"SMELL THE SEA AND FEEL THE SKY"
If we were to represent this city somehow, it would undoubtedly be a woman. a lady, elegant. with a long green scarf around her neck. how green are the mountains that embrace it. There are many places to see from above, from any of its three famous mountains (Igueldo, Urgull and Ulia) we will have a breath-taking view of the bay.
But we selected a different and relatively recent one with an original view. We´ll climb to the top of a historic building in the city: the terrace of TABACALERA.
As its name implies, Tabacalera was a tobacco factory built in 1913 and operated as such until 2003. Like the other 15 tobacco factories built at the beginning of the century in Spain, it is located next to the train station and is the building that most occupies the surface of the city. When it opened, it produced 3.5 million cigarettes a day and was one of the city´s economic engines for decades.
In 2015, it became the cultural centre of reference in the city. Avant-garde, innovative, with endless activities for all the public, library, cafeteria, shops, hotel, restaurant. And terraces.
Upon entering the building, we will enjoy its beautiful open spaces and translucent, we will take the elevator to the top floor, and when we reach the terrace, we will be able to enjoy a feast for the eyes.
The María Cristina bridge will be at our feet. This bridge welcomed the first travellers who arrived at the Belle Époque train station in a monumental way. It was the way to leave them with their mouths open, and no wonder because this bridge was inspired by the Alexandre III Bridge in Paris!
And following the course of the Urumea River, we will see two more bridges, Santa Catalina and Zurriola, elegantly modernist, which was the last of the three historic bridges to be built. And we will have the opportunity to see the Cantabrian Sea in the background, where the river distributes its waters to the sea.
Without being an architectural gem, the tower of the Buen Pastor Cathedral almost tickles the clouds that so often cover the city.
And, in short, elegant and orderly urbanism with an apparent French influence.
When your eyes take in this view, you will understand why people from Donostia can sometimes say that their city is "a little Paris. but with a sea". So there is nothing!
Cigarreras Square, 1, 20012 Donostia-San Sebastian
Gastronomy here is not just an art, a form of expression, and it is a way of life, and everything is celebrated, commemorated, feted or cried around a table. And it´s also an act of love, like cooking for loved ones.
In its 20 kilometre radius, San Sebastian has 16 Michelin stars. This density (eye, only thickness, not quantity) of stars is higher than Paris and is second only to Tokyo. With this information, the first thing we will do for sure thinks that this gastronomy "from above" is not for us. No, not.
We have different formulas to enjoy good food: going to a restaurant, a cider house, and being invited to a gastronomic society. But we are going to "go with pintxos"!
And what is going to pintxos? We would define it as a "gastronomic pilgrimage" from bar to bar with small portions, snacks, rations. Each accompanied by a drink. In other parts of Spain, they would say it is going to tapas. Up to a point, yes, but here these tapas become a waste of imagination, a combination of top quality raw materials presented as works of art, pintxos are haute cuisine in miniature.
Just walk through the old part of San Sebastian, and in any of its hundreds of bars, you will see its balconies full of temptations.
The word "pintxo" comes from Euskera, the other official language of the Basque Country, and means toothpick; that wooden stick unites the different components in many cases.
We cannot visit San Sebastian without tasting its pintxo par excellence. It´s undoubtedly the simplest of all, but please let´s not miss Gilda.
We can assure you that this pintxo was born here. As so many times, it was taken from the idea of a regular Pintxos patron who had the idea of joining the three elements that compose it with a toothpick, when he saw that the bar counter was without pintxos and that they only had the raw materials: olives, salted anchovies and piparras (non-spicy peppers). The simple union of these three elements, with good oil, become a delicacy.
The trick for all these flavours to melt well in your mouth is to swallow them all at once, challenging but not impossible, and it´s true that the effort of opening your mouth to take it simultaneously has its rewards on the palate.
And another thing. The reason for the name. In the 1940s, this pintxo was "invented", and in 1948 the movie "Gilda" with Rita Hayworth was released. A city as linked to celluloid as this one did not miss the opportunity to associate two of its great attractions: cinema and gastronomy. This pintxo was called Gilda for being "green, salty and a little spicy" as the film´s protagonist.
