San Se­bastiàn

Lo­cated on Spain’s north­ern coast, near the French bor­der, is a small Basque town – San Se­bastián – with more Miche­lin stars per capita than any­where else in the world.

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Belle Epoque in de­sign yet highly mod­ern in spirit, San Se­bastián first came to promi­nence in the mid-1800s when Queen Is­abella II be­gan com­ing here in a quest to seek re­lief from a skin ail­ment in the icy At­lantic wa­ters. Fol­lowed as she was by much of the aris­toc­racy of the time, San Se­bastián quickly be­came a favoured sum­mer re­treat for Madrid’s well-to-do. To­day, the place re­mains ever pop­u­lar and now com­prises the Parte Vieja – or Old Town – where you find most of the nightlife, the Cen­tro, which is the chicest district of Spain's chicest town, and its an­ti­dote – Gros, with its laid-back, surfer cul­ture. The food scene here is just as wide rang­ing too, cov­er­ing the full culi­nary spec­trum from so­phis­ti­cated three-star Miche­lin restau­rants, of which there are 16, to hum­ble pin­txos bars, pro­nounced “peen-cho”, which serve ed­i­ble trea­sures on a stick. Pin­txos are a big deal in San Se­bastián and the way to do them like a lo­cal, is to crawl from one bar to the next, ei­ther at lunchtime or in the evening, and sam­ple each eatery's spe­cial­ity dishes and drinks. Lunch times are for lighter op­tions, whilst din­ners are al­most Miche­lin wor­thy. There­fore, as the mid­day sun sets in, head to Kaskazuri for some of their sig­na­tures such as pep­pers stuffed with salt cod, or wan­der over to Bodegón Ale­jan­dro for some heart-warm­ing game meats, ap­ple pie with rose­mary tri­fle and le­mon thyme ice-cream, or a se­lec­tion of lo­cal cheeses like Bidearte, Txa­palak, Pikuñeta and Ur­dina. And as a side of lo­cal trivia, know that this dimly lit hide­away is where Miche­lin-star chef Martín Berasategui learned his trade at the ten­der age of 13, when his par­ents ran the restau­rant. As day turns to dusk, slip into some­thing stylish and head to award-win­ing Arzak, a triple-miche­lin-starred restau­rant that con­sis­tently ranks among the best in the world. Chef Juan Mari Arzak has been a ma­jor in­flu­ence on Span­ish cui­sine for more than 30 years and eat­ing here is an ex­pe­ri­ence you won’t for­get. If you fail to book a table at Arzak, try Mu­garitz, a dou­ble-miche­lin­starred restau­rant run by An­doni Luis Aduriz. For­get French food supremacy, for the eight-course de­gus­ta­tion menu here proves a hearty mas­ter­work that fills you with mem­o­ries that can last a life­time. In be­tween fan­tas­tic food and sen­sa­tional san­gria, try to make room for more pin­txos by stretch­ing your legs on some walks: prom­e­nades and path­ways lead up the hills that sur­round the city and it’s def­i­nitely the best way to see the sights. When you are ready to rest your head, check into the five-star Maria Cristina, the grande dame of San Se­bastián ho­tels, de­signed by Charles Mewès, of Ritz Paris fame. If you’re flex­i­ble with your dates, we def­i­nitely rec­om­mend com­ing dur­ing the Santo Tomás fes­ti­val (De­cem­ber 21st), which is a street mar­ket spe­cial­is­ing in sausages, cheeses and honey, or on Jan­uary 20th when the city com­mem­o­rates its pa­tron saint, Se­bastián. It’s like an amuse­ment park for your palate.

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