Looking to get off the beaten track in Andalucia? We’ve scratched beneath the surface of this exciting, historic area of Spain, asked local experts and come up with a list of little-known things to…
To step on San Sebastian’s hexagonal street tiles is to fall in love. This small city on the northern coast of Spain has something for everyone – a picturesque port and brownstone Belle Epoque buildings, three lovely beaches, and some of the best food in the world.
San Sebastian was placed on the tourism map over a century ago by the Spanish Royal Family. The Regent Queen Maria Cristina favoured it as a summer getaway, and, as a result, it blossomed with Belle Epoque architecture and wealthy visitors from the beginning of the 20th century.
Now, in the 21st century, the city calls itself home to a new kind of star: Michelin. San Sebastian is constantly at the top of the world’s list of the most Michelin stars per person. The town’s bars, however, vie for hungry diners’ attention: their countertops are lined with pintxos, more elaborate versions of Spanish tapas, which originated in San Sebastian.
1. Go for Pintxos in The Old Town
In San Sebastian, food comes first. The pintxo is to San Sebastian what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, so be sure to come hungry to best experience this city’s main attraction.
Every other storefront in the Old Town of San Sebastián is a restaurant or pintxo bar, so enjoy hopping from bar to bar to try world-famous miniature bites. Each spot has a speciality: start off simple with a perfect white vinegar anchovy atop a slice of bread at Txepetxa (C/ de la Pescadería, 5). Move across the street for some molecular gastronomy-inspired bites at Zeruko (C/ de la Pescadería), where a favourite is a smoking piece of cod served with a parsley cream shooter. Then head to 31st August Street, which has an overwhelming culinary offering.
By this time, you’re probably ready for some meat, so take your pick between Txuleta (Plaza de la Trinidad, 2) and Gandarias (31 de Agosto Kalea, 23), both well-known for their steak pintxos.
Finish off your night of feasting at Atari Gastroteka (Calle Mayor, 18), which has an extensive dessert pintxo menu as well as picture-perfect examples of the town’s honorary digestif: a gin and tonic the size of a fishbowl.
Top Tip: Eat pintxos like the locals: one pintxo and one drink per bar, then move on. You should pay on your way out the door, not before.
2. Arzak Restaurant
In a city with 17 Michelin stars, one for every 10,000 inhabitants, tasting the constellation becomes a high-ranking item on the to-do list. Arzak Restaurant, which holds three of the 17, is the best spot to start a dive into the starred cuisine.
Juan Mari Arzak took the restaurant over from his family more than 40 years ago, and quickly morphed it from a run-of-the-mill, if respected, traditional dining spot into a white tablecloth establishment intent on refining and pushing Basque cuisine to its limits.
The tasting menu is ever changing, but features some perennial favourites such as the foie “cromlech”, a crunchy-creamy tribute to the ancient stone monuments found across the Basque Country. Most nights Juan Mari or his daughter Elena is out on the floor of the restaurant, greeting and chatting with diners.
Top Tip: Ask to see the R&D laboratory. If you’re lucky, that will get you a tour through the bodega, where the chef makes his own sloe liquor, or patxaran, and also a peek into the room where all the dishes are created by a team of investigative chefs.
Hours: 1:30–3pm and 8:45–10:30pm; Closed Sunday/Monday
Address: Alcalde J. Elosegi Hiribidea, 273. Phone: +34 943 27 84 65. Arzak.es
3. Monte Igeldo Theme Park
The perfect place to take in the city’s beautiful views is atop Mount Igeldo, located on the west side of San Sebastian, rising up from the water at a steep, nearly 90-degree angle. Perfect for the sweeping views of the entire city, yes. But, as they say, it’s about the journey, not the destination, and Igeldo is no different.
To reach the peak, the best option is a 107-year-old funicular, a picturesque cable car that drops you off at the viewing point. Continue walking and you’ll stumble upon another feature frozen in time: the amusement park.
Both adults and children find this park impossibly charming; the rides have passed into vintage territory and riding the tiny roller coaster feels like hurtling back into the 1930s.
Hours: Weekends, 11am–2pm and 3:30–8pm
Phone: +34 943 21 35 25. Monteigueldo.es
4. Wine Cellar at Rekondo
On your way down from the theme park, don’t miss a stop at one of Europe’s top wine cellars. A small stone house about halfway down the mountain is home to Rekondo, a restaurant serving traditional Basque dishes in an elegant setting.
