Top 10 in Donostia

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This is my love letter to San Sebastian. It’s a scenic city arched in what’s said to be one of the finest urban beaches in the world – La Concha (The Shell), which mirrors the shape of a scallop. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in this city a few times now and every time it always sets my heart aflutter. Just look at its picturesque shoreline. I always take a photo of it every time I visit and it never gets tiring.

San Sebastian or Donostia (in Euskera) is a coastal city in Basque Country, Spain. It’s by the Bay of Biscay and just a stone’s throw away from the border of France.

Forget about Barcelona or Madrid for a while and wander off from the standard guidebook. Head north to this city considered as Spain’s food capital – with more Michelin stars per capita than any other place in the world, and a surfer’s paradise with all-year round waves. There are more reasons to gush about this city and I’m sharing my Top 10 in Donostia-San Sebastian that will surely charm you into directing your next travel plans here.

 

1. Mount Igueldo

Jakeena Singapore Blogger- Travel La Concha San Sebastian Donostia Spain
My love affair with San Sebastian started here. My boyfriend who’s from Basque introduced me to this city from the summit of Mount Igueldo and it was perfect. This is the stop I’d recommend for anyone’s first in San Sebastian. It’s the best place to get a panoramic view of the city and see the beauty of La Concha. You can go here via a funicular which departs every 15 minutes, or by car to the Parque de Atracciones. It’s an old theme park which you can give a pass not unless you’re traveling with kids. The view is really all you need, simply breathtaking.

 

 2. Pintxos

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Pintxos of course – the Basque version of tapas!

Head down to Parte Vieja, the old quarter. Start off at Calle Fermin and get lost in the rows of pintxo bars there. If you’re a tourist or look like one, you’ll be handed a plate which you can fill up. It won’t be hard to do so with the tempting spread of mouth-watering bites looking at you. But you’re meant to do a ‘pintxos crawl’ so you should ideally have one in each bar so you can sample a lot more.

Take time to choose as each pintxo can cost you from 2-4 each. What I’ve learned from my friends from Basque is to also not ignore the menu board as some of the best pintxos are the hot ones served fast upon ordering. My favorites would include Mejillones Rellenos, Brocheta de Gambas (but specifically the ones from Taberna Gandarias in Calle Agosto, absolute must!), and Champiñones al Ajillo, Tortilla Patatas, and the classic Croquetas of course (specifically from Juantxo Taberna in Calle de Embeltran, which is also famous for their bocadillos). Yum!


3. Monte Urgull

Jakeena Singapore Blogger- Travel San Sebastian Donostia Spain 8After traversing through the old quarter and getting yourself full from the rows of pintxo bars, you can walk up to the nearby Monte Urgull which served as a military fortress in the 1700s, a significant historical heritage, and as you can see, a place to also get another great view of the city which my girlfriends and I certainly took advantage of with another round of photo-ops.


4. Basque Cuisine

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San Sebastian has been considered as a food mecca. 3 out of the 7 restaurants in Spain has 3 Michelin stars (the highest there is) and they’re in San Sebastian – Arzak, Martin Berasategui, and Akelare.

This interesting article from The Guardian provides great detail on why the culinary elite are not short of superlatives when relating food with San Sebastian. It also speaks about the phenomenon in Basque that just shows how appreciation for food is deeply rooted in their culture, proof of which is what they call ‘La Sociedad Gastronómica’ – a club of male friends who typically live in the same town, housing a fully-equipped kitchen where food takes centre stage.

If you’re not quite ready to part with 300 or more for a Michelin-star meal, it’s fine as you can expect everyday food in Basque to be nothing short of spectacular. Their culture has just led the chef of even the most humble resturants down the alley to up their culinary game. You won’t get as much value than ordering the ‘Menu del Dia’ (menu of the day) for lunch. This comes with a primero, segundo, and a postre (dessert). To drink, you can have a choice of red or white wine, or cider and some even offer coffee too as bonus – all for 12-25. Must try for a segundo is Basque’s famous Txuleta (chopped and seared T-bone steak cooked in charcoal). Good places I’ve tried this are at Aldanondo Jatetxea, Txuleta Restaurante (just across Taberna Gandarias), and quite honestly at my boyfriend’s father’s home in Oñati, and their family restaurant Zumelaga in Bergara. 🙂

 

5. Solbes

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Bring home the flavors of Basque with a stop in Solbes, a quaint delicatessen where you can get the finest jamons, chorizons, quesos, and more. And if you’re staying in San Sebastian in an AirBnB apartment (my accommodation of choice when traveling) or in any place where you can cook, you can also purchase freshly made pintxos here which you can easily fry and eat at home or prepare for a picnic at the park.

 

6. Spanish Brands

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I’m a fan of Spanish brands – Zara, Zara Home (OMG I can spend hours here!), Mango, Pull & Bear, Bershka, and my new favorite Blanco, among others. There’s no trip to San Sebastian where I don’t dedicate a day for shopping. Note that apart from being closed on Sundays, most of the shops (especially the small ones) are closed between 2-5PM for what I believe the world all over should practice – siesta! Oh and fun fact for all you Zara lovers out there, San Sebastian has the biggest Zara shop in the world as pictured above (yes, you may faint now). 🙂

 

7. La Concha, Ondaretta & Zuriolla

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The holy trinity of beaches – San Sebastian has the makings of the perfect city beach offering not only one but three of the best. La Concha is the most popular, Ondaretta is a family favorite, and Zurriola is where surfers congregate.

 

8. Palacio de Miramar

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The Miramar Palace was built in the late 19th century by Queen Regent María Cristina as the summer residence of the Spanish monarchy. The palace is not open to the public but as it sits on a hill that separates the beaches of  La Concha and  Ondarreta, t’s a perfect place to just have a picnic, read a book, or just revel in yet another great viewing point.


9. Real Sociedad

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Basque people have the same fervour for football as they do with their food. I highly recommend watching a football match in Spain when you have the chance.

Real Sociedad is the football club based in San Sebastian with Anoeta, as their home stadium. I’m probably the least knowledgeable in football, but thanks to Iñaki, I’ve had the great experience of watching my first football match in Anoeta with no less than Real Madrid vs. Real Sociedad playing. The latter won 4-2, and it was such an overwhelming experience – from cursing in a mix of Euskera and Spanish with so much passion as the guy sitting next to me, to genuinely trying to jump and sing along with every Real Sociedad goal. Ah-mazing!

 

10. Vascos

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I wouldn’t mind living in San Sebastian just for the 9 reasons I’ve listed. But the people of Basque are a big part of why you’d easily fall in love with their cities. They have a strong passion for their ‘country’ (as they continue to seek independence from Spain), language (with strong attempts to preserve their very own Euskera), cuisine, family, and quality living.

When in the cities of Basque, say ‘kaixo’ for hello, ‘eskerrik asko’ for thank you, and ‘agur’ for goodbye. It’ll light up any Basque native’s face and might just score you a free drink. 🙂

 

Jakeena!

 

 

Jakeena Singapore Blogger - Travel Tips San Sebastian Spain