Guipuzkoa information

Introduction to the Province of Guipuzkoa
Guipuzcoa (Gipuzkoa in Basque) may be the smallest province in Spain but it has a big heart in the form of its famous capital city, San Sebastian, where a quarter of its inhabitants live. It’s on the far north west of Spain’s Atlantic coast, is bordered by France at its topmost tip and is part of the Basque community. It is a verdant, hilly province, a walker’s delight and also offers beaches and history as well as great gastronomy.

San Sebastian
San Sebastian, the capital of the province, is a majestic, cosmopolitan city and has beautiful architecture (both old and new), beaches, attractions aplenty and of course an unrivalled gastronomy for your delectation. San Sebastian has long been a favourite destination for Madrileños and the French as well as the Spanish Royal Family. Its chic-ness is further enhanced by the International Film Festival that is held here every year (September) and its annual International Jazz Festival (July).

Spend some time wandering round the old part of town (Parte Vieja) to soak up San Sebastian’s atmosphere. Here you’ll find many of the city’s sights too such as the Cathedral del Buen Pastor (the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd), the 8th Century church of Santa Maria and the Gothic church of San Vicente.

Take a stroll along the seafront (the Paseo) and you might be surprised by the English appearance of one of the buildings, the quaint Palacio de Miramar at Ondarreta beach. No surprise really, as it was designed by an English Architect and was used as a summer residence by the royal family.

For modern art and architecture lovers, check out the Centro Kursaal, two glass “cubes” that look simply stunning when they’re illuminated by night. Also make sure to visit the Chillida-Leku Museum, with its impressive works of modern sculpture by the contemporary Basque artist, Eduardo Chillida (but check the museum’s website before visiting as at the time of writing (June 2011) the museum was closed due to the economic crisis).

Take the funicular railway to the summit of Monte Igueldo for a stunning, panoramic view across the Bay and the beaches below. Of San Sebastian’s beaches, the best are to be found at La Concha and Ondarreta.

Then of course you’ll want to sample San Sebastian’s fine cuisine by indulging in its rich pinxtos (tapas) culture. See below for more on the gastronomy of Guipuzcoa.

Around San Sebastian
There is plenty to see and do outside of San Sebastian too. The border town of Irun is the main entry point into Spain from France in this area and the fishing port of Hondarribia, a little further north, is an attractive place with traditional wood-beamed houses in the Basque style and beaches that are less busy than those in San Sebastian. The old town of Pasajes de San Juan is also worth exploring and has some good fish restaurants.

West from San Sebastian the villages of Getaria, Zumaia and the inland town of Azpeitia are well worth visiting, the latter being the birthplace of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and having the impressive Basilica of Loyola.

Inland from San Sebastian, the town of Tolosa makes a good base for exploring the Sierra de Aralar Natural Park and climbing the impressive peak of Txindoki. Further on, the town of Ordizia has a great weekly market where you can stock up on fresh produce. Don’t miss the town of Oñati, which is packed with Baroque architecture. Of particular note are its 16th Century University and the Church of San Miguel. 8km from Oñati is the Franciscan Sanctuary of Arantzazu, a most spectacularly arresting sight in a tranquil setting in the Aizkorri mountain range.

For more great hiking opportunities head to the Natural Park of Aiako Harria, in foothills of the Pyrenees in the east of the province.

The Gastronomy of Guipuzkoa
For many people its gastronomy is the main reason to visit Guipuzcoa and San Sebastian in particular. Michelin stars abound in San Sebastian but you don’t have to spend a fortune to savour its gastronomy, simply snack your way round town sampling the pinxtos (tapas) for which it’s famed.

On the coast you’ll find plenty of fish and seafood dishes to tempt you, whilst inland meat dishes predominate. Bacalao a la Sidra (cod in a cider and garlic sauce), Merluza Koskera (hake with clams and asparagus) and Chuleton a la Brasa (grilled beef chop) are just some of the region’s specialities. Alubias de Tolosa is rich, spicy dish of red beans, chorizo and garlic.

Panchineta (or Pantxineta) is a typical dessert, a pastry containing almonds and confectioner’s cream. The region’s most famed cheese is the sheep’s milk Idiazabal.

Don’t forget to sample the local ciders (Sidras) from Guipuzcoa, best tried by visiting one of the many sidrerias (cider houses) in the Astigarraga area.


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