One of the greatest thrills that travel through Europe offers up has to be the mix of cutting edge new with achingly rustic old. Cobbled streets, peeling paintwork and flavours and fashion that stretch back through millennia connect us to humanity through the past.
Hot, hipster cafes and bright innovation, on the other hand, keep us from dwelling there. From becoming sclerotic, stodgy and stuck.
It’s all the more exhilarating, in view of Europe’s historical bloodshed, then, to walk through cobbled lanes of hope and harmony instead. To taste the past through family traditions and to touch the future through new flavours and designs.
Whatever may change in this world, there’s one thing that’s constant: that things will change and that it’s time we got used to it.
Read more about the best places to visit in Spain
Spain’s Basque country has seen plenty of trouble within this lifetime of mine. But things have turned around. Instead of hitting the headlines for ETA’s role in terror attacks, Donostia-San Sebastian basks in a different sort of limelight.
2016 saw it relish its new role as European Capital of Culture, which specifically celebrated its transition from conflict to creativity.
I’ve visited San Sebastian a number of times (or Donostia, to give it its Basque name) and fallen in love each time.
So here, through photos based on the idea of an instagram snapshot in time, is my love letter to the city of San Sebastian.
If it’s not clear already, I admire the heritage and traditions: but the fun new design’s pretty hot too.
Half the thrill, for me at least, of eating in San Sebastian is the way in which you do so; the other half involves the flavour of the food itself.
Both are bathing in character; both may not to be to everyone’s taste.
Pintxos (pronounced “pinsho”) typically comes stacked up along the bar, and you either choose what you want and pay for it at the end according to the number of toothpicks you’ve acquired…
Find out where to go using this handy guide to eating pintxos in San Sebastian.
Nothing beats learning a new skill you can take home with you too. I spent an afternoon learning how to make San Seb pintxos (including the fiery Gilda – the sexy, salty, spicy pintxos from 20th century Franco’s ban on the film of the same name) and learning, through direct experience, all about the wine. Learn the traditions and new twists of Basque cuisine in El Tenedor in the Old Town
This is no bucket and spade kind of place. Be ready to look mean, moody and cool (or windswept beyond recognition. Depends on your outlook, really.)
The coastline explains the surf vibe found in the Basque country, as shown by local hipster Pukas Surf.
From the narrow streets of the Old Town to the interior of the historic San Telmo museum, San Sebastian was made to make your feed look good.
This place is fun.
Traditional Basque berets: San Sebastian sets out its stall.
Head just out of town to learn all about Balenciaga at the Balenciaga Museum. It’s an incredible story of success, whether or not you care about fashion (and if you do, the range of gowns on display is impressive.)
While there’s no accounting for some of the people you’ll find there…
There’s always a sense of history
And above all, a sense of place.
Salud y topa San Sebastian!
Disclosure: although I’ve visited San Sebastian before, this latest trip came about through a partnership between iAmbassador and San Sebastian Tourism As ever, as always I kept the right to write what I like and to include unflattering photographs of myself. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.