unassuming-looking spots that serve the best dishes; some of the classics are A Fuego Negro, Ganbara, Txuleta, Zeruko, Atari, La Cuchara de San Telmo (on Santa Korda Kalea, open from 8pm), and Goiz Argi (known for its shrimp bruschetta). On the sweeter end, don’t miss Santa Lucia, a strong contender for the best chocolate-smothered churros in town. For a Michelin-starred take on traditional Basque cuisine, book a table at Bodegon Alejandro, on one of the oldest streets in the city centre. Etched with old maps of the city, the tables complement chef Iñaxio Valverde’s menus, which are tied to the region and its seasonal bounty. It may sound like an Anglophile pub, but Gerald's Bar is actually a retro-styled eatery owned by Melbourne-based restaurateur Gerald Diffey, who fell for the city hard enough that he decided to open his second restaurant here. The holy trinity of inventive dishes, interesting wines and excellent service are in abundance, and the bill tends to represent good value in what can be an expensive city. For world-class cuisine and sweeping sea views, hop in a cab to Pedro Subijana’s Akelarre, holder of three Michelin stars. Perched on a hillside overlooking the Bay of Biscay, this iconic restaurant has cemented its reputation over several decades, attracting gourmets from far and wide.
Cerveceria Bar Etxeberria on Iñigo Kalea is famous for its selection of beer and vermouth; for gins and artisanal tonics, pull up a pew at La Gintoneria Donostiarra. Gerald's Bar serves excellent wines by the glass and probably does the best negroni in town.
The bustling seaside town of San Sebastián has so many things to do and see that it leaves one feeling a little punchdrunk just taking it in.
‘Are you coming?’, it asks, practically grabbing you by the hand on arrival and whisking you through streets overflowing with pintxos bars, jazz aficionados and more. Onward we head, by Michelin-star-gazing gourmets and vertiginous Belle Époque mansions, down to sandy beaches which unfurl into the Atlantic. In its own laconic style it is inexhaustibly interesting. Fishermen cast reels into the glittering ocean, and the Old Town chatters with bustling shoppers. Wait up, San Sebastián – some of us need a minute to recharge.
Less than three miles from the coastline, uphill, and out into the leafy suburbs, the achingly-cool Arima Hotel presents ample opportunity for such replenishment. It is both a welcome relief from the irrepressible town and a beautifully designed springboard to dive back into it at your leisure, once you feel suitably pampered, via a 15-minute trip on the free shuttle (don’t worry, there are buses flitting to and fro as well). Here it is, a calm haven between the whispering canopy of Miramón Forest and the industrial-chic enclave of the sleepy Gipuzkoa Science and Technology Park (an eccentric cluster of university buildings and exhibitions that seems oddly unpopulated). Aware of Arima’s burgeoning reputation for promoting those fabled arts of naturalness and wellbeing, Mrs Smith and I drool idiotically at the rooftop infinity pool (closed during the winter), the prospect of a state-of-the-art spa, and rambling trails through the small forest (the hotel can, and indeed do, lend pairs of walking poles). There’s even a snazzy gym, which we nod approvingly at. It’s a good thing they have towels, we think. Particularly for the drooling.
The first of its kind in Spain, this eco-hotel has 67 beds we could choose from, here in a region that has both an uneasy wariness of modernity and an unending fascination with it. Subtlety, unsurprisingly, is an art Arima has therefore mastered. As we arrive, a fresh-faced family of four in a state of bliss saunter over a great beam-like bridge slung out into the forest, disappearing like Basque fairy tales into the dusky gloom. We look at one another wonderingly, carry-on sized bags drooping under our eyes. Can this secluded nook so close to the action restore even these weary city folk?
Spoiler alert: yes it can. But first, feast your mind’s eye on this impressive architectural specimen. We slouch in with the slack-jawed reverence of Luddites holidaying on the International Space Station, for Arima has all the eco-friendly mod cons of a bleeding-edge establishment, without the incumbent need to make a fuss about them. Therefore, that honour falls to me. An intricate frame hewn from burnished iron and lattice-like aluminium slats seems to rust into the land, lending it the appearance of a structure left by some ancient master race. Or a concertinaed Christmas decoration. Either way, it looks good. Basque Country obviously has an eye for design – definitely see the glittering, world-famous conch shell of the Guggenheim that crowns neighbouring Bilbao just an hour away – but Arima’s credentials are worth purring over. It boasts ultra-low energy consumption, a fact that has secured it the assiduously audited (and apparently very highly reputed) Passivhaus qualification.
For it is not just about looking good; Arima’s ingenuity is in doing as much good for the surrounding environment as possible. ‘Don’t mind me’, is the mantra. Rooms are Scandi-noir, by which I mean wood panelling is du jour and they are appropriately pitch black once the blinds are closed. We are relieved to have a forest view, as the car park would be less transporting. The aluminium shutters glide around (with some occasional clanking) depending on the time of day to help regulate the hotel’s interior temperature. Smart corridor lights considerately switch themselves off to save power when no one is around, with the added bonus that when you exit the lift they light up as if happy to see you. The lavatories use filtered rain water. Organic and sulphate-free toiletries are displayed alongside wooden blocks engraved with helpful tips on how to save the environment. We are reliably informed that a mechanical ventilation system operates with permanent heat recovery, maintaining the most desirable air quality and CO2 levels at all times. It is a little idyll designed to unburden your eco-anxious conscience.
By now you’re probably feeling a little peckish. Head down with us to a restaurant that finds its way into our hearts and stomachs even after a day of experiencing San Sebastián’s absurdly robust culinary scene (anecdotally, a pintxos tour with somebody like the Mimo Cooking School is much recommended). Healthiness and heartiness are crucial here. There are, in fact, two options. Frankly we don’t deserve Misura, the show-stopping, sustainable main event, with its long tables and expert staff. A beetroot tartare with green apple and mustard ice-cream is thrillingly subtle, while a roasted pork with edible ‘stones’ (potatoes) and smoked mojo sauce is reassuringly hefty. It is worth treating yourself to the €76 tasting menu, just so you can say you have lived. Breakfast is served here daily, too: charcuterie, yoghurt, toppings like goji berries and chia seeds, and delicious egg dishes made on-request. The more informal Tilia Deli & Café also won me over in minutes, with its forest views from the outdoor terrace and wildly generous seasonal menu. It is also very sensitively priced: €16.50 for three courses and a glass of wine. I tucked into a roasted aubergine with curried sweet-pea cream, followed by grilled hake, mashed potatoes and squid ink mayonnaise and, frankly, lost track of time, watching the lamp-lights of the locals rolling in for food dance across the treeline.