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The history of San Sebastian/Donostia/SS

San Sebastian lies on the Bay of Biscay, in the mountainous region of Pais Vasco (literally, Basque country). It is internationally renowned for its beautiful La Concha and Ondarretta beaches, with their elegant promenades and enticing views of the emerald bay. San Sebastian (or Donostia, in the local language, Basque) has one of the world's largest concentrations of Michelin starred restaurants, rivaled only by Tokyo, Lyon and Paris, and a charming old town or Parte Viaja, all within a walk's distance from the beach. It is a perfect, romantic and magical destination, with a pleasant year-round climate and friendly atmosphere. So how come this city is still a hidden gem of Spain, relatively unknown to tourists compared to places like Barcelona and Marbella?

To discover why, we need to know something about San Sebastian's turbulent past. The Basque region of Spain has a very distinctive character, and its people and temperament are different to what you'll find in the Costa del Sol. Partly because of its mountainous location, the Spanish Basque region has perhaps more in common with the French Basque, which is just 20 miles away, than the rest of Spain. While many of the residents speak English and Castellano (Castillian Spanish), the first language of this autonomous region is Basque (or Euskera), which is one of Europe's oldest languages, and it is spoken by 35 percent of residents, who proudly continue their cultural inheritance. For this reason you'll see many of the signs in both Castillian and Basque. This unique and fascinating culture has been produced by a troubled past. 

Early San Sebastian

While the Basque language and culture is ancient, the modern city of San Sebastian is much less so. San Sebastian was founded as a monastery, which became a fishing village, before being instated as a city in 1180 by Sancho Mayor. It developed a strong tradition of seamanship, gaining its status as a seaport in the 13th century. The fishermen are renowned for their exploits as far as icy Arctic waters in search of cod, and San Sebastian was a port for sending cargo to the rest of Europe and the Americas. As a result of its unique, strategic geography at the mouth of the River Urumea on the Bay of Biscay, with the vantage point at Monte Urgull and its curved bay of La Concha (what makes it so beautiful today), San Sebastian was also highly sought after as a military and naval stronghold. For this reason it was involved in many wars and sieges between the 15th and 18th centuries. In 1813, San Sebastian was occupied by Napoleonic troops who were defeated by a coalition between Britain and Portugal. However, following the battle the city was razed to the ground.

19th century to the Belle Epoque

In the 19th century, the area surrounding San Sebastian was the site of battles during the Carlist Wars between two rival factions of the Spanish Royal Family. But despite this, Donostia began to prosper in industry and tourism, and in 1863 it was named permanent capital of the province of Gipuzkoa. Queen Isabella II chose San Sebastian as a holiday resort, making it a fashionable place to be for those escaping the heat of the rest of Spain in the summer. A number of Parisian-style, Neoclassical buildings were built, including the La Concha promenade and the Mirmar Palace. A casino was created to rival the nearby French resort at Biarritz. Thus began San Sebastian's history as a fashionable, luxurious resort, visited by the Spanish nobility and diplomatic core who sought treatment in its thereapeutic 'wave baths'.

The 20th century to the present

In the early 20th century, San Sebastian had a lively intellectual and cultural life. It was visited by famous international figures and thrived in the Belle Époque, fueled by tourism, commerce and industry. Like much of Europe, however, San Sebastian was to experience war again. The Basque region, along with Cataluña and Valencia, was a stronghold of resistance to the right-wing forces of the Spanish Nationalists under generals Mola and Franco. However, the Republican forces in San Sebastian were eventually defeated in 1936 with the loss of many civilian lives. In the following years the dictatorship tried to eradicate the Basque language and culture, and Franco began holidaying in San Sebastian to try to demonstrate its 'Spanishness'.

In the middle of the 20th century the population of San Sebastian began to grow, with a corresponding rise in civil unrest. The separatist group ETA began a campaign for Basque independence in response to Franco's refusal of regional autonomy, which only ended with the declaration of a ceasefire in 2011. Today, the city has grown with the building of the Ensanche, and extension of the Gros, El Antiguou, IIntxaurrondo and Aiete districts. As the 2016 European Capital of Culture, San Sebastian will celebrate its new Belle Époque, full of culture and beauty, and the peace that it now, finally, enjoys. The Basque culture is alive and well, and represented in the cuisine, which reflects the seafaring history. 

Far Out Inn, located between La Concha beach and the city centre is a perfect base for your explorations into San Sebastian's history. Contact us today to book your trip. 

