City Travel Guide: The Merits of a Side Trip to San Sebastian, Spain

- Rebecca Tay, a Canadian expat living in London, is a fashion writer and editor who has scribed for the likes of FASHION Magazine, ELLE Canada and Wallpaper.

Amazing beaches, beautiful vistas, and a brilliant food scene: San Sebastian is pretty much a dream.

Sure, it’s a bit of a tricky place to get to—Fuenteraba isn’t an international airport, so you need to go via Bilbao (or another Spanish city) or drive down from the south of France—but trust me, this little town is worth the trip.

Once you’ve arrived, it’s hard to miss the picturesque waterfront, where two main beaches, Ondarreta and Concha, divided by a narrow walkway, wrap around the Bay of La Concha. Walk from one end to the other, then on to the third city beach (seriously, how is it fair that the Donostias, as the residents of San Sebastian are called, get three beaches?!), Zurriola, where surfers literally hang ten when the Rip Curl Series lands here each spring. Ten-foot waves? No big deal. Didn’t bring your surfboard? Me neither, but an amble down the boardwalk revealed plenty of equipment rentals. Pukas Surf also offers weekend, weekly, monthly, or even seasonal crash courses in wave riding too.

Once you’re good and starving, make your dinner plans, but beware: San Sebastian boasts one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain. Again, how is this fair?! That said, like other starry restos, they’re pricey, so choose carefully. Akelarre, Arzak and Restaurante Martin Berasategui all specialize in new Basque cuisine (a lighter version of French nouvelle cuisine). I spotted stuffed pig’s trotters with quince and cabbage on Berasategui’s menu—along with the year each dish was conceived printed right on the menu.

Don’t be surprised if you blow your food budget on day one; instead, just make reservations on day 2 for La Fábrica in la Parte Vieja (the old town). The delicious tasting menu here includes Iberian pork cheeks (these are amazing—their texture reminded me slightly of a salt beef roast) and mushroom ravioli with rich, creamy foie.

And finally, the shopping. Posh resort towns require posh boutiques, and Noventa Grados fits the bill. A well-edited collection of designers includes everyone from Marc by Marc Jacobs and Sonia Rykiel to Balenciaga and Rick Owens. The bi-level boutique also has a mini spa, so you can freshen up there, too—if only from your weekend of sunning, surfing, scoffing, and shopping.

Where to Stay:
In Bilbao – Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @rtay

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