Over the years I’ve heard so many great things about holidays to San Sabastian (Donostia in Basque) – from the city’s coastal beauty, its Spanish charm to its famous cuisine – revered as being one of the best places to eat in the world. Needless to say, I have wanted to visit for some time. My expectations were high – and I wasn’t disappointed…
As soon as I walked onto the picturesque promenade of the beautiful Playa de la Concha and surveyed the sweeping bay before my eyes – I knew that San Sebastián’s glorious reputation was true.
Even more so when we had to find our Airbnb San Sebastian apartment nestled in the bustling cobbled streets of Parte Vieja (old town) – a veritable feast of pintxos bars, cafés, plazas and 18th-century churches. We were placed right in the heart of the action and only a stone’s throw from the seafront. It was the perfect base for us to explore the city by foot.
Bilbao To San Sebastian
Our journey to San Sebastián was painless and uneventful – we took a short flight from Heathrow to Bilbao, and then from Bilbao to San Sebastian on the PESA bus, which is simple to catch – the bus stop is right outside the airport and goes directly to Donostia’s central bus station within the hour. We had left drizzly England and only travelled a few hours, but it couldn’t have felt more different once we’d arrived in northern Spain.
Our Apartment San Sebastian
As soon as we had taken a short time to settle in our apartment San Sebastian – we opted for an Airbnb San Sebastian right in the heart of the Old Town which was perfectly located for us to explore. It was also just the right size and extremely cosy. We were desperate to go for a walk and grab a bite to eat. However, the first thing Monkey spied was a gelateria and its colourful assorted goodies – so we had to stop and get a delicious scoop for him to enjoy.
But this was a good move because once we found a pintxos bar and given a short introduction on how to choose our delectable snacks washed down with the obligatory glass of Vino Blanco, Monkey was happily content as were we. This made his initiation into the world of pintxos a pleasant experience.
And did we eat… San Sebastián is a city for pure indulgence – on every level – from Michelin starred restaurants such as the renowned Arzak to the delightful pintxos bars which line every street in the Old Town. You cannot get a bad dish – well we certainly didn’t.
But if you think holidays to San Sebastian is all about the food there’s more – much more. There are three outstanding beaches, Playa de la Concha as I’ve mentioned previously, but also the surfer’s paradise of Playa de Zurriola and the more upmarket Playa de Ondarreta – basically a continuation of Playa de Concha but in the posher part of the city.
There’s a good reason why San Sebastián has been named 2016’s European Capital of Culture… If it’s art and culture you want then there are several museums including the San Telmo located in the heart of the Old Town, fantastic architecture such as Rafael Moneo’s famous Kursaal (below), and palaces including the Miramar.
My concerns that holidays to San Sebastian wouldn’t be kid-friendly were completely unfounded. The city not only welcomes families with open arms, but caters for even the smallest children from an abundance of playgrounds, to parks and attractions including the Aquarium (the best one I’ve ever been to) and the funfair up at Monte Igueldo. Walking the city is the best way to explore. There are several focal points with breathtaking views from Monte Urgull which houses the Castillo de la Mota and a grand statue of Christ to wandering the Cathedral and the shopping precincts of La Brexta and San Martín. Meanwhile, a stroll along the harbour to watch the boats dock and the swimmers braving the cold Cantabrian Sea is recommended.
If you cross the pretty María Cristina bridge that straddles the Urumea River over to the east you’ll discover the district of Gros – much more laid back than Parte Vieja but the pintxos here are not only just as good but considerably cheaper. If you’re prepared to explore more off-the-beaten track and mingle with the locals, Gros is well worth your time.
In the short six days of our stay, we really felt like we had gotten away from it all. The weather may not have been as warm and dry as we would have liked but nevertheless, we had a great time – and were relieved to enjoy the city without the stifling crowds of the summer season.
We not only felt relaxed and well-fed, but we also felt immensely fortunate to have immersed ourselves in this wonderful part of the world. It’s impossible not to fall in love with San Sebastián…