The reopening of the Chillida Leku Museum is the perfect excuse to visit San Sebastián – known in Basque as Donostia – in Spain’s northwestern Basque Country. As are the city’s delicious pinxtos, the tapas-like creations that are an art in themselves. Indeed, there are more than enough reasons to visit San Sebastián, a city in constant transformation that boasts the perfect mix of creativity and gastronomy.
Tabakalera cultural center
This ambitious contemporary culture center in the Andre Zigarrogileak square offers workshops, concerts and audiovisual screenings. It has also recently inaugurated 2deo – a creative laboratory of audiovisual content in the Basque language, Euskera. This is where the last Crossover Series Festival took place, and it is well worth a visit. Follow up with a walk across the María Cristina bridge with its four imposing obelisks, each of which towers 18 meters into the sky.
Koldo Mitxelena, essential Basque
If you want to immerse yourself in Basque culture, the Koldo Mitxelena center at No 9 Urdaneta street, has a concert hall, a debate forum and multimedia projects. Opposite the center, you will find the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, which was built in the neo-gothic style and features a 75-meter tower fashioned from sandstone taken from the Igueldo countryside. The neighborhood has many small bookshops and boutiques, making it ideal for gift shopping.
On the way to the city’s Old Town, it is worth stopping at the bar Iturrioz (30 San Martín street) to sample their famous churros de patata con trufa y huevo – potato with truffles and egg. The bar La Espiga (48 San Martzial street) is also worth a visit. It serves a range of dishes including delicious anchovies, fried artichoke and its homemade pastry and custard-cream pudding, known as pantxineta. Continue on and you will reach Gipuzkoa square – the city’s first park with a pond ideal for avid Instagrammers. The Bideluze café close by is a great spot to stop for a few beers before strolling on to the Zumardia boulevard, which passes the city hall and the Alderdi Eder gardens, famous for its tamarisk trees and Belle Epoque-style carousel. The area has been used as the set for the HBO series Patria, which is based on Spanish writer Fernando Aramburu’s best-selling book of the same name and will be released next year.
Kursaal Congress Center
Before crossing the El Zurriola bridge over the Urumea River to reach the Kurgsaal Congress Center, you will see two of the city’s most emblematic landmarks – Hotel María Cristina and the Victoria Eugenia Theater. If you get there at lunchtime, drop by the Ni Neu restaurant on La Zurriola avenue which serves exquisite food, including a caramelized torrija – a dish similar to French toast – and has unbeatable views of the sea.
The Kursaal, a building designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo to resemble two beached rocks, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The building is a symbol of the transformation of the trendy Gros neighborhood, and hosts concerts, musicals and the Zinemaldia Film Festival.
The area is one of the liveliest in the city, with the crashing waves of La Zurriola beach, its jazz festival and a Thursday offer of pintxo-pote – a tapa and drink.
A refurbished convent
Back in the Old Town, walk from La Bretxa square – the traditional market that has been turned into a mall – down Fermín Calbetón street, which has a great range of sandwich shops. Make your way to Constitution square, a former bull ring that still has numbered balconies from when they were rented as viewing areas. Leading off from the square is the cobbled 31 de Agosto street, where you can find the spacious pintxos bar Gandarias, and La Viña, where customers queue for cheesecake. Nearby, at number 15 San Juan street is the city’s oldest church, San Vicente, and the San Telmo Museum, a refurbished 16th-century convent otherwise known as the Museum of Basque Society and Citizenship, stands ready to offer its perspective on the history of Basque society in Zuloaga square.
A hat-trick of beaches and art
En route to the fishing port, it’s worth making a detour to admire the view from the Paseo de los Curas lookout at the quay. The quay is also home to the San-Sebastián Aquarium, whose two floors house more than 200 species of marine life as well as the skeleton of a black whale. A catamaran can be hired from here for a trip along the coast and into the center of the bay to Santa Clara Island. There is also the option of walking up to La Mota castle on Monte Urgull. From here, you have a view of the city’s three beaches with sands stretching for six kilometers. A stroll along the beaches will take you past three sculptures – Construcción Vacía (or Empty Construction) by Jorge Oteiza, which won the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1957, Néstor Basterretxea’s Paloma de la Paz (or Dove of Peace) on La Zurriola promenade; and Eduardo Chillida’s Piene del Viento (or The Comb of the Wind) at the end of Ondarreta beach.
Chillida Leku: garden art
The main body of Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida’s work can be enjoyed at the Chillida Leku Museum in Hernani, which is just 15 minutes by car from the center of San Sebastián. The museum reopened last April after being closed for eight years, and today offers visitors the chance to contemplate the 40 iron, steel and granite sculptures by Chillida, which are scattered across its 11 hectares of land.
A trip to San Sebastián is not complete without trying the local cider at Txirrita Sagardotegia, on San Bartolomé street, or having a copa at the vintage-style Hollywood Disco Pub on Blas de Lezo street.
English version by Heather Galloway.