Mention San Sebastian to foodies they usually’ll go into rhapsodies over the various culinary delights this Spanish port city has to supply.
But while it has more Michelin stars per capita than some other city on the earth, bar Kyoto in Japan, there may be way more to it than stomach-expanding munching.
For starters, there’s the magnificent vista of town, set on three beaches, probably the most impressive of which is the sweeping La Concha, with its mile of high quality golden sand.
Dominic Midgley finds that while San Sebastian (pictured) is a city of culinary delights, ‘there may be way more to it than stomach-expanding munching’
Walk along La Concha promenade and also you’ll see dozens of surfers catching the waves that surge in from the Bay of Biscay, although the largest curlers are off the eastern beach of La Zurriola.
San Sebastian lies on a floodplain between green hills that when enjoyed the protection of the Castillo de la Mota, a fortress whose original ramparts date back to the twelfth century.
However it was not until 1845 when Spain’s Queen Isabella II visited San Sebastian, in the assumption that the healing qualities of its seawater would ease her skin problems, that it became a trendy resort for Madrid’s smart set.
I’m staying just over a mile inland from La Concha at Villa Soro, a meticulously refurbished 25-room boutique hotel, with stylish decor and a fleet of complementary bikes available across the clock.
Aside from the Michelin restaurants, San Seb’s old town has dozens of pintxos bars, the Basque version of tapas.
‘San Sebastian lies on a floodplain between green hills that when enjoyed the protection of the Castillo de la Mota (above), a fortress whose original ramparts date back to the twelfth century,’ writes Dominic
Our guide for the evening is Eskerne Falcon, who holds a Masters in ‘gastronomical tourism’ from an American university. First stop is Casa Urola, where we’re inducted into the art of cider pouring — and Basque cider is a really different beast to Magners.
It’s so flat that to provide it some fizz, you must pour it into the glass from a height of a superb 3ft — not an easy procedure even when completely sober. Once, there have been 6,000 cider houses in and around San Sebastian, and even today there are 800.
Regional cuisine has long been a particular feature of Spanish cookery and nowhere has a fiercer sense of local identity than the Basque Country.
San Sebastian’s beaches are likely to attract surfers, with the largest waves to be found ‘off the eastern beach of La Zurriola (pictured)’
Above is a sculpture at the Museo Chillida Leku, ‘a novel outdoor gallery just quarter-hour outside San Sebastian’
For many years, the paramilitary group ETA waged a violent campaign in pursuit of its aim of gaining independence for the region. However it gave up the armed struggle in 2011, and today support for independence hovers below 20 per cent.
San Sebastian also offers a feast of art. There’s the Museum On Basque Society dedicated to the works of two Basque sculptors: Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida. The latter was Real Sociedad’s goalkeeper within the early Nineteen Forties and was tipped to hitch Real Madrid until a crunching tackle ended his profession.
Real’s loss was the art world’s gain. Chillida went on to develop into a sculptor of worldwide repute, with pieces on display around the globe, including on the Unesco headquarters in Paris and the courtyard of the offices of the World Bank in Washington.
The most effective place to see his work isn’t on the Basque Museum but on the Museo Chillida Leku, a novel outdoor gallery just quarter-hour outside San Sebastian.
‘San Seb’s old town has dozens of pintxos bars (one in every of which is pictured), the Basque version of tapas,’ says Dominic. He learns in regards to the city’s cuisine from his guide Eskerne Falcon, who holds a Masters in ‘gastronomical tourism’
Double rooms at Villa Soro start from ¤250 (£212) per night B&B, hotelvillasoro.com. British Airways offers direct flights to San Sebastian. EasyJet and Vueling fly to Bilbao, around 60 miles away. Brittany Ferries has two sailings weekly from Portsmouth to Bilbao, brittanny-ferries.co.uk. For more details about San Sebastian, visit sansebastianturismoa.eus/en/.
The largest of the 40 works on display is a 54-ton monster that was originally destined for a site within the British port of Whitehaven.
In 1996, town fathers of the Cumbrian town invited Chillida to create something within the spirit of his El Peine Del Viento (Comb Of The Wind) sculpture, which is comprised of three iron pieces embedded in rocks on the coast at San Sebastian.
Chillida duly went to Whitehaven, donned oilskins as protection against the foul weather and identified a site.
But his resulting vision proved a bit of too edgy for local tastes, with one arguing that his proposed design suggested ‘a prototype of the primary hip alternative’.
Chillida — often known as ‘the person of iron’ — made it anyway and it now stands within the park of the museum he created within the Basque Country.
The work of one other local sculptor, Inigo Manterola, occupies pride of place within the centre of the circular lawn at my hotel, where a single line on the room service breakfast menu tells you all the things you must find out about its attention to detail: guests ordering boiled eggs are invited to specify not only what number of minutes they would really like their eggs to spend within the pan but what number of seconds, too.
They definitely take their grub seriously on this a part of Spain.