I had a Glorious Vino con Vista Weekend in San Sebastian Spain (called Donostia in Basque). The panoramic vistas in the Basque Culinary Capital of Spain are amazing! I also have a passion for Pintxos. The greatest culinary adventure in San Sebastian is a pintxos crawl!!
The small seaside city in northern Spain’s Basque region is the “world’s ultimate foodie destination”; it has more Michelin stars per capita (currently 16) than anywhere else on Earth. Both Arzak and Mugaritz grace the top 10 of S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
San Sebastian is located on the enchanting Bahia de la Concha. It is in the province of Gipuzkoa on the Basque coast of northwest Spain about 20 km away from the French border. (I also visited Loudes while I was in the general vicinity but that’s another post.)
Purchase a San Sebastian Card when you arrive. The card includes public transportation and discounts to museums and attractions.
This aristocratic destination has plenty of coastal promenades. In San Sebastian there are beautiful parks and beaches. Aiete Park is located in the hills that surround the city where you can admire the beautiful gardens designed by Pierre Ducasse that surround the palace. Queen Isabel II, Queen Victoria of England, Queen María Cristina and King Alfonso XIII were among the aristocrats who frequented San Sebastian. Admire the Palacio Miramar on the beach, built in 1889 by Basque architect Jose Goicoa. The meticulously maintained Miramar Gardens are open to the public.
The breathtaking beauty of its bay, known as the Pearl of Bay of Biscay (Cantabrian Sea), coupled with world-class cuisine and an efficient transportation network makes San Sebastian a very desirable destination.
You can board the train at The Estación del Norte (North Station) in San Sebastian in the center of town. It connects to several Spanish cities including Madrid and Barcelona, as well as international destinations like Paris and Lisbon. There is also a train network that connects to Bilbao and other cities along the Basque coastline, as well as routes leading to France. Visit the Cristina Enea Park that is located next to the Tabakalera building, very close to the North Train Station. It is inhabited by swans and peacocks.
This spectacular Vino con Vista mecca is surrounded by beaches and the mountainous countryside of the Urgull Mountain and the Ulia Mountains. La Cocha beach is located in the center of the city and is considered one of the most beautiful urban beaches in all of Europe. I loved the charming Belle-Époque architecture, markets and pixtos!!
This is the quintessential tourist destination of Northern Spain. Take the ferry from El Muelle to the Isla de Santa Clare or take the cable car to the El Torreón de Igueldo (The Tower of Igueldo) on the Igueldo Mountain to see the glorious panorama of the sea and the cliffs of Igueldo. The lighthouse is on the west side of the mountain. It was built in 1885 by the architect Manuel Peironcely. The History Museum of San Sebastian ( The House of history) is located at the top of Mount Urgull.
San Sebastian is endowed with many natural resources and attractions that make this pristine stretch of paradise a perfect travel destination. The cuisine is incredible. San Sebastian has amassed more Michelín stars per square mile than any other place in the world. The beaches are sublime! There are many interesting festivals including the International Festival of Cinema, The Jazz Festival and popular celebrations like La Semana Grande de San Sebastian.
San Sebastian is the home of the Belle Époque Hotel Maria Cristina San Sebastian. This majestic landmark is one of the oldest grand hotels in Spain. It is located in the center of the city by the Urumea river and Victoria Eugenia Theatre. Hotel Maria Cristina was built in 1912 by French architect Charles Mewes who also designed the Ritz Hotels in Madrid and Paris. The hotel will re-open in July 2012 after an extensive update. Visit www.mariacristina.es to book a room.
Historically, San Sebastian was a small fishing village. After the invasion of Napoleon’s troops and near destruction of the city in 1813 from Anglo-Portuguese invaders, the city was re-born as Queen Isabel II preferred holiday destination. After the death of King Alfonso XII in 1885, the Queen Regent Maria Cristina continued the tradition of spending the summer in San Sebastian and carried the glamor of the Court to the beaches of Cantabria.
