If there were a list of holy cities for The Hungry Traveller, San Sebastian has to be among other esteemed contenders such as Florence, Edinburgh and Bologna. A treasure of Spain, this north-eastern coastal city has a deep well of cultural and gastronomic history. In fact, the very first Basque gastronomical societies developed here in the late 19th century, and the city has been marked as the European capital of culture for 2016. Whatever that means.
San Sebastian is a notoriously exclusive region; it is expensive and difficult to get to. However, even if you are running on a budget, like anywhere in the world San Sebastian has hidden treasures open to all who are willing to find them. One such gem is La Cuchara de San Telmo, serving some of the best (and some would say the best) cuisine San Sebastian has to offer. It’s something of a wonder that this all-purpose restaurant by day, bar by night is among the cheapest options in the city. Perhaps its only con is its obscure location (down an alley off a backstreet). However, in spite of this, La Cuchara is always very busy, so you may want to head there early to avoid the traffic.
But to be perfectly honest, no matter where you go in San Sebastian you will find something that improves your relationship with the buds on your tongue. There are countless food tours to enjoy with friends and strangers alike, and if you can afford it, a three Michelin star-rated restaurant is the perfect way to cap off your visit. And even then you have choice – of the five three-starred restaurants Spain has to offer, three are to be found in San Sebastian.
While you’re not stuffing your face (or convincing yourself three-star restaurants are worth the money) San Sebastian remains an unmitigated cultural delight. The city has a rich history which can be absorbed through a variety of museums, beautiful cathedrals and well preserved historical sites. Recommendations for sightseeing include:
- The San Telma Museoa
- The Santa Maria del Coro
- Miramar Palace
Being a north-eastern municipality (very close to the border of southern France for those of you planning a gastro-tour) rather like Chingford, San Sebastian’s natural gifts are best enjoyed once the rain has cleared up. A quick morning hike up Mount Urgell rewards you with a breathtaking vista of this wonderful city, and from here you will be able to spot beautiful La Concha beach (La Cuchara de San Telmo is very close by). After a relaxing day at the beach it would not take long to find one of the many parks (such as Parque Aiete or Cristina Enea) to stretch your legs. If by night time you’ve grown a tad bored of all this oooing and aaaing at plants, rocks and water, then you can always get your blood pumping at the Estadio Anoeta, home of two-time La Liga winners Real Sociedad.
If you want to take a break from all the sightseeing on offer, then you will again find San Sebastian does not fail to deliver. The Victoria Eugenia theatre recently celebrated its centenary, although if you have children the Aquarium and Eureka! Zientzia Museoa are brilliant alternatives (trust me, I’m a kid). And if you’d like to get carried away with something carrying more momentum to it, the hustle and bustle of the old neighbourhood of Parte Vieja should keep you occupied. There’s a casino as well.
Finally, San Sebastian is home to a host of different events and festivals throughout the year. Perhaps most famously, the Jazzaldia festival (Europe’s longest running jazz festival) is hosted at venues all over the city, some of which are free of entry. For the cinephile there’s the San Sebastian film festival, held in September. Or for something that may leave you with a more distinctive impression, the Street Zinema festival (whose focus is on urban and contemporary art) is perfect for the passionate and curious of what is a young, burgeoning culture.
As the birthplace of the magnificent hair of footballer Mikel Arteta, clearly there’s something in the air of San Sebastian that gifts a certain lusciousness and gosh darn superiority upon its denizens. From the food to the views, and everything in between, little San Sebastian will leave everyone with something to remember her by.