Drinks in San Sebastian/Donostia


San Sebastian bars and restaurants have a drink to suite you, whatever your predilections, and whatever the occasion. Following such wonderful indulgence, we recommend you start the following day with a rich, creamy cafe con leche and a fresh beachside walk.

Gin & tonic

San Sebastian is famous for its unique 'gin tonic'. The famous Gintoneria Donostiarra, in Calle Zabaleta, has hundreds of types of gins to try, including both local and international varieties. The gins are blended with botanical sprays, fresh citrus zests, and fruit garnishes, to create the perfect customized drink with theatrical flourish. Whatever you choose you will be served with the greatest attention to detail – for instance, you can be served your gin tonic with a flurry of hibiscus petals.

If this sounds a bit fancy for your tastes, many other bars and restaurants offer their unique gin tonics served in large, bowl-like glasses. For instance, have your g&t with a gourmet pintxo at Atari Gastroteka, or drink in style at the elegant Maria Christina Hotel.

Txakoli (pronounced Chackoli)

This very dry, lightly sparkling,young Basque white wine originates from the green hillsides around the lovely nearby village of Getaria (Gipuzcoa). The refreshing, light yellow-green wine is made from the Hondarribi Zuria grape, which is grown using a special system of trellises to maximise growth. The Getariako Txakolina was the first of the Basque wines to receive designation of origin status. It is a medium strength, distinctive wine that is based served chilled.

There are also red and rosé varieties. Normally served as an aperitif, this txakoli should be poured from on high to release its effervescence. This wine is the perfect accompaniment for tuna or anchovy dishes in the many Michelin Starred  restaurants of San Sebastian.


From January to April, Basques celebrate their local cider, called sagardoa, meaning apple wine, which is served with as much relish as the French have for their new wines. This cider (or sidra in Castellano) is non-sparkling, and if you try it at one of the cider houses or sagardotegi in Basque you can drink an unlimited amount, straight from the barrel. At these traditional establishments, cider accompanies a meal that typically includes salted-cod omelette, t-bone steak, with quince jelly, cheese and walnuts for dessert. You can also drink the sargadoga at other bars and from bottles. In any case, it is a unique and must-try experience.


You will have heard of this wine-growing region. What you may not know is that some Rioja comes from the Basque province of Álava.  Dating back to the Phoenicians, this wine has an excellent lineage. The red (tinto) variety makes use of Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo grapes. These are grown in the vineyards in Rioja Alavesa which are at the foothills of the Sierra de Toloño Mountains. The vinyards in this region use a special carbonic maceration process that is said to produce wine that is 'soft and fruity'.  Try it and see. 

You can book your trip to the Rioja bodegas, or a pintxo and cider tour, with Far Out Inn. For villa and B&B services within walking distance of San Sebastian's bars, and on the beautiful La Concha beach, get in touch with Far Out Inn today. 


Weddings in San Sebastian

San Sebastian (or Donostia, its name in Basque), with its idyllic location nestling in green hills and mild climate on the French borders, is one of Spain's best kept secrets and a perfect location for a wedding. Situated on the beautiful Cote Basque, you could choose to have your wedding ceremony on one of the beautiful, sandy beaches, with vast, panoramic views of the hills at Monte Igueldo or Monte Ulia, or in one of the stunning churches or historic buildings including the 16th century San Maria del Coro Basilica. The city is full of architectural gems from which to choose, and has a welcoming, airy vibe. Here are just a few of the many possibilities for a very unique, San Sebastian wedding.

Torre Satrustegui

The tower was built in the nineteenth century by Baron Satrústegui  on the spectacular Monte Igueldo. It is surrounded by wooded, landscaped gardens and built in an English Renaissance style. It is now a unique wedding venue with a secluded, peaceful location and some of the best views of San Sebastian bay. The venue can offer a wide range of options for catering and offers a variety of exquisite finishing touches.

There is no accommodation at Torre Satrustegui. However, guests staying at Far Out Inn (see below) can see the eclectic architecture of this historic building from the villa's balcony, making it an choice for hosting your wedding celebration.

City Hall or Ayuntamiento

Built between 1882 and 1887 as a casino, the City Hall is one of the most elegant and distinctive buildings in the city, and it is a popular choice for civil ceremonies. Situated between the old town, La Concha, and de Alderdi Eder Parc, the hall has an excellent central location. Again, this ceremony location is compatible with a stay at Far Out Inn, making it an ideal marriage of locations. 

