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Foodie heaven San Sebastian is among Europe’s most beautiful cities. We give you the lowdown on how to make the most of it

There are three things that San Sebastian can reasonably claim to do better than most of Europe: surf, food and beaches.

This jewel of the Basque country, named Donostia in the native tongue, might be home to the proud Catalans – as fiercely passionate about fine food as their separateness from (and superiority to) Spain – but San Sebastian’s ego is borne of a perfectly accurate mirror.

From the continent’s very best city beach on the Bay of Biscay, to the own-brand tapas (pintxos, pronounced ‘pinchos’) that line every bar in town and rival the most haute of cuisine, this northern Spanish beauty has most definitely got it.

As a result, the small city can require a big budget – hotel rooms are in demand and the myriad Michelin fare on offer rarely comes cheap.

But it is possible to indulge in the decadent Donostia’s riches without having to part with too much of your own. First, book early and off-season – or bring a tent.

Second, read on for our guide to a San Sebastian that will suit every taste and leave every bank account balanced.

Best for: surfers

San Sebastian’s beaches border on the comically picturesque. La Concha is widely referred to as Europe’s best city beach,
a golden crescent of gorgeousness smack-bang in the centre of town.

As well as swimming and sunbathing in the shade of historical buildings and churches, with the green peaks of the Pyrenees spreading Francewards in the background (San Sebastian is just 20km from the French border), there is some gentle surf to be had.

For more serious surfers, Zurriola beach is the stuff of legend. A mere hop and a skip from La Concha (you just have to cross over a bridge), the consistent beach break has good peaks and serves up a lefthander at low tide.

The surf school/ surf camp trade is strong here, so if you’re averse to crowds and prefer not to share waves with the odd novice, avoid.

But if a beach break with long sunny days, great views, fast friends and decent surf do it for you, San Sebastian sure is where it’s at.

Top tip: Stoke Travel runs a surf camp in San Sebastian that offers surf lessons, 24-hour board hire, camping and all meals for less than £40 a day. Add on about £4 a day for unlimited beer and sangria. Happy holidays!

Best for: hedonists

Looking to party? Head into the Parte Vieja, San Sebastian’s characterful old town, which is said to boast more bars than any other neighbourhood in the world.

Lively little lanes packed with people grazing on pintxos and chugging the region’s best beverages are equal parts romantically charming and let’s-get-on-the-lash buzzing.

In typical Spanish style, the nightlife doesn’t really get going until the wee hours, so you shouldn’t hit up your first bar any earlier than 10pm.

Local specialties to look out for are txakoli – a slightly sparkling, pale-green wine best glugged with pintxos – and kalimotxo, a rather odd premise that combines red wine and a cola-based soft drink (hence the reason some call it ‘cocavino’).

It might seem a bit wrong – hell, it’s a lot wrong – but when in Rome and all that. Locally made cider, or sidria, is popular, too.

Top tip: If you’re intent on getting horribly smashed, it’s a local custom to add a shot of Ouzo to your cocavino. It sounds suspiciously akin to pouring sambuca in your snakebite and black down the student union to us. But you’re in the ultra-refined Basque country, so it must be alright.


Basque in the glory of San Sebastian: one of Europe's top places for surf, food and beaches
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