On egin! Or whatever you enjoy.
SIRIMIRI ON THE RAIL
A city as elegant as this one couldn´t be less in its shopping options. It´s known throughout Spain for its good shopping, yes, the prices are in line with its elegance. We won´t just see international chains, and you can find them in any city. There are many stores with originality, designer clothing boutiques, good shoe stores, gourmet stores. Because of such a reasonable offer, it isn´t easy to select just one object, so we offer two different and exclusive purchase options, two things you only find here.
If there is an image representing the city, this is the border that runs along the entire maritime boardwalk of the bay.
The famous edge and boardwalk emerged as a necessity to provide infrastructure and services to vacationers in the early 20th century. In 1910 it was decided to expand the precarious seafront promenade. Still, it was only in 1916 that King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the railing, and since then, it has undoubtedly been the city´s icon par excellence. It´s curious to know that the image of this work is not registered, so we got a full-size copy but. It doesn´t fit in our suitcase!
All kidding aside, we can find it in smaller formats: key chains, magnets, earrings, pendants, paperweights, trophies. It looks like a souvenir with all the advantages of taking it in your suitcase: it doesn´t cost much, occupies little space, and is unique in this city.
But there is more.
For those who want something exclusive, we propose a perfume that is only manufactured in this city at a slightly higher price.
In the Benegas perfumery, they say that responsible for its creation and the only place where we can buy it. The rain inspired them to create it. The name of the perfume or cologne is "Sirimiri", a word that in Basque defines the acceptable and persistent rain that accompanies us here more than 150 days a year. Spanish speakers translate it as "calabobos" because it penetrates us deeply, like fools, almost without realizing it.
The perfume and cologne are unisex, soft, fresh as rain.
After the trip, we will remember San Sebastian with that smell, and we will feel happy thinking about the good times we spent there. And that´s what Gabriela Mistral has already said: remembering a good moment is feeling happy again.
BALLET AT TITANIC
Like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, it´s unthinkable to be in San Sebastian and not take a picture next to the so-called La Concha grill. This centenary grid has become, in its own right, the icon of the city of San Sebastian. It was made in the year 1,910, before the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II in the town, but it was only officially opened in the year 1,916,
by King Alfonso XIII.
It is very typical, a theme and almost a must-visit.
We will find this work of art bordering the beach of La Concha bay from end to end, where you can see small viewpoints on the Miraconcha promenade. Hundreds of pedestrians rely on him every day, and he receives thousands of photos throughout the year.
First, we will give the data that both the engineer who designed this handrail for La Concha and the one who created the balustrade of the main staircase of the well-known ocean liner Titanic had the same inspiration and were manufactured in the same year.
Juan Rafael Alday was in charge of the work and design of this famous railing, which is found throughout the Paseo de la Concha, from the city hall to the end of Ondarreta beach. On the other hand, we´ll name British designer Thomas Andrews, the grand Titanic´s staircase architect.
Both were built following the same pattern, although the two authors did not know each other. The ornamental structures are practically identical; the resemblance is striking.
So with that in mind, why not remember the famous scene from the movie Titanic and take a unique photo of ourselves as if we were at the bow of the Titanic being Leonardo Di Caprio or Kate Winslet?
But there´s more. In San Sebastian, there´s so much more.
The fence turns into a ballet bar where more than a thousand classical dance students exhibit every March. It´s beautiful to see all those attendees putting our city icon to unique use.
Do you dare, in this case, to be a Rudolf Nureyev or an Anna Pavlova in your image?
A MARKET IS ATTACHED TO A WALL
Going to a market in any city in the world is to feel the heartbeat of that place. See the locals, see how they relate, what conversations they have, the sound of their voices, and what products are typical there. Feel. There are no better places to live and mingle with the local population.
Nobody will show us this market, among other things, because it should be a personal experience, each at their own pace, having the opportunity to stop at the stations they feel like. It´s not a huge market, and it´s cute and tiny, but with superb product quality, and it´s a treat for the eyes to see how fantastic the products are on display.
Outside the building, at the back, we will find the open-air stalls dedicated to vegetables and fruits, most of them run by women farmers who collected these products themselves on the same day.