Reserve a table on the terrace – if the weather permits – and be sure to leaf carefully through their 250-page wine menu. The beauty of dining at Rekondo is pairing each dish with a once-in-a-lifetime glass of wine, like a Rioja from 1964.
Top Tip: The sommelier Martín will be on hand to help you choose between rare vintages, and if you catch him on a slow day, you can ask to see the wine cellar, which The Wall Street Journal called one of the top five in Europe.
Hours: 1–3:30PM, 8:30–11:30PM, Closed Tuesday/Wednesday
Address: Paseo de Igeldo, 57. Phone: +34 943 21 29 07. Rekondo.com
5. Naval Museum
Untzi Museoa, San Sebastian’s naval museum, falls under that quirky category of tiny museum passion projects. Wandering through the port, it’s easy to stumble upon this building, which is stuffed to the brim with information on ships, Basque whalers, naval charts, art pieces and other valuables.
Temporary exhibitions are often charming, super-specific looks at the Basque naval past.
Top Tip: Entry is free on Thursdays.
Hours: 10am–2pm, 4–7pm; Closed Mondays
Address: Del Muelle Ibilbidea, 24. Phone: +34 943 43 00 51. Untzimuseoa.eus
6. La Perla
La Perla spa is a saviour on one of San Sebastian’s numerous rainy days. The spa and sports centre has an enviable location, in the centre of La Concha beach. The centre is outfitted with a state-of-the-art gym, with daily cardio and spin classes, as well as a massage area with an ample menu.
The best part about La Perla, however, is the spa circuit. Sign up on a rainy day and enjoy the various circuit rooms, hydro massage pools, and saunas, some of them with views of La Concha bay.
Address: Paseo de La Concha, s/n, Edificio La Perla 20007. Phone: +34 943 45 88 56. La-perla.net
7. Strolling the Shopping District
San Sebastian is a Belle Epoque city, and vestiges of its turn-of-the-century glamour remain. One of the best things to do in San Sebastian is stroll its pedestrian shopping district’s wide streets, window shopping until, inevitably, you are drawn into one of the posh boutiques.
The Avenida de la Libertad is lined with big-box stores, but just off of it you will find lovely boutiques like Maje, a women’s fashion shop, or Ayestaran, a shoe shop with lots of history. Be sure to leave no street unstrolled, as some of the city’s gems are hiding away on less attractive side streets, like Loreak Mendian, a boutique with high-end modern Basque fashion.
8. Mimo San Sebastian Cooking Class
The basement of the one of the city’s most emblematic buildings used to house a spa; the pool was paved over a few years ago to make way for a luxury cooking school, further testament to the city’s culinary prowess.
Mimo San Sebastian now offers unique culinary experiences every day, from a food tour ranked among the world’s top 10 to daily cooking experiences, classes that transition into wine-soaked lunches around its enormous wooden table.
The classes are perfect for both kitchen aficionados and those just looking for things to do when it rains – the chefs are full of anecdotes about the local cuisine and you’ll likely leave with a few new pintxo-eating companions.
Hours: Daily cooking classes, 10:30am.
Address: Calle Okendo 1, 20004. Phone: +34 943 42 11 43. Sansebastian.mimofood.com
9. Peine del Viento
Basque art leans toward the manual: handicrafts and sculptures, made from durable, rugged elements such as wood and steel. Eduardo Chillida is the local art darling, and one of his most famous works is on permanent display – where else? – on the edge of the city, where ocean meets rocky cliff.
Put into place in 1977, it features Chillida’s signature curved metal figures, dotting a terrace designed to capture the sea’s force as waves crash the shore. These impossibly heavy structures float in the air, literally “combing the wind”, as their name suggests.
During high tide, holes in the ground become blowholes that direct a powerful burst of sea spray into the air – nature’s force made tangible.
Hours: Open 24 hours
Address: Eduardo Chillida Pasealekua, s/n, 20008
10. Isla Santa Clara
In the middle of La Concha bay, Santa Clara Island sits like a peacock preening its feathers, ready for a close-up whether for Instagram or a postcard. The island is small but dramatic, with steep cliffs with a picture-perfect white lighthouse on top.
