San Sebastian is not quite what you expect it to be. “Foodie’s haven” and “surf capital” are phrases you might hear thrown about in travel brochures and across TripAdvisor forums, and while they’re not wrong, these descriptions don’t do it justice. It’s not just a “foodie’s haven”, it’s a place where even the poorest of hobos can spend their last two euros on the best braised veal cheeks that they’ve ever had. It’s a true gastronomic experience, on a budget. It’s not just a “surf capital” – Zurriola beach is home to some of the best swell we’ve seen in Spain – huge and shapely, with curves in all the right places.
But the saddest thing about reducing San Sebastian down to those two Lonely Planet-esque travel vignettes is that they could never do justice to explaining how special this petite sea-side town really is. Walking down San Sebastian’s wide, airy streets, you’ll pass bushy eye-browed local men peering at you over their fourth morning coffee, and wet-suited surfers so fresh from the water that the salt hasn’t dried on their faces yet. You’ll see men with cotton-knit pale jumpers looped around their necks hold hands with their prim wives, designer sunglasses perched on top of their heads. It’s when that you’ll realise that San Sebastian is primarily a holiday destination for posh Europeans that all of its characteristics, paradoxical as they may be, suddenly seem a little more nuanced.