If you are heading south on the west coast of France, after having spent enough time and Euros on the French chic of Biarritz, it is a great experience to cross the border at Hendaye-Irun into Spain and make your way to the lively and stylish city of San Sebastián or in Basque language Donóstia. You won’t regret stopping for a couple of days and nights as the lifestyle here is one to dream of.
As Lonely Planet describes this gorgeous city: “…impossible….not to fall madly in love”.
Two beaches dominate the city’s seaside position, Playa de Concha (the west beach of the bay is called Playa de Ondorreta) and Playa de Gros (renamed Zurriola by the city council), the area is named after its 19th-century architect Tomas Gros, who also owned a good part of the area.
Food is everywhere from the top of the list restaurants to the famous pintxos and everything in between you can imagine, accompanied with drinks from the really refreshing cider from the nearby town of Hernani (visit the town in cider season from February – May, or at the festival of St John on June 24) to Spanish top wines at a reasonable price, for which Spain remains such a delight for the traveler.
The city itself is splendid and the areas usually mentioned to understand the cities layout are the Parte Vieja, Area Romantica, Playa de la Concha, chic built up Playa de Ondarreta and the (Playa de) Gros at the other side of river Urumea. But there is of course much more to enjoy in this gem of a city that (together with the city of Wroclaw) ends this year as European Capital of Culture 2016.
Playa de la Concha
You can read everywhere that the Playa de Concha is seen as one of the best city beaches in Europe. Naturally, that is a matter of taste, but once you have seen and experienced the fabulous beach atmosphere during the summer months at this gorgeous beach at the Bahia de la Concha, with thousands of sun and sea lovers probably discussing nightlife, politics, and anything in between, as a city seafront lover you will get addicted to this almost 1 1/2 km long beach.
The viewing point rock Pico del Oro in the park of the palacio Miramar separates Playa de la Concha beach and its extension Playa de Ondarreta.
Playa de Ondarreta
around half the size of La Concha is much less crowded and the waves are better for surfing and boarding at least at the base of Monte Igueldo mountain.
Playa de la Zurriola – “the best surf beach in Spain”
The best beach in the city for surfing, some call it the best surfing beach in the whole of Spain with great waves for surfers of all levels and lots of surf schools.
Zurriola is the setting for (inter) national surf championships mainly held from spring till autumn.
The district of Gros and the Sagüés area are filled with surf shops, cafe’s and restaurants and have become hotspots for the city’s surfing passion culture.
Other beaches outside San Sebastián
Playa de Zarautz
The Playa de Zarautz definitely deserves to be listed, as it is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches of Gipuzkoa province, with 2,5 km the longest beach in Basque country. It has become incredibly popular lately with surfers, with reserved beach areas for families, surfers and for nature lovers at the dunes at the eastern end of this magnificent beach.
Basque country is famous for its waves in the surfing world with great waves throughout the year, although the best waves can be experienced in autumn and winter.
sansebastianturismo.com lists good info on surfing facts/events in the city and on other locations in the Basque country with great sea conditions for surfable waves.
Surf, food and festivals are competing for the no.1 place on the city’s visitor list for a while now.
The city offers anything from pintxo bars to Temples of haute cuisine – quote from the great tourist office website. (The mentioning of San Sebastián being the city to hold the highest number of Michelin stars per square meter after Kyoto in Japan can be a little too much of claustrophobic gastronomy for the traveler looking for the freedom of a surfboard, but again San Sebastián likes the extremes).
The Food workshops offered widely are a great way to get to know the Basque cuisine, which is
The Pintxo-Pote has become very popular as a combi of a drink and a pintxo at a reasonable price of 1 or 2 Euros, especially in Amaro Viejo and Gros areas.
Drinking Cider! has seen a revival over the last couple of years worldwide, but the sagardoa (cider in Basque language) has never disappeared from the region of Gipuzkoa province, where the popularity of the cider houses has revived since the ‘ 80 with the towns of Astigarraga, Hernani, Usurbil and Urnieta best to visit. The cider, unlike the British or Nordic cider, does not contain gas. Sidrerias serve cod dishes with their cider.
The Asociacion de Sidra Natural de Gipuzkoa has great information on sagardotegiak.com
Txakoli is a regional white wine and kalimotxo is the wine and coke student favourite mix (try at least once…)
Local small beer brewing has become popular too.
The Basqueland Brewing Project in Hernani is a new brewery set up by 3 Americans wanting to add beer to complement the Basque culinary experience. The brewery is open for visits and tastings, and we are desperate to find what they mean by treating beer “like a lady”, so send us a comment below.
For a different beer experience, try the locally produced Gross beer in bars all over the city (not only in Gros area) and their fun Gross website.
For many people, the name San Sebastián is similar with Festivals.
I was really stunned to find how much international fame in the festival world this relatively small city has gained with time.
The San Sebastián International Film Festival is the most famous, it has just seen its 64th edition in September 2016.
More film festivals include the SurFilm Festival, the Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, and Human Rights Film Festival.
The International Jazz Festival (now called Heineken Jazzaldia) could be even more famous worldwide, being the oldest Jazz festival in Spain held during the 3rd week of July as great names in the jazz world still take you out to the beaches and squares for an unforgettable experience.
Find more on San Sebastian turismo‘s festival site.
Overlooking the Biskay bay, as well as more way from the ocean, the city is filled with palaces and mansions like Palacio Miramar, where thalasso life for the Royals started, squares, promenades and bridges, like the Zurriola bridge over the Urumeo river mouth to get to the more funky Gros (Zurriola) area, modern architecture (Kursaal) as well as art galleries, museums and open-air sculpture.
Nightlife on the beach at the famous Bataplan and the recently opened Gu could be your taste looking for a larger disco, the Gros area has it for the laid back (summer) eve lovers of all kinds, pubs, cafe’s and bars will do for all.
If finding that one pair of Spanish designer shoes has become inevitable, it will definitely happen in the Parte Vieja, with its top-end designer boutiques, the Centre for the big brands, very attractive is the Gros area more for sharing, adventure, and inspiration than spending money alone.
“Diviertete en el Casino Kursaal” sounds inviting enough to at least check this totally renewed Petit Casino building in the heart of the centre on the Boulevard Donosterria. You can start for breakfast at 10 am and the great restaurant la Boule on the 1st floor is open till 1 at night.
The Casino started in 1922 with he arrival of Queen Maria Cristina at the Gran Kursaal, was closed in 1924 again when gambling was banned, only to re-open in 1978.
There is a grand exhibition room for parties and conferences, you can feel a breeze of the Belle Époque flaunting in the building.