SAN SEBASTIAN (DONOSTIA)
Glittering on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea, coolly elegant San Sebastian (pop. 180,000) is known for its world-famous beaches, bars, and scenery. Locals and travelers down pintxos (tapas) and drinks in the parte vieja (old city), which claims the most bars per square meter in the world. Residents and posters lend a constant reminder: You’re not in Spain, you’re in Basque Country.
Trains: RENFE, Estacion del Norte ( 902 24 02 02), on Po. Francia, on the east side of Puente Maria Cristina. Info office open daily 7am-llpm. To: Barcelona (9hr. Su-F 10:45am and 11pm, ‚33); Madrid (8hr. 3 per day, ‚41); Zaragoza (4hr. daily 10:45am, ‚19).
Buses: PESA, Av. Sancho el Sabio 33 (902 10 12 10), runs to Bilbao (lhr. every 30min. ‚7.50). Continental Auto, Av. Sancho el Sabio 31 (943 46 90 74), goes to Madrid (6hr. 7-9 per day, ‚25). La Roncalesa, Po. Vizcaya 16 (943 46 10 64), runs to Pamplona (lhr. 9 per day, ‚5.50). Vibasa, Po. Vizcaya 16 (943 45 75 00), goes to Barcelona (7hr. 3 per day, ‚23).
Public Transportation: (943 28 71 00). Each trip ‚0.80. Bus #16 goes from Alameda del Boulevard to the campground and beaches.
Taxis: Santa Clara (943 36 46 46), Vallina ( 943 40 40 40), or Donostia ( 943 46 46 46). Taxis to Pamplona take about 45min. and cost around ‚83.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
The Rio Urumea splits San Sebastian. The city center, most monuments, and the two most popular beaches, Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondaretta, line the peninsula on the west side of the river. At the tip of the peninsula sits Monte Urgull. On the east side of the river, Playa de la Zurriola attracts a younger surfing and beach crowd. Inland lies the parte vieja (old city), San Sebastian’s restaurant, nightlife, and budget accommodation nexus, where you’ll find the most tourists. South of the parte vieja, at the base of the peninsula, is the commercial district. The bus station is south of the city center on PI. Pio XII, while the RENFE train stat-ion, Barrio de Gros, and Playa de la Zurriola are across the river from the parte vieja east of the city. The river is spanned by four bridges: Puentes Zurriola, Santa Catalina, Maria Cristina, and de Mundaiz (listed north to south). To get to the parte vieja from the train station, head straight to Puente Maria Cristina, cross the bridge, and turn right at the fountain. Continue four blocks north to Av. Libertad, then take a left and follow it to the port; the parte vieja fans out to the right and Playa de la Concha sits to the left.
Tourist Office: Municipal: Centro de Atraccion y Turismo, C. Reina Regente 3 ( 943 48 11 66; fax 943 48 11 72), in front of Puente de la Zurriola. From the train station, turn right immediately after crossing Puente Maria Cristina and continue until Puente de la Zurriola; the office is on the left. From the bus station, start down Av. Sancho el Sabio. At PI. Centenario, bear right onto C. Prim, follow the river until the 3rd bridge (Puente de la Zurriola), and look for the plaza on your left. Open June-Sept. Su 10am-2pm, M-Sa 8am-8pm; Oct.-May Su 10am-2pm, M-Sa 9am-l:30pm and 3:30-7pm.
Hiking Information: Izadi (943 29 35 20), C. Usandizaga 18, off C. Libertad. Sells hiking guides. Open M-F lOam-lpm and 4-8pm, Sa 10am-l:30pm and 4:30-8pm.
Bike Rental: Bici Rent Donosti, Po. de la Zurriola 22 (943 27 92 60). From Puente de la Zurriola, walk along Playa de la Zurriola. Bici Rent will be on your right. Rents bikes, tandems, and motos (1 week min.). Also provides bike trail maps. Bicycles: ‚4 per hr. ‚18 per day. Tandem bicycles: ‚6 per hr. ‚36 per day.
Luggage Storage: At the train station. ‚3 per day. Buy tokens at the ticket counter. Open daily 7am-llpm.
Laundromat: Lavomatique, C. Inigo 14, off C. San Juan in the parte vieja. 4kg wash ‚3.80, dry ‚2.70. Open M-F 9:30am-2pm and 4-8pm, Sa-Su 10am-2pm.
Emergency: 112. Municipal police: C. Easo (943 45 00 00).
Medical Services: Casa de Socorro, Bengoetxea 4 (943 44 06 33).