Let’s examine the top sites and panoramic vistas in spectacular San Sebastian Spain:
1. Explore Spectacular Panoramic Vistas from El Torreón de Igueldo (The Tower of Igueldo). Take the oldest cable-car (funicular) in the Basque country to get the best views over city. You can visit the amusement park, Parque de Atracciones for a glorious Vino con Vista of the Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian mountains. Urgull Mountain was a military fort in the 12th Century; its walls have suffered countless attacks and sieges over the years. You can admire the lighthouse on the west side of the mountain. It was built in 1885 by the architect Manuel Peironcely. From this location, you can witness the beauty of the sea and the cliffs of Igueldo.
Visit the summit of Monte Urgill to see the statue of Christ. The “El Sagrado Corazón” sculpture majestically emerges over the city of San Sebastian. The work was done by Federico Coullaut in 1950. It measures more than 12 metres in height and can be seen from a distance of 4 miles out at sea. You can also see the former Castillo de Santa Cruz’s old cannons on Monte Urgill.
Travel to the Ulia Mountain; a nature park and hiking path in the center of the city. The Peña del Ballenero and the Peña del Rey are large rocks used as look-out points. There are picnic areas and the Albergue de Ulía (Ulia House) with beautiful views of the city.
2. The epicenter of Basque Cuisine and Gastronomic Prowess: Donostia is renowned for its Basque cuisine and it is also the birthplace of Basque gastronomical societies. These cooking clubs for men called “txoko” have been around since 1870.
San Sebastian has amassed more Michelin stars per square mile than any other place in the world. San Sebastián and its surrounding area has a high concentration of restaurants boasting Michelin stars, namely Arzak (San Sebastián) www.arzak.com (the most expensive restaurant in Spain), Berasategi (Lasarte), Akelarre www.akelarre.net (district Igeldo) or Mugaritz (Errenteria) http://www.mugaritz.com/. You can dine at Casa Nicilasa, a culinary shrine since 1912, Urepel or Rekondo www.rekondo.com.
In San Sebastian, try some scallops, gooseneck barnacles, succulent marmita de bonita (tuna stew) and tasty snacks similar to tapas called pintxos. I actually overdosed on Pintxos in San Sebastian. They were all so alluring that I couln’t control myself. Check out my Pinterest Board to see what I mean: http://pinterest.com/vinoconvista/san-sebastian-spain/
The kalimotxo is a local drink made of 50% wine and 50% coca cola, a favorite of the college students. I actually prefer their Sangria. The Parte Vieja (Old Town) has the greatest concentration of bars in the world with more bars per square foot than anywhere else. This area is the traditional core area of the city and was surrounded by fortification walls until 1863. A stretch of the walls still limits the Old Sectiont through the Portaletas gate.
3. This town has plethora of festivals. Every January, San Sebastian is transformed for 24 hours by the constant drum roll to the sound of the music of Sarriegui. At midnight on January 19th, the whole town turns out in force to celebrate La Tamborrada or the Festival of the Drums and the party doesn’t stop until midnight the next day. On San Sebastian Day (January 20th), the Children’s Drum Parade composed of more than 5000 boys and girls continues drumming. According to the local legend, in the 19th century, San Sebastian was under threat of invasion by the French. Led by the military drummers, the San Sebastian regiment bravely marched to meet the French. In support, the cooks and chefs of the city left their kitchens and marched along with the drummers, banging their wine casks, pots and pans in time with the military beat. Hearing this, the French were convinced that the San Sebastian army was larger than they expected and they retreated. The Tamborrada festival takes place every year to honor the heroes who saved the city.
There is a San Sebastian International Jazz Festival in July, a classic music festival and Semana Grande (the city’s principle fiesta) in August and a San Sebastian International Film Festival in September.
Semana Grande is held the week of August 15th, the Day of the Virgin. During the week there’s an International Firework Competition on Concha Bay. There are horse races in the Hippodrome of San Sebastian and the running of the bulls in the San Sebastian Arena 2016.
4. San Sebastián has a variety of interesting Museums and Sculptures: history, science, technology, oceanography, art and other interesting expositions are available. Near the old Dominican monestary of San Telmo, visit the Museum of San Telmo with three works by El Greco and 11 murals by Jose Maria Sert. The Dominican monastery built in 16th century has a remarkable collection of Basque artifacts from prehistoric times. The Museum of San Telmo-Museum of Basque Society and Citizenship is located in the heart of the Old Town and recently re-opened. This museum has many exhibits: archaeological, ethnographic and, art collections. Have some Pintxos on the fabulous terrace of La Cuchara de San Telmo.
