Renowned for its beaches, surf and plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants, San Sebastian in the pretty Basque Country of Spain is full of hidden treasures
San Sebastian, the capital city of Spain’s pretty Gipuzkoa province, is located in the north of the country, very close to France, surrounded by beautiful mountains, valleys and, of course, the Cantabrian Sea.
The town first became a favourite with the royal families of Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries, not only for its beauty but also for the sheer diversity of activities and leisure that it offered. To this day, it continues to be a lively city hosting many renowned events – the San Sebastian Film Festival, held every September, is probably the most famous.
From a culinary perspective, the province is known for having the biggest number of Michelin restaurants in correlation to its population, and people travel from all over the world to taste our chefs’ creations – hilltop Arzak, seafood haven Akelarre and innovative Mugarit are just a handful of our lauded eateries. I really believe that growing up in such a place gave me a keen understanding of the world of food and flavours, something that grew even more with my travels around the world and led me to work with food.
Despite the numerous acclaimed restaurants, probably the most iconic thing about San Sebastian is the street life and the pintxos – the Basque version of tapas. Head to Parte Vieja (or the Old Town) to delve into the real social centre of San Sebastian, where the streets are crammed full of places offering some of the best pintxos in the city. Visit Txepetxa to try the famous antxoas (sardines) prepared in many different ways – all equally delicious. Or go to the award-winning Zeruko; as soon as you walk in and see the display on the counter, you’ll know you’re in culinary heaven. If you have a sweet tooth, try La Vina’s cheesecake, considered by many to be the best in the world.
Another interesting neighbourhood is Gros. One of my favourite spots here is Bergara, a place that has become a classic with some truly amazing options, like its zucchini and shrimp tartlet.
The town centre is a fantastic area for shopping. San Sebastian has some amazing boutiques and a very busy street life; you can see street artists performing on almost every corner and of course pintxos can also be enjoyed in this part of town. La Espiga is one of the most traditional bars. Finally, along the beach of Ondarreta – renowned by surfers all over the world – you’ll find some simple yet fantastic bars and cafés. Pop into whichever one takes your fancy and then enjoy a long walk as you try – and fail – not to fall in love with San Sebastian.
Enjoy the beaches, too – especially La Concha, which was recently selected as one of Europe’s best. Finally, don’t miss out on a visit to the old port, where you can enjoy some truly amazing seafood served in paper cones, the good old-fashioned way.