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The A&G team recently visited San Sebastian for a work trip, so we thought we would share the highlights of this Basque gem. Although not typically a business destination it serves as a great choice to tack on if travelling to Northern Spain or South West France for work – or as a weekend away.

Getting to San Sebastian

Though it is possible to fly to San Sebastian (via Madrid) most travellers from the UK fly instead to Bilbao, which is served by direct flights from London. A coach runs from outside the terminal direct to San Sebastian every hour, taking 75 minutes (€17 one-way). Those coming from France can catch the direct train from Hendaye, which leaves every 30 minutes and takes a little over half an hour (€2,65 one-way). There are direct trains from both Madrid and Barcelona, taking around 5½ hours from each.

If you can wait till the Summer next year, BA will begin a twice-weekly direct flight from London City making it even easier to get to.

Where to stay

Hotel_Boutique_San_Sebastian_Donostia_Tabakalera_007

We stayed at Tabakalera House, a boutique 4-star hotel housed in a former tobacco factory. The location is convenient, just a short walk from both the train station and the bus station, where the coach from Bilbao Airport arrives. The old town is a 15 minute stroll away, making this a good alternative to the often-overpriced hotels in the old town itself. Rooms start at €56. If it’s on the expense account, the Grand Hotel Maria Cristina, a block from the old town, is the top 5-star choice (rooms from €175).

Where to eat

San Sebastian is a mecca for food lovers. It is home to no fewer than 11 Michelin starred restaurants, including three holding the top 3-star rating. But if you can’t get into Akelarre, Arzak or Martin Berasategui (for which you’ll need to book a long time in advance) there is still plenty of choice. La Muralla, in the old town, offers flawless interpretations of traditional Basque dishes, and their €32 3-course lunch is excellent value. Try the squid ink ravioli and the honey bread.

pintos bar

Pintxos bars

Whilst it’s worth finding time to enjoy a high-end sit-down meal, much of the pleasure of a visit to San Sebastian comes in just wandering the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town, popping into different bars to sample the pintxos. Named after the toothpicks with which many are served, pintxos (spikes) are small bar snacks, and bars groan under the weight of the numerous colourful platters. Ask the staff for a plate, select what you want and show them what you have taken.

Pintxos cost around €1-3 each, and the staff will keep a tab. You just settle up before you leave. Seafood is popular, unsurprisingly, as is the delicious jamon. Many places will serve hot pintxos too, which need to be ordered.  Bar Aralar cooks up some divine small plates, such as slow-cooked lamb belly, baked scallops and fried sweetbreads.

Some other stand-out dishes worth tracking down are the aged steak and the tortilla at Bar Néstor. The tortilla is cooked just twice a day, and you will need to get your name down in advance to order a slice. Borda Berri’s veal cheeks are a melt-in-the-mouth delight, and the legendary cheesecake at La Viña is quite possibly unlike any you’ve eaten before – a gooey, baked slice of deliciousness. Make sure you save some room for it, but don’t leave it too late – they sell out!

What to drink

To accompany your food, make sure you try a drop of txakoli, the local very slightly sparkling white wine. It’s the drink you’ll see being poured from a great height in bars, to aerate it further. Cider-drinkers are well catered for, with Basque sagardoa served in a similar way to the txakoli. And with regular wine or beer rarely more than a couple of euros a glass it is all excellent value.

What to see and do in San Sebastian

Whilst the city’s main draw is its food scene, and it is light on traditional sights, it does boast a superb beach.  Playa de la Concha, a huge crescent of golden sand, has been voted Europe’s best beach. And make time for a bit of people watching from the terrace of one of the cafes on the handsome main square, the Plaza de la Constitucion.

A&G team at Estadio Anoeta.

San Sebastian is home to Real Sociedad, currently having a decent season in La Liga, and football fans should try and take in a game at the Estadio Anoeta. Recently renovated, their impressive stadium holds 40,000, and with few games selling out getting a ticket isn’t difficult.