categories: europe travel
San Sebastian, known in the Basque tongue as Donostia, is a medium-sized city on the northern coast of Spain, fronted by the Bay of Biscay. The capital of Gipuzkoa, one of the historical territories of the Basque Autonomous Community, San Sebastian is a major hotspot of tourism in the country. With a vibrant culture, splendid scenery, and a mild climate, the city beckons visitors at all times of year.
You could happily structure your entire trip to San Sebastian around eating. This is an excellent destination for the gourmand, and partaking in regional fare is certainly among the best ways to participate in the culture. Typical Basque cuisine—drawing on the fruits of both the sea and the hills, with much fish, game, vegetables, and sheep’s-milk cheeses—thrives here, and the city still supports “txokos,” traditionally male-dominated Basque gastronomical societies. There is perhaps no finer way to sample a host of flavors than to do as the locals and commence a “txikiteo,” a bar crawl centered around the tapas-like “pintxos” dishes. Named for the toothpick that usually skewers them, pintxos often consist of breads stacked with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and other accoutrements, and accompanied by wine or beer. Some of Spain’s finest restaurants—and certainly some of its most lively txikiteo routes—call San Sebastian home.
Festivals and Events
There’s nearly always something lively and organized going on in San Sebastian. This is the famous home of the San Sebastian International Film Festival, launched in 1953 and one of the world’s premier celebrations of cinema. One of Europe’s longest-running jazz festivals is held in San Sebastian in the summer. There is the bold observance of the feast of Saint Sebastian—the city’s namesake in both Spanish and Basque—in the 24-hour-long Tamborrada festival, driven by drumming, parades, and food. There’s also the cultural showcase of Basque Week in September, not long after the dramatic parades of “giants” and “big heads” during the hugely varied parties and activities of the Semana Grande/Aste Nagusia. Another defining event in San Sebastian is the great summertime bicycle race, the Clasica de San Sebastian.
There’s plenty of urban energy to soak in while you’re visiting San Sebastian, but the quiet grandeur of its natural setting is equally magnetic. Aside from the great sweep of the Bay of Biscay—that bight of the North Atlantic that forms the deep gouge between Spain and France—there are the rugged hills just inland. These hills— Adarra, Ulia, Igeldo, and other prominent summits—are some of the most spectacular landmarks in the area. Many of these hill- and mountain-tops provide excellent vantages for bird’s-eye views of San Sebastian and its geographic context, as from the Igeldo Tower on Mount Igeldo, with its iconic prospect over the city and La Concha Bay.
You needn’t just admire the coast from afar. San Sebastian has a number of beautiful beaches for lounging, swimming, and boating. Biggest and most well-known is Playa de Concha, but there’s also Playa de Ondarreta and Playa de la Zurriola. You can soak in a little architecture and culture along with those rays of sunshine. Playa de la Zurriola, for example, is overlooked by the striking Kursaal Convention Center and Auditorium, designed by Rafael Moneo and the site of the San Sebastian International Film Festival.
We’ve barely begun to evoke the unique vibrancy and atmosphere of San Sebastian, but these five general attractions certainly provide a good introduction. However your plans end up shaping out, you’re sure to enjoy some excellent food, exposure to a proud and colorful culture, and serene panoramas stretching from green ridges to wave-washed sea.
Elli is a writer for www.YourLocalSecurity.com.