Internet Access: Zarr@net, C. San Lorenzo 6 (943 43 33 81). ‚0.05 per min. ‚3 per hr. Also sells phone cards.
Post Office: Po. Francia 13 (943 44 68 26), near the RENFE station, just over the Santa Catalina bridge and to the right; look for the yellow trim on the left side of the street. Open M-F 8:30am-8:30pm, Sa 9:30am-2pm. Postal Code: 20006.
Desperate backpackers will scrounge for rooms in July and August, particularly during San Fermines (July 6-14) and Semana Grande (the first Su after Aug. 15); September’s film festival is just as booked. Budget options can be found in the parte vieja and by the cathedral. The tourist office has lists of accommodations and most hostel owners know of casas particulares.
THE PARTE VIEJA
Pension Amaiur, C. 31 de Agosto 44, 2nd fl. (943 42 96 54). From Alameda del Boulevard, follow C. San Jeronimo to its end, turn left. Friendly owner and uniquely decorated rooms. Internet ‚1 per 18min. July-Sept. and Semana Santa dorms ‚25; May-June and Oct. ‚22; Nov.-Apr. ‚18. MCV.
Pension San Lorenzo, C. San Lorenzo 2 (943 42 55 16), off C. San Juan. Bright, sunny doubles with TV and refrigerator. July-Aug. doubles ‚45; June and Sept. ‚36; Oct.-May ‚24.
Pension Larrea, C. Narrica 21, 2nd fl. (m943 42 26 94). Spend time with Mama and Papa, as the friendly owners are often called, in this comfortable and welcoming pension. July-Aug. singles ‚24; doubles ‚36; triples ‚50. Sept.-June ‚183045. Hospedaje Alai, C. 31 de Agosto 16, 3rd fl. (943 42 48 06). Comfortable bunks and clean bathrooms. Closed Oct.-May. July-Aug. dorms ‚25; June and Sept. ‚12. Pension Puerto, C. Puerto 19, 2nd fl. (943 43 21 40). Off C. Mayor. Spotless rooms with comfy beds. July-Aug. singles ‚30; June and Sept. ‚20-22; Oct.-May ‚18. Pension Urgull, C. Esterlines 10 ( 943 43 00 47). Follow the winding staircase to the 3rd floor. Rooms have balconies and sinks. Prices are not set, so bargain away. July-Aug. doubles ‚45-50; June and Sept. ‚28-36; Oct.-May ‚24.
Pension Anne, C. Esterlines 15, 2nd fl. (943 42 14 38), between C. Narrica and C. San Jeronimo. Plain, comfortable rooms in a convenient location. Private bath ‚12. July-Sept. singles ‚36; doubles ‚45; triples ‚60. Oct.-June ‚182434. Oct.-June 10% discount with Let’s Go. O
Pension Boulevard, Alameda del Boulevard 24 (943 42 94 05). Spacious rooms, all with radios, some with balconies. 2 large shared baths for 8 rooms. July-Aug. doubles ‚50; June and Sept ‚36-42; Oct.-May ‚30.
OUTSIDE THE PARTE VIEJA
Most of these places tend to be quieter but just as close to the port, beach, bus and train stations, and no more than 5min. from the parte vieja.
Pension La Perla, C. Loyola 10, 2nd fl. (943 42 81 23), on the street directly ahead of the cathedral. English spoken. Private baths and TVs. July-Sept. singles ‚28-30; doubles ‚40. Oct.-June ‚2432.
Pension Easo, C. San Bartolome 24 (943 45 39 12; www.pension-easo.com). Head toward the beach on C. San Martin, turn left on C. Easo, and right on C. San Bartolome. July-Sept. 15 singles ‚33, with bath ‚49; doubles ‚4261. June and Sept. 15-30 singles ‚2740; doubles ‚3345. Oct.-May singles ‚2533; doubles ‚3040. Pension Urkia, C. Urbieta 12, 3rd fl. (943 42 44 36), located on C. Urbieta between C. Marcial and C. Arrasate. Borders the Mercado de San Martin. All rooms with bath. July-Sept. singles ‚25; doubles ‚43; triples ‚60. Oct.-June ‚223045.
