Eat, drink and have fun in the delicious Spanish city of San Sebastian, which is full of Michelin stars
Mention San Sebastian to foodies and they’ll rave about the many culinary delights this Spanish port city has to offer.
But despite having more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world except Kyoto in Japan, there’s a lot more to it than snacking on your stomach.
For starters, there’s the magnificent view of the city, set across three beaches, the most impressive of which is the expansive La Concha, with its mile of fine golden sand.
Dominic Midgley notes that while San Sebastian (pictured) is a city of culinary delights, ‘there’s so much more to belly-swelling than nibbling’
Stroll along the La Concha promenade and you’ll see dozens of surfers catching the waves crashing from the Bay of Biscay, although the biggest curlers can be found off the east beach of La Zurriola.
San Sebastian sits on a floodplain between green hills that once enjoyed the protection of the Castillo de la Mota, a fortress whose original ramparts date back to the 12th century.
But it wasn’t until 1845, when Queen Isabella II of Spain visited San Sebastian, convinced that the healing qualities of its seawater would relieve her skin problems, that the city became a fashionable resort for chic Madridistas.
I’m staying just over a mile inland from La Concha at Villa Soro, a meticulously renovated 25-room boutique hotel with stylish decor and a fleet of free bikes available 24 hours a day.
Besides the Michelin restaurants, the old town of San Seb has dozens of pintxos bars, the Basque version of tapas.
“San Sebastian sits on a floodplain between rolling green hills that once enjoyed the protection of the Castillo de la Mota (above), a fortress whose original ramparts date back to the 12th century,” writes Dominic
Our guide for the evening is Eskerne Falcon, who holds a Master’s degree in “food tourism” from an American university. The first stop is Casa Urola, where we are introduced to the art of cider pouring – and Basque cider is a very different beast from Magners.
It’s so flat that to give it a bit of fizz you have to pour it into the glass from a height of a good 3ft – not a simple procedure even when completely sober. Once there were 6,000 cider houses in and around San Sebastian, and even today there are 800.
Regional cuisine has long been a distinctive feature of Spanish cuisine and nowhere has a fiercer sense of local identity than the Basque Country.
San Sebastian’s beaches tend to attract surfers, with the biggest waves found ‘off the east beach of La Zurriola (pictured)’
Above is a sculpture at the Museo Chillida Leku, “a unique outdoor gallery just 15 minutes from San Sebastian”
For decades, the paramilitary group ETA has waged a violent campaign in pursuit of its goal of achieving independence for the region. But he renounced the armed struggle in 2011, and today support for independence hovers below 20%.
San Sebastian also offers an art festival. There is the Museum On Basque Society dedicated to the works of two Basque sculptors: Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida. The latter was Real Sociedad’s goalkeeper in the early 1940s and was tipped to join Real Madrid until a stinging tackle ended his career.
Real’s loss was the art world’s gain. Chillida became a world-renowned sculptor, with pieces on display around the world, including at Unesco headquarters in Paris and in the courtyard of the World Bank offices in Washington.
The best place to see his work is not at the Basque Museum but at Museo Chillida Leku, a unique outdoor gallery just 15 minutes from San Sebastian.
“The old town of San Seb has dozens of pintxo bars (one of which is pictured), the Basque version of tapas,” says Dominic. He discovers the city’s cuisine thanks to his guide Eskerne Falcon, holder of a Master’s degree in “gastronomic tourism”
Double rooms at Villa Soro start from ¤250 (£212) per night B&B, hotelvillasoro.com. British Airways offers direct flights to San Sebastian. EasyJet and Vueling serve Bilbao, approximately 96 km away. Brittany Ferries has two weekly departures from Portsmouth to Bilbao, brittanny-ferries.co.uk. For more information on San Sebastian, visit sansebastianturismoa.eus/en/.
The largest of the 40 works on display is a 54-ton monster that was originally destined for a site in the UK port of Whitehaven.
In 1996 the Cumbrian town fathers invited Chillida to create something in the spirit of his sculpture El Peine Del Viento (Comb of the Wind), made of three pieces of iron embedded in rocks on the coast of St. Sebastian.
Chillida duly drove to Whitehaven, donned raincoats for weather protection, and identified a site.
But his resulting vision proved a little too edgy for local tastes, with one saying his proposed design suggested ‘a prototype of the first hip replacement’.
Chillida — known as “the iron man” — did it anyway and it now sits in the grounds of the museum he created in the Basque Country.
The work of another local sculptor, Inigo Manterola, takes pride of place in the center of my hotel’s circular lawn, where a single line on the room service breakfast menu tells you all you need to know. on his attention to detail: customers who order the boiled eggs are asked to specify not only how many minutes they would like their eggs to spend in the pan, but also how many seconds.
They certainly take their food seriously in this part of Spain.