Be it their food, their language or their culture, Basque locals will distinguish their region from the rest of Spain – a push for independence to preserve their identity, which in the past has manifested in violent attacks against Spanish governance. Fortunately tourists have never been a target, and San Sebastián – or Donostia as the locals call it – is safe to explore.
Regardless of the region and its traditions, two threads run common throughout Spanish culture – fiestas and siestas.
San Sebastián has its jazz and film festivals and the feast of the patron saint, Sebastián. While the siesta is slowly disappearing from Spanish life, many businesses in San Sebastián still close for a couple of hours mid-afternoon, allowing workers to enjoy a long lunch and a nap before returning to work until quite late in the evening.
Dinner only starts after 9pm with some of the best places to eat around the Alameda del Boulevard. If you’re after the more up-market end of the gastronomic scale you’re in luck, with more Michelin-starred restaurants per head here than anywhere else in the world. By midnight the streets hum with activity as people head out for a night of drinking. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Spaniard wanting an early night here.
San Sebastián boasts some of the best beaches you’ll find in Spain. La Concha and Ondaretta are generally for swimming and soaking up the sun, while Zurriola is popular with surfers.
La Concha is San Sebastián’s main drawcard. White balustrades line the crescent-shaped sandy beach with views across the bay towards the tiny island of Santa Clara – a popular place in summer, with fewer crowds than the other beaches.
To the left you can catch a funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo for a view of the bay and the entire city. For an alternative and equally spectacular vista, head for the giant statue of Jesus atop Monte Urgull, to the right.
Exhausted after four days of celebrating nearby Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermín, I missed my train leaving San Sebastián while doing as the locals would – taking a much-needed siesta.
But it proved a blessing in disguise: an extra day to soak up the sun, sand, and sangria. Here’s hoping traditional siestas continue to accompany the fiestas in this summer capital of Spain.
The Basque region covers north-east Spain and south-west France.
The white shirts and trousers, red cummerbunds and red berets as worn at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls is the traditional Basque outfit.
While tapas, or pintxos, originated in Andalucia, in southern Spain, the Basque people are said to have perfected them.
The Basque language, Euskara, is unrelated to the other European languages spoken.
The Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna), occasionally sets off bombs if the Spanish government does something it doesn’t like. Its supporters consider their call for independence similar to Scotland’s.
» Dan Imhoff travelled with PP Travel (020 7930 9999). Trips to the Running of the Bulls, with the option to visit San Sebastián, start from £219