San Sebastian or Donostia (as it is called in the Euskera dialect), is the capital of Gipuzcoa, Spain’s smallest province. The city is easy enough to explore on foot with many classic 19th century buildings and lots of cobblestoned pedestrian streets lost in the parte vieja (old quarter) to get lost in.
From our hotel, it was an easy 10-minute walk to Zurriola beach , flanked by Monte Ulia on one side and Monte Urgull on the other. It is where surfers enjoy the waves and to the famous convention center – Kursaal where one of the four Martin Berasategui–managed restaurants is located (the daily set menu is a steal at 16.10 euros on weekdays and 19.50 on the weekends).
From there, you can continue on the boardwalk crossing the Urumea river on the Puente Zurriola and head towards the old quarter. Here in the parte vieja, you will find the Basilica Sta. Maria del Coro, San Sebastian’s patron saint church, which was the only building that remained after a fire in 1813. If you look in the opposite direction, you can catch a glimpse of the the neo-Gothic spires of the Buen Pastor Cathedral. In the same neighborhood is the Plaza de la Constitucion, is a large open square where cafe tables are set up. It’s interesting to see the numbered balconies surrounding the square from when the plaza used to be a bullring and these same balconies were used as private boxes.
Further on, is the port accesed via an old archway that is one of the last remaining walls of the old fortress city. On the Paseo de la Muelle, fishing boats can be seen unloading their catch straight to the restaurants on the dock. The port lies at the foot of Monte Urgull, one of the three mountains in the city which has the image of the Sagrada Corazon (Sacred Heart) on it’s summit somewhat similar to Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf mountain.
We had dinner twice at the restaurants on the harbor. Both were simple places with tables set up outside right on the dock. At tiny Mariñela (Muelle 15, Tel: +34 943 421 388) with only a few tables, we had grilled sardines (excellent and a San Sebastian specialty) with grilled chipirones (baby squid) along with a salad. Everyone seemed to be having a bottle of the local cider or Txakoli, a typical wine from the Basque region. On another evening we dined at Sebastian (Muelle 14, Tel: +34943 42 58 62), the bigger and flashier neighbor to Mariñela, where a larger selection of fresh fish is available. This time we had grilled sardines and grilled chipirones (they’re so good, we couldn’t resist it a second time) with a mixed salad to start and grilled tuna as a main course. Like the last time, the fish was fresh and grilled simply with just lemon and salt to add some flavor. In any of the dockside restaurants, a delicious seafood meal can be had for half the price of others in town and well worth it.
Dining at the port is a pleasant experience especially in the long days of summer when it stays light till late. After our meal, we strolled over along the boardwalk of La Concha beach with the rest of the Donostiarras (as the residents of San Sebastian are called) enjoying their early evening paseo.