Inside the building, taking some escalators, we will reach the butcher and fish market. The latter is a must. It´s quite a spectacle, as befits a city that has been looking out to sea for centuries, these fish, by their variety, freshness and the way they present themselves, will make you understand why we recommend you come to this place.
The Bretxa market in San Sebastian´s food market par excellence and its name is certainly curious. Bretxa comes from the Spanish word gap or hole, and it refers to the spot that the English and Portuguese soldiers made right in this place where the city wall used to be, and it is still underground. In 1813, they came to "liberate" us from Napoleonic occupation, but now let´s not talk about battles or cannons, and that´s another story.
But if we´re going to propose something else. a final surprise, something we´re sure only a local could teach you.
Below the market is, even today, the city walls, and these can be seen!
You will see that inside the market. There is access to the parking lot. Go to it and, once inside, walk along the only street that has the parking lot on the right. After just 100 meters, you will have the old wall on your right lit up in patches beside you. In addition, you will see some explanatory panels that will make us understand a little about the city´s evolution.
A half-hidden treasure only for the connoisseurs of the city.
BY THE FLAG!
When you think of a challenge, we propose a two for one.
Challenge: conquer the flag, the flag of the Basque Country that flies at the top of one of the points of Mount Urgull.
The ikuriña, the proper name of this flag, has three colours: red, green and white, representing the Basque people, the Gernika tree and the cross of God, respectively.
Created in 1894, it was not recognized as the official flag of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country until 1979.
It is a cruciferous flag composed of a red background, a bright green cross, and a superimposed white cross. Red is the background colour of the shield of Bizkaia and originally represented Bizkaia, now by extension A throughout the Basque Country. The red blood takes its meaning from the battle in the ancient Valley of Padura, where the Basques fought against the people of León, and as a result, the stones were stained with blood and renamed the place Arrigorriaga (red rock).
The green colour of the Cross of San Andrés represents humility, suffering and hope, and symbolizes the Tree of Gernika. And the white cross represents the ethical values upon which laws must be formed to be fair.
Finally, the Tree of Gernika symbolizes the traditional freedoms of Bizkaia and the entire Basque city.
This flag flies in many places, but we chose as a challenge to climb the 82 steps and the two ramps that lead us to the flag of the Plaza de San Telmo in the old town because, in addition to toning the muscles and feeling "less sinful" from having eaten countless pintxos, we will admire a different view of the city.
The challenge won will have a double prize: We will visit the city´s third beach, La Zurriola, which, without being in the incomparable setting of La Concha Bay, is a surfer´s paradise, much more open with solid waves. And we will also see the Urumea River´s delivery of its waters to the Cantabrian Sea.
After great moments, unforgettable memories remain.
It is well known that San Sebastian was the Belle Époque´s quintessential summer resort thanks to the fact that, although people now try to go where the stars go, at that time, everyone who wanted to be somebody went where the kings went. And here, in the Gipuzkoa capital, known as Costa Real, it was the 30-year summer vacation of Queen Regent María Cristina of Habsburg. It was precisely in 1887 when Queen Maria Cristina decided to transfer the summer periods of the court to the Basque territory after her husband Alfonso XII.
Juan Carlos I, King Emeritus, also spent long periods here during his childhood, and later this glamour was also enjoyed by Franco during his dictatorship. Franco´s stay in the city probably wanted to demonstrate that somehow, he had this politically speaking "rebel" city controlled.
Such an elegant city is needed, in addition to a casino, hotels, clubs, walks. At this time, a public garden, what is now Guipuzcoa Square, was the first public garden that the people of Donostia enjoyed.
In an English style, with waterfalls, a flower clock, a meteorological temple, a small bridge over the lake. Well, it´s a delight to get oxygen right in the centre. The book fair is held there, the figures in the manger are placed at Christmas time, and there is no one from Donostia who in childhood has not gone to feed the ducks in her pond.
Yes, ducks and swans delight the little ones and are part of the city´s landscape. But
there was a time, in the 1940s when people in San Sebastian in the summer were deprived of seeing them. Whether by air or by city officials, we don´t know, the birds migrated to the Palace of Ayete. This was Franco´s residence and the mysterious disappearance. It was the clue they had, the grandparents of this city today know, without public announcement that Franco would be arriving soon.
