Travel in Europe can be exhausting, let’s face it. It’s a tough job fitting in all the beautiful things there are to see like churches, museums and castles. Well, don’t get too discouraged; here is your guide to a perfect weekend away in a city that exudes relaxation without sacrificing the culture.
Relatively speaking, San Sebastián is a new city. On August 31st, 1813, British and Portuguese troops, after defeating the occupying French, burnt down the entire city, which dated to the 1000s, save one solitary street that survived. The street was renamed 31 August. The city began rebuilding the same year in a slightly altered layout but with much of the original style in tack.
San Sebastián is in the middle of Basque country. You may see protests for Basque independence here and all signs are in Basque and Spanish. There is also a Basque language station on tv. Basque and Spanish are not alike and you will be able to tell them apart (there is no K in Spanish for instance).
San Sebastián is one of the few European cities that can boast a beautiful beach in the center of town. In fact, there are three beaches within walking distance of downtown San Sebastian that give visitors the choice of sunbathing or surfing. La Zurriola is just east of the Old Town and offers surfing, surfing rentals and surfing lessons. La Concha, right smack in the middle of town, is where to go to relax, have a few cocktails and people watch. It seems as if all of San Sebastián walks past your blanket when you sunbathe on La Concha. Your third option is the less populated Ondarreta on the same bay as La Concha but to the west, around the rock outcroppings.
When laying on the beach becomes too boring, two popular and easy hikes are a short distance from La Concha. The first is Mount Urgull, atop which sits a figure of Christ and old battlements. The hike will take you about an hour and there is a bar and café along the way. The second is the larger Mount Igueldo. A funicular will take you up the mountain and directly to a quaint and aging amusement park.
But what really draws people to San Sebastián, besides the beautiful scenery and beaches, is the food. The pintxos of San Sebastian are famous as are its Michelin starred restaurants- Arzak is the best known and can arguably claim to be the most famous restaurant in the world. Pintxos are small, one or two bite sized offerings that are self-serve at bars. Just remember to always leave your toothpicks on your plate; this is how your bill is tabulated. Trying to cheat the bar is just not done. There are a number of wonderful pintxos places all clustered in the Old Town. Have a beer and try a few at one bar and then move on.
Low season in San Sebastián is in September but so is the star-studded San Sebastián Film Festival. Make sure your dates do not overlap, hotels raise their prices and fill-up quickly.
The closest big city is Bilboa. There you will find an international airport and hourly buses to San Sebastian. There are connections from nearby France and major cities all over Spain as well, typically night buses and trains.
All photos copyright Jennifer Kellas