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Basque, Beaches, and Bourdain: Cribline Guide to San Sebastian

  • August 24, 2018
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Basque, Beaches, and Bourdain: Cribline Guide to San Sebastian

San Sebastian, a.k.a Donostia, its name in Basque, is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain. Its unique culture, location, and cuisine have attracted world-wide attention, serving as THE vacation destination for Europe’s wealthiest royals and more recently as the backdrop to Anthony Bourdain’s featured television series. There is truly something for everybody here.

Historically the Basque region is one of the only parts of Spain that was not ruled by the Romans, Moors, or Visigoths. Their lack of influence can be evidenced by the Basque language’s extreme differences from Spain’s other Romance languages. Ask any linguist. This insulated history and proximity to France gives the city a different look and feel from the rest of Spain.

Where to Beach in San Sebastian:

In terms of beaches, there are three big ones, but the most popular one is Playa de la Concha. At low tide (and tides are pretty dramatic in SS) a large golden sand beach abuts the Belle Époque-inspired promenade of the city with a picture postcard island in the middle of it. This ranks as one of the top city beaches in the world for good reason. But bear in mind, at high tide, there isn’t much beach left and the same number of tourists!

 

Zurriola is the other beach north of the Old Town. This differs from La Concha dramatically due to its location. This beach gets surfable waves, and resides on a newer area of town with surf shops and cheaper eats. Zurriola provides San Sebastian with a base for its surf culture.

In between the two is the Old Town, where most of the nightlife and food scene is, right underneath the fortress and hangs over the north side of Concha. The Old Town is pretty compact, really fun to walk around, and gets pretty rowdy and fun at night.

Where to Eat in San Sebastian:

For food, there are two main experiences that absolute “musts” for good reason. The first is to try one of the many Michelin or otherwise very highly rated true dining experiences in town. The city has more Michelin stars per capita than any other city. There is a 3-star place, a couple 2-star places, and more 1-star places.

Bodega Alejandro – very moderately priced. Order the prix fixed course menu and you won’t regret it. Great value for the quality of the food.

 

KoKoxta– Michelin Star winning, fixed course, very inventive and creative. Think a more casual Inn-at-Little-Washington. Worth the money.

The other main food experience is to do a pintxo night, where you go to all the different famous pintxo (Basque small plates) bars in the Old Town and sample their stuff while drinking Basque cider, a refreshing and less gassy alternative to all the beer and wine you find in the rest of Spain. It’s also super easy to make friends when you’re huddled up at the bar sampling all the different foods. Check out our Canadian friends Paige and Jane! 

Bar Nestor– chuleta (steak), tomato salad, pimientos (grilled shishito peppers). Get there right when they open at 1pm and don’t plan on eating anything until dinner.

Bar Txuleta – croqueta de txuleta, pintxo txuleta (steak croquettes and pinxto)

Bar Sport– foie

Bar La Cuchara de San Telmo– foie

Where to Stay in San Sebastian: 

Affordable Pick

Hotel Zenit San Sebastián
C/ Antonio Mª Labaien nº 1,
San Sebastian, 20009, ES
+34943325325

Splurge

Hotel Londres 
C/ Antonio Mª Labaien nº 1,
San Sebastian, 20009, ES

+34943325325

Non Food/Non Beach Activities

Hike up the San Telmo mountain overlooking the Old Town for sweeping views of the Atlantic and a chance to hike the first leg of the Way of Saint James. There’s a great bar on top near the statue of Jesus Christ. Think Rio de Janeiro in miniature. 

Did I mention it rains a lot in San Sebastian? Even in the peak of Summer, you can bank on at least one or two rain days. Plan accordingly.

Take a day trip! While in San Sebastian, head East to the French Basque towns (from south to north: St. Jean de Luz, Biarritz, and Bayonne). They’re all linked by bus to SS and are all less than about 75 minutes from SS. While not dramatically different in terms of climate, they have an entirely different vibe from SS. Head west and you’ll run into Bilbao, the industrial capital of Basque country and home of the world renowned Guggenheim.

Stay tuned for more Spain next week!

The Cribline

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