Santa Clara has never been inhabited, save as a quarantine centre briefly during times of the plague, but in summer it comes alive as a playground for beach-goers. You can reach the island any time of the year by swimming, and during summer a boat goes back and forth every half hour.
Pack a picnic and set up on one of the stone tables, and enjoy the view of San Sebastian from the outside in.
11. Buen Pastor
Buen Pastor is San Sebastian’s only true cathedral. In the very centre of town and surrounded by stores and bars, it makes for a nice sightseeing break in between shopping. The 1897 neo-Gothic structure has a 75-metre high spire, visible throughout the city, which is quite useful for orienting yourself.
The cathedral is still in regular use by locals, but visitors can pop in to admire the work of architect Manuel de Echave, constructed with sandstone from the nearby Mount Igeldo.
Hours: 8am – 12pm and 5pm – 8pm
Address: Plaza del Buen Pastor, s/n, 20005
Telephone: +34 943 464 516
There are a couple of things easily lost in translation to visitors to San Sebastian. One of them is the official language: Basque. An ancient tongue unrelated to modern Romance and Latin languages, it is still widely spoken in the Basque Country and in San Sebastian.
No one expects a visitor to be fluent; however, learning one word will get you a long way with locals. Try ‘kaixo’, pronounced KIGH-show. It means hello, and is a fine way to greet everyone from shopkeepers to bartenders.
WHEN TO VISIT
Choosing the right time to visit San Sebastian is far from an exact science. The locals’ favourite refrain in reference to weather is “there’s a reason it’s green”: in one word, rain. The best months to visit are May and September for those who are seeking sunshine. Summer months are also usually sunny, although there always seems to be one month that gets bogged down by summer tempests.
The end of September marks the San Sebastian International Film Festival, a fun, glitzy gathering of stars in one of Europe’s most important cinematic dates. For those unafraid of a bit of rain, the winter months hold some of the city’s most exciting festivals, such as San Sebastian Day (January 20), when locals dress up as cooks and soldiers, the famed dining societies are open to anyone, and the streets are filled with the sound of music and drums.
Like our picks of what to see and do in San Sebastian? For more northern Spain travel inspiration, check out our guide to Santander.
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If the bird's eye view of the inside of the cathedral looks spectacular, then to cap it off you emerge outside with 360-degree rooftop views of Malaga. [email protected]
Visit Malaga Cathedral's Roof
The top tip of Lindsay Gregory, Director of The Luxury Villa Collection: “Stroll around Malaga historic centre, take a hammam at Mammam Al Andalus and finish with cocktails at a rooftop bar.” https://malaga.hammamalandalus.com/en/
RELAX IN A HAMMAM
A rather lovely town with a Moorish fortress complex and no fewer than 30 churches. Don’t miss having tapas in the impressive Plaza de los Escribanos.
Meander in Antequera
Just outside Antequera, these are some of the largest and most complete megalithic structures in Europe. Museosdeandalucia.es
Visit Three 5000-year-old Dolmens
The ruins of a 9th-century church carved out of rock are the highlights of a larger fortified town complex. Anything 9th century and still standing is incredible in our books.
Wonder at a 9TH Century Church – Bobastro
A house with a garden in the Albayzin (the oldest part of Granada city) is known as a Carmen. These Carmens look out towards the Alhambra Palace, often have wooden balconies, plant-filled patios, babbling water features and decorative tiles.
Nose Around the Carmens of Granada's Albayzin
This 17th-century abbey and college comes complete with holy caves/ancient catacombs. The view of Granada alone is worth the walk.
Visit the Abbey of Sacromonte, Granada
This village has stately houses gripping onto the edge of a gorge, cobbled streets and spa credentials. Our top tip is to escape the summer heat in Granada and visit Alhama – it has a unique microclimate where summer nights cool to a comfortable level.
Take a day trip to Alhama de Granada and its Natural Hot Springs
Once part of several fortifications, the castle that sits on this tiny island dates back to the 13th century.
Find Out the Mysteries of the Island of Sancti Petri, San Fernando, Cadiz
This pristine white village, sitting high on a rocky hilltop, really comes into its own at sunrise and dusk. Aside from the dramatic light, there are lovely boutique shops, great restaurants and, during the summer, look out for their candlelight festival.
