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I Heart San Sebastian

Monday, 18 April 2011

Set within the Basque territory of northern Spain close to the French border, Donastia-San Sebastian is a popular tourist spot brought to prominence when the Spanish royal family chose to spend their summers in this seaside town. Since then, it has attracted attention as a foodie destination with its local pintxos (Basque snacks) and high density of Michelin starred restaurants. This was the main reason why we wanted to visit San Sebastian after our plans to visit NYC fell through.

The city is centred around the famous playa de la Concha (la Concha beach) and is surrounded by green mountains, featuring a beautiful scenic backdrop of hills from the nearby Guipúzcoa area. San Sebastian is not that big a city, so the best way to explore the city is by foot. Trust me, you will need the walks as one will definitely develop a symptom of binge eating disorder in San Sebastian.

María Cristina Bridge
María Cristina Bridge (Basque: Maria Kristina zubia, Spanish: Puente de María Cristina)

The city is divided into two by the River Urumea, flanked by Monte Igueldo to the west and Monte Urgull to the east. The different districts include La Parte Vieja (old quarter), located around the base of Monte Urgull, where you’ll find excellent pintxo bars; Centro (city centre), located at the Plaza del Buen Pastor, where you’ll find some of the best shopping streets in the city; and Zona Romantica, localised on Calle Reyes Catolicos and Calle Larramendi, leading up to the Cathedral. It is named Zona Romantica for a reason, the streets are suppose to resemble the romantic Parisian streets.

streets of san sebastian

city hall
The late 19th-century city hall of San Sebastián (Basque: Donostiako Udala, Spanish: Ayuntamiento de San Sebastián)

Monumento al Sagrado Corazón
Monumento al Sagrado Corazón, Statue of Christ on Monte Urgull. You can walk to the top of Monte Urgull by taking a path from Plaza de Zuloaga or from behind the aquarium.

San sebastian harbour
San Sebastian harbour at the base of Monte Urgull.

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus
The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus (Basque: Koruko Andre Mariaren basilika, Spanish: Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Coro), located in Parte Vieja.

On the east side of River Urumea, you’ll find Gros District, which is the modern part of town. Puente de la Zurriola (Zurriola Bridge) also known as the Kursaal Bridge, joins the city centre and the Gros district, and is famous for its modenist lamps.

Puente de la Zurriola
Zurriola Bridge

There are 3 city beaches in San Sebastian. La Concha beach is the largest, most central and most popular beach for swimming and sunbathing.

playa de la Concha - clock
Clock tower on boardwalk of Playa de La Concha

playa de la Concha
Ondaretta beach

Beyond La Concha beach is Ondaretta, which is less packed but as beautiful. Walk right to the end of Ondaretta and you will come to Plaza del Funicular de Igueldo, where you can take the funicular railway up to the top of Monte Igueldo. The third La Zurriola beach (Playa de Gros) is located in the Gros District. This beach faces the open sea and is popular with surfers all year round because of its strong currents.

Funicular monte igueldo

san sebastian
Magnificent view from the summit of Monte Igueldo - panoramic view of the Bahía de la Concha, the surrounding coastline, mountains of Guipúzcoa, Santa Clara island and the beautiful town of San Sebastian.

Parte vieja san sebastian
Parte Vieja

Pintxo bar

I hope I've convinced you how beautiful San Sebastian is. Apart from sandy beaches, mountaintops with amazing views and cobblestone streets, San Sebastian is a foodie's heaven. You will find loads of excellent pintxo bars sprawled all over the city. Besides, San Sebastian is a city with the most Michelin stars per capita in the world. In the 2011 Michelin guide, there are 9 restaurants boasting a total of 16 Michelin stars: Arzak, Akelaŕe, Martín Berasategui (all three with 3* Michelin) and Mugaritz (with 2*). For our trip we chose to dine at three of them and I will explain our choices in a later post.

Over the next few days/weeks, the next San Sebastian posts will be on food: Pintxo bars, reviews of the Michelin starred restaurants Arzak, Akelaŕe and Mugaritz, followed by a comparison between the three latter restaurants.

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