Plaza Carlos Blasco de Imaz is an Oceanographic museum with underwater walkways and tunnels that feature sharks, rays and other marine creatures. The aquarium has a 360 degree underwater tunnel where visitors can see over 5000 marine species and four species of sharks. This Aquarium is one of the most modern in Europe. The Museo Naval promotes the history and heritage of the Basque navy, through long-term exhibitions focusing on specific topics. The current exhibition is “Whale Hunters” until April 29, 2012. The maritime museum has historical displays of naval artifacts, fishing gear and marine fossils.
San Sebastian has plenty of outdoor sculptures: “El Peine del Viento” was created by the sculptor Eduard Chillida and the architect Luis Peña Ganchegui. Eduard Chillida’s acclaimed “Peine de los Vientos; the Comb of the Wind. ” sculpture is a series of terraces built into the rocks that guard the entrance to the bay. About 8 km from town, visit the 16th century Chillida Leku open-air museum with about 140 sculptures by Chillida.
“Construcción Vacía” is located on the Paseo Nuevo. This contemporary sculpture is by Jorge Oteiza and got an award at the Beinal de Sao Paolo.
5. San Sebastian has Beautiful Belle Epoque, Gothic and Baroque Architecture and Churches. In the Centro Romantico, visit San Sebastian’s Cathedral (Catedral del Buen Pastor)with Neo-Gothic Spires. This is the largest church in San Sebastian and opened in 1897. It is also the tallest building in San Sebastian. On the main facade, admire the majestic “La Cruz de la Paz” (The Cross of Peace). It was sculpted by Eduardo Chillida.
The 16th century Gothic Church of San Vicente (on Calle Narrica, 26) is the oldest building in the city. It is located in the Historic Zone of San Sebastian. Built during the second half of the 14th century, it has a beautiful altar by Ambrosio de Bengoechea and Juan de Iriarte.
The Baroque Basilica of Santa Maria was built between 1743 and 1774. It is located on Calle Mayor. The Baroque facade embodies Churrigueresque elements. This was an artistic movement related to the work of José Benito de Churriguera. The baptismal font has an Eduardo Chillida cross. The main door of the Basilica is a few steps away from the Catedral de El Buen Pastor.
Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square) is in the heart of the historic zone. Admire El Ayuntamiento (The Town Hall) which was the Grand Casino of San Sebastian that opened in 1897 and closed in 1924 due to the prohibition of gambling. In 1947, it was converted into the Casa Consistorial (Town hall) of the city.
The Belle Époque Victoria Eugenia Theatre was created by the architect Francisco de Urcola in the year 1912. On the façade of the building, above the Doric pillars, admire the sculptures of Opera, Tragedy, Comedy and Drama. It has views of the Kursaal and the banks of the Urumea river.
Miramar Palace was created for the summer stays of Queen María Cristina and the Royal Family. They started spending their “Royal Summers” in San Sebastian in 1887. It has fabulous views of the beaches and the Isla de Santa Clara. The Mirimar Palace was built in ‘Queen Ana English cottage’ style under the direction of the English architect Seldon Wornum, who also designed other palaces in Biarritz and San Juan de Luz. The gardens were designed by Pierre Ducasse who also created the gardens of the Aiete Palace and the Plaza de Gipuskoa.
The contemporary El Kuursal houses many celebrations from festivals and was designed by Rafael Moneo.
The Royal Boating Club of San Sebastian building was constructed in 1928 by architects José Manuel Aizpurua and Joaquín Labayen. It was recently awarded historical status.
5. San Sebastian has incredible seafood and magnificent beaches! Playa de la Concha is located in the center of the city and is the most popular beach. It was recently awarded “one of the 20 best and most beautiful beaches in Europe”. Ondarreta Beach is located between the Igeldo Mountain and the gardens of the Mirimar Palace. You can enjoy traditional food like olives and calamari at the Ondarreta rooftop café. Zurriola Beach is on the east side of town and it is popular with surfers.
On La Isla Santa Clara across the bay, there is a small beach and your can walk to the lighthouse. The path has kiosks, cafes and terraces. During the summer a boat service leaves every half hour from the port to the island.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides and Apps @ www.vino-con-vista.com