San Sebastian – Modern town of history

In 1845, Queen Isabella II made San Sebastian a popular resort when she spent the summer there, and later made it the summer residence of the royal court. Its popularity did not dwindle with the opening of the casino in 1887, and it was a popular hideaway for European artistocrats during World War I. With wide beaches, blue ocean, and high green mountains all around, it’s no wonder that the haut monde have found San Sebastian a bewitching place.

In many ways, San Sebastian doesn’t quite feel real. It has a fairyland atmosphere, with its clean wide boulevards, elegant shops, and hidden cafes juxtaposed against La Parte Vieja, an older section with narrow winding streets through medieval homes and secret plazas. On the beach, you can enjoy the ocean breezes off the Bay of Biscay.

San Sebastian was mentioned in history for the first time in 1014, and became semiautonomous around 1170. In comparison to many Basque communities, it’s had a very quiet history, though it was burned in 1813 in a battle between the forces of Napoleon and Wellington. The old town and the harbor stand near Mount Urgull, where you’ll find the 500-year-old Mota Castle. The modern town extends out to the beaches of La Concha Bay, where regattas are held on the Feast of Saint Sebastian in January. The Gothic church of San Vicente, the Baroque church of Santa Maria, and San Telmo, a convent-turned museum, are all located in the old town. In the new town, the neo-Gothic cathedral of El Buen Pastor stands.

The La Concha beaches are home to international jazz and film festivals, as well as a haven for tourists. You’ll also be able to attend bullfights if you like.

Though San Sebastian can be idyllic, if you hear about protests you should stay away from them. San Sebastian is one of the seats of Basque nationalism, and frequent protests that sometimes turn violent are also a hallmark of the city.

Where To Stay
San Sebastian has numerous excellent hotels fitting every price range. The best and most expensive of these is the Hotel Maria Cristina. This hotel is in the middle of town, and has a beautiful facade of ironwork and chiseled stone. If you like to run into celebrities, this is the place; the nouveau rich, film stars, and other well-known people frequent this hotel. The public rooms are beautiful, decorated in mahogany, onyx, and marbles, and the guest rooms are lavish. An on-site restaurant, bar, lounge, and babysitting service are all easily accessible.

At the other end of expense, but still nice, is the Pension Aida, a charming little hotel with small, comfortable rooms and private bathrooms. There are almost no amenities, but the Pension Aida is close to anything you need, from bars to drycleaners.

Where To Eat
Akelare means “witches’ sabbath” in Basque, and the restaurant Akelare certainly seems magical. Chef Pedro Subijana, winner of the 1983 award for best chef in Spain, never disappoints. The restaurant itself is a hexagonal villa with large windows offering a panoramic view of the Bay of Biscay in all its moods. Meals here are based on Basque farmhouse recipes, but prepared perfectly with the freshest ingredients, and updated for the modern palette. Subijana invented the Nueva Cocina Vasca, or modern Basque cuisine, and you can tell when you try his innovations. If you like Basque cooking, you must eat here just once.

The Juanito Kojua is known throughout Spain for its excellent seafood dishes. It has little decor or atmosphere, but its servings of the freshest fish are generous. Though they serve other meats, you should stick with the fish for the best experience.

Map of San Sebastian in Spain