What to do
Get involved in the Capital of Culture events
As part of the celebrations held in honour of its being chosen as European Capital of Culture 2016, San Sebastián will host a range of exhibitions, talks and events throughout the year. These will cover a variety of topics, from art to technology. Many tie in with its status as the crucible of Basque gastronomy, as you would expect, while others are delightfully idiosyncratic, such as the Thanks Jimi Festival in May, which will see an attempt to beat a Guinness world record for the greatest number of guitarists to play the Hendrix anthem Hey Joe. For more information, see: sansebastianturismo.com.
Where to stay
Hotel María Cristina
The resplendent María Cristina has been around a little over a century, but feels designed as though for the heyday of the Grand Tour, with its stretches of marble, ornate cornicing, twinkling chandeliers and impossibly thick damask curtains.
While the breakfast room retains a belle époque feel, however, the corridors and bedrooms have been brought sharply up to date, with a monochrome palette that evokes Hollywood’s golden age. Appropriately enough for the nerve centre of the internationally renowned San Sebastián film festival, most of the world’s finest actors have passed through these doors at some point.
In acknowledgement of the other great achievement of the city, its contribution to gastronomy, the hotel has recently incorporated an excellent San Sebastián cooking school, as well as a superb gourmet shop in the lobby.
Doubles from €225 (£170) (00 34 943 437 600; hotel-mariacristina.com).
Hotel Villa Soro
Many a five-star could learn from the Villa Soro (which has four). No expense has been spared on creating bedrooms that evoke a smart country home, large marble bathrooms and cosy common areas where guests can flick through tomes on art in front of a roaring log fire, or sip on a martini in the wood-panelled bar.
There is no restaurant, but the kitchen can whip up authentic dishes, Basque specialities that owe nothing to the established canon of club sandwiches and Caesar salads, and are served in your room.
Where the Villa Soro really excels, however, is in its relaxed and smiling staff, who seem genuinely to want every guest to feel at home. It’s a little walk from the centre, but – honestly – you won’t want to leave.
Doubles from €135 (£102) (00 34 943 297 970; villasoro.es).
Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra
Conceived as a hotel for French gamblers who sneaked over the border to satisfy their urges in the nearby casino (now the city hall), the Londres appears not to have changed much in the interim. They don’t make hotels like this any more, except, perhaps, on Britain’s southern shores.
Its middle-aged clientele seem very at home relaxing in its armchairs, taking tea in the bar or chatting in the nautically-themed lobby.
It has as its selling point an unbeatable position on the bay of La Concha, one of the prettiest strips of seaside anywhere.
Doubles from €99 (£75) (00 34 943 440 770; hlondres.com).
Hotel Astoria 7
There are many places around town that pay homage to the city’s film festival, but the Astoria 7 is nothing less than a temple to the seventh art. Every room honours a different film star, there is a life-sized model of Alfred Hitchcock at reception, a screening room downstairs, where guests can request the movie of their choice, and a library housing a huge selection of books on cinematic themes and personalities.
The bedrooms are fairly spare, and the restaurant may prove too modest for gourmet tourists, but film-lovers will feel at home.
Doubles from €62 (£47) (00 34 943 445 000; astoria7hotel.com).
In the heart of the old city, which is where most of the wonderful eating options are, the Pensión Amaiur is a game-changer. Bedecked with flowers, which cascade down the façade in spring, the pension carries this theme indoors, with glorious floral wallpaper and geranium-red walls. Though as comfortable as a regular hotel, it also has well-equipped kitchens, which function as areas for travellers to meet.
Doubles from €40 (0034 943 429 654; pensionamaiur.com).
Photo: Puntocolorao estudio grafico
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The Parte Vieja bristles with pintxo (a Basque take on tapas) bars, and should not be missed, while the Michelin-starred heavy hitters are on everybody’s radar, but the city is also home to some superb mid-range restaurants, where you can fully experience the Basque obsession with respecting the recipes of old, while bringing them bang up to date. One such is Zelai Txiki, which sits in a converted farmhouse on a hill in the barrio of Gros, and dazzles with dishes such as txangurro a la donostiarra (stuffed crab), roast suckling lamb and grilled octopus salad. In good weather, be sure to book a table on the terrace, which has a view across the rooftops to the mountains beyond.
(0034 943 274 622; restaurantezelaitxiki.com)
Altxerri Bar & Jazz
Altxerri Bar & Jazz is a cosy, brick-vaulted cave hidden under a modern art gallery, just where the old city hits the river by the Kursaal bridge. Most
of the city’s musical virtuosos have passed through here, and you’re as likely to hear blues as jazz, with a smattering of Brazilian rhythms and occasional jam sessions. It’s just a charming spot for a drink, and stays open until the wee hours…
(0034 943 424 046; altxerri.eu)