Even if only because of the satisfaction it gives the elderly to tell these stories, we believe that this is something more than an urban legend.
READY, CAMERA. ACTION!!!
There are four world-class international festivals in Europe: Berlin, Cannes, Venice and …San Sebastian… How will we miss the chance to feel a bit like tabloid stars in this movie city?
Let´s walk the red carpet!
We offer a short tour of three emblematic buildings for this festival that has been held every September since 1953: The Victoria Eugenia Theatre, the María Cristina hotel and the Kursaal building.
The first two was built at the beginning of the 20th century to meet the infrastructure demand of the high society who spent their holidays here and were respectively the centre of projections and the prestigious hotel where, among others, the big tabloid stars are housed until 1999, the festival´s red carpet was between the two. They are buildings with tradition, beautiful and named after queens like almost everything else around here. Even the city´s soccer team has that touch: actual society.
And the third in dispute is the modern building you´ll see across the La Zurriola bridge, modernist and elegant where they exist. It was built after the city allowed the demolition of the old Kursaal in the 70s. After the site was empty for decades, today we have this new congress centre, festival venue and centre for all kinds of events in the city. It has a capacity of 1,800 people. Along its façade is where the famous rug is deployed every September. The old one was a casino (the word kursaal means that) and was in keeping with the theatre and the hotel, but we lost it for financial reasons. Thanks to architect Rafael Moneo, and not without creating serious controversy between his supporters and detractors, he wants to remind us of two stones washed on the beach.
The festival´s first prize is the Golden Shell. Shell for the shape of an oyster with the bay does not lack the pearl that is the small island of Santa Clara. But perhaps the most beloved, the most sentimental for an actor or director, is the Donostia award, recognizing a life dedicated to the seventh art. Since 1986, he has received personalities such as Bette Davis, Paco Raval, Julia Roberts, Antonio Banderas, Maryl Streep, Richard Gere, Jeremy Irons, Robert de Niro and Woody Allen. These last city lovers visit it frequently outside the contest, and Woody Allen filmed his film "Rifkin´s festival" entirely here. They will remember the city when they see it in all its glory on the big screen.
Feel like any of the 1000+ guests who come every September, the city always has the red carpet for its visitors and rest assured that your Donostia award has already been received for the simple fact that you are lucky to be here.
KISSES OF SEA
As Sarah Kay said, there is nothing more beautiful than seeing how the sea refuses to stop kissing the coast.
Let´s see this, but from an intimate, cosy and quiet place.
We find the San Sebastian Nautical Club attached to the old fishing port, representing a ship in love with the sea and forever anchored in the bay. This building is a jewel of rationalist architecture from the 1930s, and the place we recommend is its port dock.
Emblem of the city, it was built in 1928, and its structure resembles that of a ship moored in the Bay of the Port of La Concha.
Here, several regattas are organized and participate in high competition. On the other hand, it is part of the gastronomic and leisure offer of the capital, where a gastronomic project for the most gourmets called GU was created.
The architects of this jewel of rationalism were Don José Manuel Aizpura and Don Joaquín Labayen.
It has just been declared a Heritage of Cultural Interest with the category of a monument. In its time, it was considered the most critical work in the Spanish context of modern architecture, as its conception preceded Le Corbusier´s Villa Savoye, which is why critics from Europe and America praised him highly.
Let´s go down the stairs, sit on them or go to the limit letting our feet feel the caress of the waves, the kisses of the sea. It will be a magical moment, peaceful if the rain respects us, we will see the beautiful bay, the old fishing port, facing the island of Santa Clara, which like a pearl lies in the middle of the bay in the shape of a shell or oyster, in the background Mount Igueldo, one of the city´s three mountains, and when our eyes roam the beach, on the ledge that divides the two shores of the bay, the exceptional Miramar Palace, chosen as the residence of Queen Maria Cristina. We will see the nautical activity but also the movement of passers-by in the port. Finally, we will see life go by.
Stairways to the Club Nautical pier
Ijentea Kalea, 9
20,0003 San Sebastian.