The surfer beach, with the best waves and highest concentration of the young and hip are what defines Zurriola, the liveliest beach in the city. Located in the neighbourhood of Gros, between the Kursaal Centre and Monte Ulia, Zurriola underwent a revamp some 15 years ago, and ever since has been a favourite with locals as well as foreigners looking for a good time. People go to ‘Zurri’ for the buzz, and you’ll see surfing competitions and courses, volleyball, football and paddle games, among other activities, along this 800-metre stretch of beach. At the part known as Sagüés you’ll see a length of the old wall which used to separate Playa de Gros, as it was known then.
The top of this hill is crowned with a peculiar fairground, which celebrates its centenary on 25 August, and which still has a large number of original rides. It’s like a retro, small-scale Disneyland. As an added bonus, it’s also a great vantage point from which to admire Donostia/San Sebastián while riding a belle-époque rollercoaster. To complete the experience, travel up the hill in the funicular train.
An excellent idea to sweat off some of the cured meats and kokotxes is to take a hike up this hill, which is situated at the edge of Parte Vieja, the old part of town. There are different ways to get there, but a good option is to climb the steps near the Basílica of Santa María, which file up relentlessly toward the peak. It’s worth the effort – the path is surrounded by a lush woodland, that makes it feel very remote. At the top is Castillo de Mota, a well-preserved 12th-century fort. The castle is home to a small but interesting museum that reviews the city’s history, and has a terrace with a spectacular view over of Donostia/San Sebastián and the bay. An unexpected feature is the English cemetery, which has a romantic (if slightly sinister) atmosphere.
As well as being the most classic, most photographed and most visited, La Concha is also the most central of the city’s beaches. Its white sands extend for a kilometre and a half, with an elegant backdrop and refined air, and form one of the prettiest city beaches in Europe. La Concha gained popularity as a royal summer resort at the beginning of the last century, and stills enjoys the soubriquet of the ‘Pearl of the Cantabrian Coast’.
This extensive park was originally the private garden of the Duke of Mandas. Upon the death of his wife, the Duke bequeathed his estate to the city, on condition that it was named Cristina Enea, which in Basque means ‘Cristina’s house’. The park is covered in woodland, with many mature trees and exotic species such as ginkgos, as well as green meadows with ducks, swans and peacocks. A recently built footbridge connects the park to the other shore of the Urumea River, which allows you to extend your walk without doubling back on yourself. That means you can make it all the way to the Anoeta football stadium and see the various points of interest in the Reyes Católicos area.
This is one of the best situated green areas, with spectacular views of the city. The gardens of Palacio Miramar, built in the 19th century as a summer residence for the royal family and reminiscent of an English country home, slope down towards the seafront. Since the park sits between the beaches of La Concha and Ondarreta, the combination of the blue of the sea with the green of the plants creates perfect harmony. At the lower end of the gardens you’ll find the Pico del Loro, which strategically separates the two beaches. The gateways are particularly striking, both the one situated in the old town and the one that can be accessed from Paseo de Miraconcha.
Monte Ulía, once a lookout post for whalers, covers an area of more than 300,000 square metres. At the beginning of the 20th century it was made into a recreational park for the aristocracy, and today it’s a popular choice for the city’s hikers and walkers. Indeed, the coastal stretch of the Camino de Santiago (also sometimes known as St James’ Way), one of the legs of the ancient pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, crosses Ulía from east to west. The Peña del Ballenero and the Peña del Rey (the Whaler’s Crag and the King’s Crag) are rocky outcrops that were long-ago lookout points and are now used as picnic areas; these, along with the Albergue de Ulía and the many striking views of the city offer plenty of scope for a fun day out.