Pension Anorga, C. Easo 12 ( 943 46 79 45), at C. San Martin. Shares entryway with 2 other pensiones. Spacious rooms have wood floors and comfy beds. July-Aug. singles ‚25; doubles ‚34, with bath ‚43. Sept-June singles ‚19, doubles ‚2532. Albergue Juvenil la Sirena (HI), Po. Igueldo 25 (s943 31 02 68), at the far west end of the city. Take bus #24 or 27 to Av. Zumalacarregui; from there, take Av. Brunet and turn left at its end. Clean rooms, multilingual staff. Breakfast included. Curfew Sept.-May Su-Th midnight, F-Sa 2am. July-Aug. ‚15, under-25 ‚13. May 6-Jun. 7 and Apr. 8-31 ‚1214. Oct.-Mar. ‚1213-15. MCV. Members only. O
Camping Igueldo (s943 21 45 02), 5km west of town. The 268 spots fill quickly. Beautiful views of the ocean make the drive worth it. Bus #16 (Barrio de Igueldo-Camping”) runs between the site and Alameda del Boulevard (every 30min. ‚0.80). June-Aug. and Semana Santa plots ‚11, extra person ‚3.20. Sept.-May ‚9‚3. MCV.
Pintxos (tapas\ around ‚1.50 each), chased down with the fizzy regional white wine txacoli, are a religion here; bars in the parte vieja spread an array of enticing tidbits on bread. The entire parte vieja seems to exist for no other purpose than to feed. Mercado de la Bretxa, Alameda del Boulevard at C. San Juan, sells fresh produce. (Open M-Sa 9am-9pm.) Super Todo Todo, Alameda del Boulevard 3, across the street from the Mercado de la Brexta, also sells groceries. (Open M-Sa 8:30am-9pm, Su 10am-2pm.)
Et Kursaal, Po. Zurriola 1. The chef is a legend among locals; enjoy an elegant lunch on the breezy, outdoor patio. Menu ‚13-16.
HI Arrai Txiki, C. del Campanario 3. Cooks up delicious, healthy cuisine, including an array of vegetarian options, in a simple, elegant setting. Entrees ‚3-6. Open Su-M and W-Sa
l-4pm and 8-1 lpm. O Juantxo, C. Esterlines. Best bocadillos in San Sebastian. Try the fillete with onions, cheese, and peppers (‚3). Wide selection of bocadillos, pintxos, and raciones. Pintxos ‚1-2, Bocadillos ‚2-3. Open M-Th 9am-l 1:30pm, F-Su 9am-l:45am.
Bar Intxa, C. Esterlines 12 ( 943 42 48 33), across from Juantxo. Friendly service and great food make Intxa a must. Try the albondigas (meatballs in gravy; ‚4.10). English, French, and German spoken. Open Su and Tu-Sa llam-4:30pm and 7pm-midnight. La Cueva, PI. Trinidad (943 42 54 37), off C. 31 de Agosto. A cavernous restaurant serving traditional seafood cuisine. M-F menu ‚15. Grilled tuna, cod, and squid entrees ‚6-12. Open Su and Tu-Sa l-3:30pm and 7-llpm. MCV.
SAY WHAT? Linguists still cannot pinpoint the origin of euskera. Its commonalities with Caucasian and African dialects suggest that prehistoric Basques may have migrated from the Caucasus mountains through Africa. Referred to by other Spaniards as la iengua del diablo (the devil’s tongue), euskera has come to symbolize cultural self-determination. Only half a million natives speak the language, chiefly in Pais Vasco and northern Navarra. During his regime, Franco banned euskera and forbade parents to give their children Basque names (like Inaki or Estibaliz). Since his death, there has been a resurgence of everything from euskera TV shows to Basque schools, and the language is frequently used in the Pais Vasco.
SIGHTS AND BEACHES
San Sebastian’s most attractive sight is the city itself, with its green walks, grandiose buildings, and the placid bay.
El MONTE IGUELDO. Though the views from both of San Sebastian’s mountains are spectacular, those from Monte Igueldo are superior. By day, the countryside meets the ocean in a line of white and blue; by night, Isla Santa Clara seems to float in a halo of light. The sidewalk nearest the mountain ends just before the base of Monte Igueldo with Eduardo Chillida’s sculpture El Peine de los Vientos (Comb of the Winds). You can walk up the narrow, winding residential road, but you’re better off taking the funicular. A small amusement park at the top has bumper cars, water rides, and trampolines, but the view is the real entertainment. (s943 21 02 11. Open daily June-Sept. lOam-lOpm; Mar.-June Sa Uam-8pm, Su llam-9pm; Oct.-Feb. Sa-Su llam-8pm. Funicular mns every 15min.; ‚1, round-trip ‚1.60.)