Far Out Inn

The former home of a countess, this boutique hotel and villa can host ten guests and six more for the ceremony. The owner, Kat Moore, has created a unique style for each of the rooms and the villa offers breathtaking ocean views and peaceful surroundings. The villa can arrange flowers, a priest, caterers and a choice of photographers.

While San Sebastian offers a wide variety of choices for your wedding ceremony, reception and accommodation, you can choose to combine all three at Far Out Inn. For a beach-side wedding, Far Out Inn is an excellent choice because it is situated at the heart of the beautiful La Concha bay, famed as one of the world's most stunning city beaches, and yet still within walking distance of the old town. The boutique villa is also in an area renowned for watersports including surfing.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian/Donostia is famed internationally for its gastronomy and culture, and it is the European Capital of Culture for 2016. Despite being so rich in culture and art it is a friendly, relaxed and accessible city. You can choose to dine at one of the incredible seven Michelin Starred restaurants or try the famous local pintxos (a kind of tapas). If high life gets too much, you have a choice of breathtaking coastal paths to walk or can explore the green hills of Guipuzcoa. There is a wide choice of nightlife and San Sebastian hosts international jazz and film festivals, which will ensure that whenever you and your guests visit your memories will stay with you for ever. 

For a full list of events for 2016 click here

To find out more about a wedding at Far Out Inn, click here. 


Torre Satrustegui

Donostia, European Capital of Culture 2016

If you are an arts or culture lover, or need any extra reason to plan a visit, now is an excellent time to go to San Sebastian (SS), on the elegant Cote Basque. As well as relaxing on the stunning La Concha beach – rated as one of the world's finest city beaches – and enjoying the exquisite 13 Michelin-star restaurants, this year you can experience San Sebastian as the European Capital of Culture.

San Sebastian, or Donostia, its name in Basque, is making this year a chance to celebrate the city's thriving cultural life. With local and international artists working alongside San Sebastian residents, the European Capital of Culture events are designed to develop a society that learns to solve its conflicts through culture and the arts. If this isn't enough, San Sebastian aims to become an international beacon of creative processes and culture. This will also provide an excellent opportunity to get to know the city and its region, the verdant province of Guipuzcoa, through the eyes of locals.

San Sebastian has been a holiday destination for more than a century, and the spectacular bay surrounded by green hills is the perfect backdrop for a journey into its arts, culture and gastronomy. While SS has long been associated with the arts, the 2016 programme has a wider social aim to support the challenges faced by the Basque region and Europe in general. The events focus around the Tabakalera a huge old tobacco factory was being restored for the last two years to become a centre for culture, offering artists' space, public events and a 'creation library' for residents. The year of was launched back in January with an opening ceremony and installation by Hansel Cereza, of Cirque du Soleil fame,which spanned he two banks of the River Urumea. There is an exhibition entitled 'Women and the Sea'; a staging of Gabon Txirrita by Xabier Lete and a new play by Bernardo Atxaga. In May, San Sebastian will host Emusik 2016: the European Festival of Young Musicians with 10,500 musicians from 26 countries, who will give hundreds of performances over five days. 

Between June 21 and July 24, Donostia  will stage a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Cristina Enea Park, where the audience will join in the wedding feast of Hermia and Demetrius. But the Capital of Culture events don't just focus on more traditional art and cultures: they bring in cutting-edge developments with electronic music, audiovisuals, performance, jazz, film festivals, rock music, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. 

Bob Geldof (Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, 1951) is a multi-talented artist, but not a name you may have associated with San Sebastian. A lot of time has passed since he shot to fame as the leader of the Boomtown Rats, and today he is also an activist, philanthropist, radio DJ and someone who stirs our conscience. He'll be calling for an end to war with a concert which will take place on 26 March at the María Cristina Bridge as part of the European Capital of Culture 2016 events. His vision demonstrates the idea of resolving conflict with art, and the concert will be a must-see.

For happenings during the year you will be able to find information about the Capital in four languages from the office in Alderdi Eder which will be open from 10am to 8pm daily. Events will focus on the following 12 themes that emphasize what is unique about San Sebastian/Donostia:

  • Architecture
  • Gastronomy
  • Nature
  • Music
  • Art
  • Maritime culture
  • The magic of the night
  • Cinema
  • The scenic arts
  • Literature
  • Basque language and culture

See here for more information on the events. For information on our services for guests who are keen to explore the culture of San Sebastian, see here.