San Sebastián, Spain
Where to go. Year-round, though the city is busiest in high summer and during the September film festival.
Getting there. There are flights to Bilbao (75 mins from San Sebastián by road; buses every hour).
Getting around. San Sebastián is best explored either on foot or by bike.
Where to stay. The luxurious and starry Hotel Maria Cristina is a firm favourite with the film festival’s A-listers. Hotel Niza is on Paseo de la Concha. Pensión Amalur is a charming Old Town guesthouse.
Where to eat. Parte Vieja (Old Town) pintxo bars La Cuchara de San Telmo and Borda Berri are essential stops. If you fancy something more experimental, try Bar Zeruko for its La Hoguera, a pintxo of smoked salt cod. The cheesecake at La Viña is astonishing.
Pintxos and Promenading
Get your bearings with a climb up panoramic Monte Urgull. Descend on the seaward side, passing tombstones of British soldiers who died during the First Carlist War. Follow the Paseo Nuevo through the harbour and enter the Parte Vieja (Old Town) along Calle Puerto. Turn onto Calle Mayor to gaze up at the 18th-century basilica Santa Maria del Coro. Continue along Calle 31 de Agosto as far as Iglesia San Vicente, the city’s oldest church. Behind it is the San Telmo Museoa, a fine Basque museum housed in a 16th-century convent.
Refuel with a tour of the Parte Vieja’s pintxo bars, then swing by the central square, Plaza de la Constitución, and the main promenade, Paseo de la Concha. At the end of the bay is the Eduardo Chillida sculpture “The Comb of the Wind.”
For more views, walk or take the funicular and return up Monte Igueldo, home to a 100-year-old amusement park. Finish at Michelin-starred Arzak – it has held three stars since 1989.
Swim and Feast
Spend the morning exploring the avenues and squares of the Centro Romántico, built in the Parisian Haussmann style and dominated by the Neo-Gothic Catedral del Buen Pastor, then hit the beach. Locals swim all year round off La Concha and Ondarreta. You can also swim or catch a boat to Santa Clara Island where there are picnic spots.
To learn more about Basque cuisine, take a cookery course. The excellent San Sebastián Food runs half-day classes in which you’ll prepare a four-course meal paired with Txakoli and a selection of wines from nearby La Rioja. They also run pintxos tours.
For an equally memorable gastronomic experience, visit one of the region’s cider houses, which serve rustic staples like salt cod with green peppers, and txuleta steak along with all-you-can-drink cider. Lizeaga is one of the best and most atmospheric, housed in a 16th-century farmhouse outside the city. Take bus A1 from behind Hotel Maria Cristina to stop at Humedal, or take a taxi.
Walk It Off
The Cantabrian coast is made for hiking. A 7km clifftop walk to the port of Pasajes (Pasala, in Basque) takes 2.5 hours and follows part of the Camino de Santiago, passing soufflé-like rock formations, swathes of forest and fragments of an aqueduct. To pick up the trail, follow the Paseo de Zurriola, the final stretch of the promenade, through Gros. Turn right onto Avenida de Navarra, then left onto Zemoria, which winds up the hill and becomes a flight of steps. Follow red, white and green-striped markers (later just red and white) and signs to Pasajes/Pasaia. Bues E09 runs every 15 minutes from street Esnabide Kalea in Pasajes back to San Sebastián.
Further along the coast, the picturesque town of Hondarribia, on the French border, is a popular day trip. There are frequent buses from Plaza Gipuzkoa.
If you fancy getting your surf on, you can hire gear or a teacher at Pukas Surf in Gros.
Back in the centre, don’t miss La Bretxa Market, where the city’s top chefs buy their ingredients. If you have your heart set on a traditional Basque beret, visit hat shop Ponsol.