MONTE URGULL. Across the bay from Monte Igueldo, the gravel paths on Monte Urgull wind through shady woods, monuments, and stunning vistas. The overgrown Castillo de Santa Cruz de la Mota tops the summit with 12 cannons, a chapel, and the statue of the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus blessing the city. (4 pathways lead up to the summit from Po. Nuevo; a convenient one is located next to the Museo de San Telmo. Castillo open daily May-Sept. 8am-8pm; Oct-Apr. 8am-6pm. Free.)
MUSEO CHILLIDA-LEKU. If Monte Igueldo’s Peine de los Vientos left you wanting more, the Museo Chillida-Leku is a beautiful way to satisfy your craving. Fifteen minutes from the town center, Chillida-Leku is a permanent collection of Eduardo Chillida’s work, spread throughout the garden of a restored 16th-century farmhouse. Restored by Chillida, the farmhouse itself is a work of art and houses some of Chillida’s earliest pieces. Daily tours are provided, as well as audio tours in five languages. (Autobuses Garayer leaves from C. Oquendo ever half hr. 943 33 60 06. Bo. Jauregui 66. Drive south on N-l out of San Sebastian toward Vitoria-Gasteiz. Open July-Aug. and Semana Santa M and W-Sa 10:30am-7pm, Su 10:30am-3pm; Sept.-June Su-M and W-Sa 10:30am-3pm.)
MUSEO DE SAN TELMO. The Museo de San Telmo resides in a Dominican monastery. The serene, overgrown cloister is strewn with Basque funerary relics, and the main museum beyond the cloister displays a fascinating array of pre-historic Basque artifacts, a few dinosaur skeletons, and a piece of contemporary art. (Po. Nuevo. s943 42 49 70. Open Tu-Sa 10:30am-8:30pm, Su 10:30am-2pm. Free.)
PALACES. When Queen Isabella II started vacationing here in the mid-19th century, fancy buildings sprang up like wildflowers. El Palacio de Miramar has passed through the hands of the Spanish court, Napoleon III, and Bismarck; it now serves as the Pais Vasco University, but anyone can stroll through the adjacent Parque de Miramar and contemplate the views of the bay. (Between Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta. Open daily June-Aug. 9am-pm; Sept.-May 10am-5pm. Free.) The other royal residence, Palacio de Ayete, is also closed to the public, but surrounding trails aren’t. (Head up Cuesta de Aldapeta or take bus #19. Grounds open June-Aug. 10am-8:30pm; Sept.-May 10am-5pm. Free.)
BEACHES AND WATER SPORTS
The gorgeous Playa de la Concha curves from the port to the Pico del Loro, the promontory home to the Palacio de Miramar. The virtually flat beach disappears during high tide. Sunbathing crowds jam onto the smaller and steeper Playa de Ondarreta, beyond the Palacio de Miramar, and surfers flock to Playa de la Zurrida, across the river from Mt. Urguel. Picnickers head for the alluring Isla de Santa Clara in the center of the bay (motorboat ferry 5min. June-Sept. every 30min. round-trip ‚2). Check at the portside kiosk for more info.
Several sports-related groups offer a variety of activities and lessons. For windsurfing and kayaking, call the Real Club Nautico, C. Igentea 9, located on the water and shaped like a small cruise ship, (-a-943 42 35 75. Open 10am-lpm and 4-6:30pm. Day courses ‚30-60.) For parachuting, try Urruti Sport, C. Jose Maria Soroa 20 (943 27 81 96). Surfers can check out the Pukas Surf Club, Po. de la Zurriola 23, for rentals and info on lessons, ( 943 42 12 05. Open M-Sa 9:30am-9pm. AmExMCV.) For general info on all sports, pick up a copy of the UDA-Actividades Deportivas brochure at the tourist office.
ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
For info on theater and special events, pick up the weekly Kalea (‚1.40) from tobacco stands or newsstands. The parte vieja pulls out all the stops in July and August, particularly on Calle Fermin Calbeton, three blocks in from Alameda del Boulevard. During the year, when students outnumber backpackers, nightlife tends to move beyond the parte vieja. Keep an eye out for discount coupons on the street. Ostadar, C. Fermin Calbeton 13, attracts locals and tourists alike with its happening dance mix. (Beer ‚1.80. Mixed drinks ‚4.50.) Zibbibo, PI. Sarriegi 8, is a hip club with a dance floor and a blend of hits and techno. (Open daily 2pm-4am.) Akerbeltz, C. Koruko Andra Mari 9, is a sleek, local bar. (Open M-Th 3pm-2:30am, F-Sa 3pm-3:30am.)
SAN SEBASTIAN DONOSTIA Photo Gallery
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