Though it might have gone about things quite differently, Spain is one of Europe’s great railway destinations. Having already waxed lyrical about the ghost stations of Madrid and given you a brief tour of Barcelona, in today’s newsletter we’ll be stopping over in San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque). Just half an hour from Biarritz and around 100km from Bilbao, this Basque city is one of Europe’s best destinations for a sunny weekend away. So get out your espadrilles, swimming costumes and straw hats – we’re heading off to the banks of the Cantabrian Sea.
The thing that strikes you when you disembark in San Sebastián is the omnipresence of the water. Looking out over the Bay of Biscay and bisected by the Urumea river, the city has a calm, floating atmosphere that soothes all those who visit. Start your visit by walking along the Concha beach, no doubt one of the most beautiful in Europe. This 1,400-metre-long strip is located right in the centre of town and makes for the ideal spot for a dip at any time of day.
The best way to dry off consists of rambling across Mont Urgull, an unusual park that separates the beach from the mouth of the river. Lie down on the side of the hill overlooking the sea, and indulge in a spot of reading – while not neglecting the epic views right before your eyes.
Next up, head to the Kokotxa restaurant to sample the best of the famous San Sebastián cuisine. In recent years, the city has made a name for itself as a gastronomic hub thanks to a new generation of ultra-creative chefs. At Kokotxa, they serve up ‘dishes with personality’. Expect while walls, beautiful tiling and warm service; fans of hearty Spanish custom will be at ease here. Same goes for foodies, who will love the seasonal cuisine and menu that blends tradition with refined touches.
You can’t visit San Sebastián without mooching around its historic centre, which has a unique and homely charm all of its own. No need for a map: this labyrinth of alleyways, squares and light-coloured buildings appears to guide you around of its own accord,
Art lovers will then want to head to Tabakalera, a former tobacco factory-turned-contemporary art gallery which puts on excellent exhibitions, concerts, film screenings and artistic performances. The programme is diverse and impeccably curated. Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find all manner of brilliant art galleries.
Not only is San Sebastián known for its innovative gastronomy, it’s also famed for its pintxos: the basque sibling of tapas. To familiarise yourself with the basics, we’d recommend heading to Bar Sport, one of the city’s most traditional pintxos bars, or La Cuchara de San Telmo whose ‘nueva cocina vasca’ is really shaking things up.
Finally, you should head over to Narru, the ground-floor restaurant of the Arbaso hotel, just opposite the splendid Buen Pastor cathedral. It’s here, in a modern Basque setting chef Iñigo Peña serves up his bistronomy-style dishes, filled with the very best of local produce. A Basque boy through and through, and a graduate of many of this city’s most lauded restaurants, he pays homage to San Sebastián in everything he serves.