Experience the Beautiful Light in Vejer de la Frontera
While it's got a great beach with some decent Atlantic surf, it’s the laidback-hip bar vibe in El Palmar that makes it stand out from other stretches of southern Spain's coast.
Surf and Sip in El Palmar
David, chef at De Tako's top tip is, “One of the best ways to experience a country is through its food and an even better way is to enjoy perfectly cooked food is in an incredible setting surrounded by friends". We entirely agree – hire a private chef at your villa for the ultimate in convenience.
HIRE A Private Chef
One of our top hidden foodie treats in Andalucia is delicious Retinto beef from Cadiz. Much is spoken about fried fish, olives and olive oil, jamón ibérico and Sherry but this meaty option is also a real gastro-standout.
Taste Riotinto Beef
Hire a boat and hit the sea - you’ll almost inevitably come across a pod of dolphins in the Mediterranean.
Take to the Sea – Dolphin Watch
This forgotten about 12th-century arched gateway and wall was the main entrance into Seville, and is certainly off the beaten path.
Puerta de Macarena/Walls of Seville
You'll never have experienced a bar like Garlochí, a homage to Easter in Spain. All year round there's incense burning and procession music playing – they call it the cathedral of bars. Don’t miss their signature cocktail: Grenadine, whisky and Cava.
Drink at a Bar Dedicated to Easter in Sevilla
There’s a succession of beautiful waterfalls running over some interesting limestone formations in Sierra Norte de Sevilla Nature Park.
Wild Swimming at Cascadas de Hueznar in Seville Province
Fiona Flores Watson, Telegraph Travel Writer and Seville resident recommends: “The summer outdoor concerts held in the Alcazar Palace… a magical setting for live jazz, flamenco or classical music by moonlight.” Alcazarsevilla.org
SEE LIVE MUSIC IN THE ALCAZAR PALACE
The castle of Castillo de Almodovar del Rio was built in 740. You can join theatrical tours, do some medieval combat training or spooky storytelling. Castillodealmodovar.com
Visit Highgarden, the Tyrell’s House in Game of Thrones
Manni Coe of Toma & Coe Tours' top tip is: “One of the most consistently excellent restaurants I know in Andalucia is located on a little-known street, in the little-known town of Lucena. It's called Tres Culturas and it's also a handy stop off en-route to Cordoba." Tresculturasrestaurante.com
TRAVEL TO EAT AT TRES CULTURAS
In the Sierra de Cazorla natural park this castle was built at the start of the 16th century. A beautiful monument in an even more beautiful part of the world.
Marvel at the Castle of Iruela, Jaen
The colours of autumn over the vast landscape of rural Huelva is the perfect way to disconnect. Local people flock here to experience the change of the season.
Reconnect with Nature and See Autumn in Aracena
This breath-taking beach near the charming village of San Jose feels like another world.
Genoveses beacH in Cabo de Gata, Almeria
A bit of a cheat but do a tour…
Our top 5 are: Most unusual is in Segura de la Sierra in Jaen province: this square bullring is the old courtyard of a castle and was built in the 18th century. Ronda bullring is the second oldest and the biggest. Seville bullring is the oldest; Antequera's is famed for appearing in Madonna’s Take a Bow video; Mijas has spectacular views and is simply charming. Archidona usually erects a bullring inside its eight-sided main square during the summer season. Like this and want to know more about visiting southern Spain? Check out our 50 things to do in Andalucia and our guide to the five best cities to visit in Andalucia [post_title] => Hidden Andalucia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => hidden-andalucia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-01-31 15:25:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-01-31 15:25:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://theluxuryvillacollection.com/?p=139603 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 133379 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2020-10-03 15:27:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-10-03 15:27:14 [post_content] =>
See Andalucia through its Bullrings
(As of Nov 2020)Since the global pandemic reached our countries in early 2020 there has been restrictions in one way or another on the way we live our lives. With the sheer amount of press on Covid-19 it’s difficult to see the wood from the trees. So we wanted to reach out to our guests and give you a clear idea of what it’s really like to be in southern Spain in 2020. As we become used to Covid-19 not going away we’re getting better at carrying on with our lives but with safety measures in place. Obviously, those who are at high risk may adopt a more stringent approach to their activities but for the rest of us we’re getting out and about responsibly. While we at The Luxury Villa Collection welcomed guests during 2020 we realise that clarity on what it's like in southern Spain is needed.
