I have a permanent list of places I would recommend in the north of Spain to anyone travelling there and I think that the best way to keep the list (moving forward) is to have an online version with links that I could keep adding on to…
It is a gorgeous city with beautiful architecture that is worth visiting.
To eat lamb at Restaurante Ojeda . When, as a child, I spent my summers in La Rioja, every year I’d visit this place with my family and to this day, it is still incredible. They have a wonderful Duero region wine as well. We tried several but the Tinto crianza “Pago de los capellanes ” 2008 Pedrosa de Duero , Burgos, was incredible and I would recommend to accompany the lamb.
You could stay at Meson el Cid In a room overlooking the cathedral. It is a cute proper Spanish building with dark timber and deep colours. The breakfast takes place in a conservatory looking down to the cathedral and surroundings and it is lovely.
(Bodeas Baigorri, Sama)
If you can, visit la Rioja , you will love it too (specially if you are a sucker for architecture) :
We have a family home but the last few times I have been back I have stayed in various hotels for ease… Given the choice I would stay again at Bodegas Puelles . A winery with rooms where you can also taste wine , right in my grandma’s village. It is a beautiful setting, lovely service and fantastic breakfast! I’ve known the family for a while (my whole life) as we used to buy wine to the father of this producer every summer when I was little. We used to carry a 16 litre container, fill it up with the wine from that year and bottle it at home re using the bottles from the previous year… Then European laws arrived, reuse of glass disappeared and recycling began.
You could also stay at the Hotel Los Agustinos, a converted convent in Haro… it is an amazing place, much larger and in the heart of town.
I would advice you to have lunch and wine tasting at Bodegas Baigorri (try/buy the white wine aged in oak barrel) You will need to book but it is great. It has a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the vineyards that serves the loveliest slow cooked lamb.
(Marques del Riscal, Elciego)
You could pay a visit , followed by more wine testing at Gerhy’s Marques del Riscal in Elciego . If you do, make sure you walk around the outside of the compound to see the building in the context as it is rather lovelier than from within where the lack of distance does not allow you to appreciate it in its entirety.
Calatrava’s Ysios also can be visited. And the tasting is, for me, even better. They have great reds! (The special edition Aromas one is incredible) and there is no compound. The building sits in the vineyard creating wonderful views.
You could also visit Zaha’s Lopez de heredia winery which is an oldie in Haro. It has, over all, a less modern more heritage feel which Zaha’s building enhances.
In a more personal note, one of my favourite wineries Real Divisa is in the Marquis Palace at my grandma’s village: Abalos. When I was a child, I used to play in the gardens of the palace with the grandchild of the keeper. It was a gorgeous lush little place away from it all. It can be visited.
(Haro’s main square)
For real local food places around , there are so many that it is difficult to decide, but here are my thoughts:
In La Bastida (next to Abalos) , Asador Jatorrena is where my grandma used to like lunching. It used to be very rustic and my brother and I used to be fascinated by a weird metal sculpture on the wall by the oven which looked like a devil to us (children). They have now had a full refurbishment but the food is still great: ask for patatas a la Riojana and lamb chops with salad.
The patatas a la Riojana are local potatoes with local spicy chorizo just as my grandma used to make them, and the lamb chops (milk lamb) are simply delicious. The traditional way of serving is in a mini bbq that is set on your table for the chops to keep warm. They used to serve Spanish bread (so hard that you could hurt someone if you hit them with it) but now they have shifted to a type of ciabatta bread.
In LaGuardia, I would go to the Restaurante Cueva La Muralla… La Rioja homes are not sitting on the ground, they all are sitting on a cave which was carved within the ground rocks. This is where the wine from each family is preserved and more often than not where you would lunch and keep fresh in the summer. This restaurant has a dinning room under it and if you can I would advice you to try it. The food is delicious (same specialities) but they have lovely roasted red chillies called Alegrias (happiness) to accompany the lamb chops which , if you like spicy food, I would very much recommend.
(Fournier Museum, Vitoria)
On the way to the next stop (Bilbao), I would consider stopping by in Vitoria to have some pintxos at the Saburdi , a great bar with such a fantastic offer of pintxos that always impresses.
And to visit the Fournier Museum which is a museum showcasing the work of the oldest Spanish cards maker. It is free to visit and you will also have a chance to see the new refurbishment by Patxi Mangado
To stay, the Hesperia is well located and comfortable.
(Arantzazu Monastery, Oñati)
Another amazing place outside San Sebastian is Arantzazu. A monastery in the mountains of the nearby Oñati (the town where the first university in the Basque Country was created in 1540 ). The monastery was designed as a collaboration between sculptor Jorge Oteiza and architect Francisco Javier Saenz de Oiza and the result,in its setting, is breathtaking.
I would take the funicular to the top of the mountain Igeldo The view is wonderful and gives you a sense of scale.
In the bottom of the Monte Igeldo there is my favourite place to see the sunrise… The combs of the wind… A landscaping intervention by my favorite sculptor : Eduardo Chillida
(San Sebastian harbour)
You can also take a boat to the island, at the harbour . It makes a different plan to sitting under the sun in the main beaches.
In the old town , just under the Christ-mountain (URGULL) the San Telmo museum
The Moneo auditorium is in the Zurriola Beach and it is called Kursaal
Key dates for the city:
January: San Sebastian day, Tamborrada, the party to celebrate the
February: Caldereros ( the announcers of carnival) and Iñudes and atzaiak (nanies and sheppards)
July: Jazz Festival
August: Semana Grande
August: Quincena musical
September: you can attend the cinema festival so might see famous people around and be able to catch some movies… check here
Jazz Music Bars
Places to eat.
At the old town’s Solbes this is an amazing deli
For sweets, and specially to buy pastel vasco o pantxineta is Otaegi in the old town
I would recommend you to also visit Pasaia my village …and Paco Rabane’s … The village where Victor Hugo used to go to write…
If you have even more time, or maybe on the way up, I would recommend you to visit….