San Sebastián – or Donostia, as it’s called in Basque – is both similar to other beach cities like Cannes, Biarritz and even Rio de Janeiro while maintaining it’s own, personal charm.
Like Cannes it has a glamorous feel to it. Whether it’s the fact that they both host a film festival or have mile-long beach promenades – La Criosette and La Concha promenades – is unsure. Fact remains that these cities were long favoured by nobles, diplomats and rich, which have lend a luxurious air to the town.
Like Biarritz, just on the other side of the French border, San Sebastián was the summer residence of royalties with the Spanish Royal Family, enjoying the cool breeze from the Cantrabrian Sea in late 19th and early 20th Century, in the Belle Epoque periode when also the casino (now city hall) was built. In Biarritz, the British Royal Family boosted its popularity and of course also here, a casino was built to entertain the wealthy and bored.
Like Rio de Janeiro
Like Rio de Janeiro – though not as exorbitant – the beautiful half-moon bay is flanked by mountains. From the westernmost, Mount Igeldo, you have the best view of the city and bay. Eastwards, in the sea just north of the bay lies the small, tortoise-shaped island of Santa Klara. The Eastern mountain – like Rio also with a sculpture of Jesus – is Mount Urgull and is a favourite spot for tourist to climb and enjoy the view of the city and bay.
But what the other cities don’t have is, well, first all these features combined, secondly a great tradition for the Basque version of tapas; Pintxos and finally an old, charming quarter with many historic buildings, a large selection of Pintxos bars and charming squares. It’s Basque and proud of it! Located perfect for hiking in the Pyrenees or lazing by the beach it’s no wonder that it was elected European Capitol of Culture in 2016.
San Sebastian is definitely worth a look and a taste!