What restrictions are there in southern Spain?Shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, events, museums and art galleries all have capacity limits to ensure social distancing can be adhered to safely. Businesses all have hand sanitizer at the door so customers can clean their hands upon entering and leaving an establishment. As of 25th October there is a curfew between 22.00hrs and 07.00hrs. Further restrictions have been put in place to limit the movement of people outside their municipalities. Face coverings must be worn at all times if over 6 years old, other than:
- People playing sports do not have to wear a mask whilst engaged in the sporting activity.
- Masks do not need to be worn by customers who are eating, drinking, or smoking.
- In the sea or swimming pool.
- In a designated household sunbathing area on the beach.
Do I have to wear a face covering?The use of face coverings is mandatory for anyone over the age of 6 years old at all times unless during one of the points stated above. This includes in all forms of indoor and outdoor public spaces even if social distancing can be applied. For countries that haven’t adopted this measure, face coverings seem a huge inconvenience but what they have allowed people to do is enjoy their holiday as normal with face coverings and social distancing being the only restrictions.
Are restaurants open?Yes, restaurants and cafes are open with limitations place upon their capacity to ensure tables are spaced out enough so customers can remove their face coverings while drinking or eating. Serving staff and chefs must wear masks at all times.
Are Beaches open in Andalucia?Yes. Once on a beach in your own sunbathing area and in the sea you may remove face coverings. The sunbathing areas must be 2 metres apart and social distancing must be adhered to in the sea. Some beaches have allocated sunbathing areas others are flexible but there are personnel checking that people adhere to social distancing rules while enjoying the beach. No distancing is necessary within your family unit. The norms that local governments put in place over summer 2020 worked to great effect and people could enjoy the beaches of the Costa del Sol, Costa de la Luz and Costa Tropical.
Are tourist sights open?Yes. Restrictions on numbers being allowed into famous landmarks, tourist attractions and galleries has meant some sights have never been so quiet. Achieving the perfect photo of the Alhambra Palace or Real Alcazar de Sevilla without other sightseers is actually possible.
Does a face covering need to be worn while driving?When driving alone or with your household no face covering needs to be worn, but if there are passengers or a driver from a different household then everyone must wear a face covering.
What’s the general mood in southern Spain?Summer 2020 saw fewer parties for sure: the dancing all night in a club and watching the sunrise from a buzzing rooftop bar was and is not on the cards at the moment. However, long lunches beside the sea, visiting theme parks, historic sights, galleries and museums, beach days and outdoor activities are all there being enjoyed. It's really business as usual with the some sensible parameters in place. Some of our guests used our villas with entertainment rooms, cinemas, spas and abundance of space to organise private experiences from chefs to talks to spa treatments and live music. Bringing the wonderful Spanish culture into the safety of their private villa.
What is State of Alarm and What Does it Mean?The phrase state of alarm sounds very official and, well, alarming however, it is really just an administration step for the government and helps regional governments put in place restrictions. This phase allows the government (if necessary) to limit the movement of people at specific locations and times, temporary use private industries (such as private hospitals), limit the use of services and ensure the supply of necessary goods and services. In 2020 during Covid19, the state of alarm has meant limiting the movement of people between different provinces and curfews been implemented (from 23.00-06.00hrs). In no circumstances does state of alarm mean visitors aren't permitted to travel back to their home country.
Air travel – Is it safe?So far there has been little evidence of in-flight transmission of coronavirus, but there have been a couple of examples of transmission early on in the pandemic before more stringent controls were in place. Shaun Fitzgerald, Royal Academy of Engineering visiting professor at the University of Cambridge said, aircraft ventilation systems are unique, the “replacement rate” - the number of times a volume of air equivalent to the volume of the cabin is removed each hour - can be four minutes in a aircraft. Compare this to 20 or 30 minutes in an indoor environment on the ground and it’s very brisk. The air filters themselves on aeroplanes are sophisticated and much more effective than filters found in indoor venues on the ground. Most airlines say face coverings are mandatory, limit food and drink services and don’t allow queuing for the toilet. The airports themselves are being diligent ensuring social distancing is in place as well as temperature controls in some. As from October 2020 if traveling from Europe or the UK:
- You must complete a health control form - which includes a HCF - a negative PCR test within 72hrs of your arrival to Spain.