San Sebastian (Donostia, in Basque) has long been considered one of
the most attractive, elegant cities in Iberia. It's well worth a visit
even if you're not going to see a football match. Once the summer
holiday destination of the Madrid elite, San Sebastian retains a vague
atmosphere of days gone by, due partly to the promenade around the
beautiful beach of La Concha – literally "the seashell", describing the
arc of sand flanked by two mountains.
Mount Igueldo offers spectacular views; if it looks a
long, tiring walk, avoid the steep and twisting climb by taking the
funicular to the top.
When you come back down, head straight for the old town. Here among
the narrow streets, the locals indulge in one of the best of all Basque
traditions, tapeando – going from bar to bar and having a snack and a
drink in each of them.
The old town is packed with bars all taking pride in their
traditional pintxos – small snacks, nailed to pieces of bread with
cocktail sticks. The variety of meats, seafood and just about anything
else is virtually endless and much better than sitting down for a formal
meal in a restaurant.
Sadly, Real Sociedad abandoned their central Atocha stadium, which
still stands next to the railway station, to move slightly out of town
to Anoeta. Many feel the club made a mistake. Modern though it is,
Anoeta (with its athletics track) lacks the atmosphere of Atocha's
intimate shoebox stands.
La Real – the team from Madrid are known as el Real, or usually just "Madrid" – are one of Spain's most historic teams with two league
titles, in 1981 and 1982, and two Copa del Rey successes. Any Basque
derby is a must-see event, but the clash with Athletic Bilbao is the one
Real fans most want to win.
Like Athletic, la Real used to play with
only Basque players but replaced the tradition with the ridiculous
policy of signing only Basque players and non-Spaniards: John Aldridge,
Kevin Richardson and Dalian Atkinson (El Txipiron – The Squid) all
turned out for the club. The policy only ended in 2006 with the signing of former Oviedo donkey
Meanwhile, John Toshack coached la Real on three occasions, leaving a
big shadow over the town. In fact, you can probably still see it on a
local golf course...
There are excellent transport links, but from the city centre it's an
easy walk to the Anoeta along Sancho el Sabio and Avenida de Madrid to Anoeta, wedged
in at the bottom of the hill below the Bilbao-Santander motorway. If
you climb the hillside (don't worry, there are stairs) you can get high
enough for a great photo of this magnificently stylish, curvy roofed,
but disappointingly cold stadium with the sea in the background.
Club address Paseo de Anoeta 1, E-20014 San Sebastian
Telephone (0034) 943 462 833
CITY GUIDE: SAN SEBASTIAN
Real Sociedad is the team of San Sebastian, a picturesque seaside
town. Although parts of it are chic, it's fundamentally a family resort
which can become crowded in summer. To escape the tourists, take the
ferry to the small island of Isla de Santa Clara. The boats go back and
forth every 30 minutes. You'll find most of San Sebastian's tourist
sights in the Parte Vieja (the old quarter), where you'll discover
several churches. The Gothic San Vicente is particularly impressive.
From the UK, it's probably easier to fly to Bilbao and get a bus or
train over (or hire a car). Domestic flights from Madrid arrive at San
Sebastian airport and a frequent shuttle bus carries passengers the 22km
to the city centre.
c/Regina Regente is a useful site including a "virtual walk" round the city – (0034) 943 481 166 www.sansebastianturismo.com
Hop aboard the Hernani-bound bus from the Alameda del Boulevard from
late-January until early-May to visit one of San Sabastian's sidrerias.
Cider is one of the Basque region's oldest traditions and the sidrerias
offer a tasty meal and unlimited cider at ridiculously low prices.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
An evening in the Zona Romántica (c/reyes Católicos and c/Larramendi).
Summer in San Sebastian is a great excuse for a succession of
back-to-back fiestas. They involve Basque sports and fireworks, and
culminate with the Trainera (rowing regatta) in the first week of
September. The Film Festival, held in late-September, is also worth a
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