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San Sebastian

San Sebastian Travel Guide

To the north of the city lies a large area that was untouched by the bombing, the Parte Vieja. Here it is possible to see some of the cityís original character. The narrow streets with their crowded apartment buildings are home to the very best restaurants and bars. Also situated in the Parte Vieja are the cityís two principal churches, the Santa Maria Basilica, a Baroque building considered the most important in San Sebastian and San Vincente Church, a sixteenth century gothic edifice which is considered to be the oldest building in the city. Also close by is the museum of San Telmo, which houses assorted medieval finds and a gallery of paintings from Renaissance, Baroque and the nineteenth century artists which are predominantly Basque in origin. Other places of interest include the Naval Museum and Aquarium.

The best views of the city are to be enjoyed from the top of Mount Urgull. Crowned by a castle wall and magnificent statue of Christ, you can see the entire bay. At night the whole city is lit up making a truly magical scene. San Sebastian also boasts some of the best city beaches in Spain, in particular Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta. Although the sea may be a little cooler than in other parts of the country, water sports are still very popular, and there are plenty of opportunities for surfing, sailing and scuba diving. If you feel energetic enough you can even swim out to Isla Santa Clara, or, if preferred, take one of the regular boat trips to the island. It is a popular place for sunbathing and picnicking and has an amazing view of the beaches and the entire city.

San Sebastian is widely considered one of the top ten cities of the world for its superb cuisine. Indeed throughout the Basque regions chefs are treated like football stars and some of the very best work in San Sebastian itself. The Basque influence combined with cityís proximity to France creates a distinctive cooking style using a variety of ingredients including fresh fish, shellfish and wine. Usually meals are accompanied by txacolis, a greenish wine best served cold and when young. The meal is often finished with several glasses of delicious, ice-cold blueberry liquors.

Another favourite beverage in San Sebastian is cider, which is like pure apple juice only with an alcoholic kick. During the months of January to April locals and visitors alike pay visits to the cider territories, just south of the city to imbibe.

When it comes to drinking the citizens of San Sebastian are true professionals. They usually drink from stumpy glasses known as zurritos; this enables them to keep up the local tradition of visiting as many bars as possible during an evenings drinking. This must surely be partly due to the massive concentration of bars in the Parte Vieja, a veritable Aladdinís cave of watering holes that open around 8.00pm every night and stay busy until around 6am. But even a weekend in the Parte Vieja cannot compare to San Sebastianís main fiesta, La Tamborrada, which takes place in January. This is a genuinely crazy celebration during which literally thousands of drums are paraded and beaten through the city all day and all night. Of course the relentless drumming means that celebrations are even more raucous than usual with brandy being the preferred tipple.

San Sebastian may be slightly off the regular touristís track but is certainly worth a visit, if only for a few days, especially if in party mood. Of particular interest are the Jazz Festival and the Film Festival both, of which draw large International crowds. It is also a gourmets dream come true with Spainís very best chefs all working here. Itís also a great place for a travel base with both Bilbao and Rioja only short distances away and, of course, the French border just a few miles to the east.

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