Spending Holy Week in San Sebastián-Donostia is the perfect opportunity to intimately get to know one of the most romantic cities in the world, as well as discover the nearby regions that are not usually visited during the holiday break. There are no processions in San Sebastián, but in the medieval stronghold of Segura– just 48 kilometres away by car– you can find beautiful Holy Week processions that are more than three centuries old.
The Basque Culture of Gipuzkoa
The cosmopolitan San Sebastián has its roots in the Basque culture and many of its native traditions remain alive today. It’s a good idea to start by going to Zuloaga Plaza to visit the San Telmo Museum. There, you can learn about the history of the Basques through collections on archaeology, ethnology, history, photography and fine arts. Also, a visit to the church of the original monastery is spectacular. Its gigantic murals by José María Sert capture the history of the Basques; it is a masterpiece of muralism, complemented by excellent audiovisuals displayed on their walls.
In order to fully enjoy the traditional gastronomy in the region of Donostia, we recommend getting to know the Basque cider culture (in Basque, “sagardo”). It is therefore highly recommended to travel the 7 kilometres to Astigarraga, where you can visit the Sagardoetxea (a Cider Museum) and learn the traditions of Basque cider. It is also a great opportunity to dine in one of the most genuine cider houses in the area, getting to know the authentic local atmosphere of a Basque village. During the months of the cider season (January to April) the txotx ritual is a worthwhile experience you can find in a sagardotegia (a cider house). It’s the cry that the owner emits when he opens a kupela (barrel) and the stream of cider begins to come out. Diners come to fill their glasses, drink, and comment on the sensations.
Gipuzkoa cannot be understood without knowing its link to the sea. The port of San Sebastián is no longer home to fishing boats, but to yachts; however, it remains a place with intense traditional flavour. From the port, you can travel by boat to the island of Santa Clara and then travel along the bay and the coast. On the left side of the harbour you can see the striking modernist forms of the Real Club Náutico de San Sebastian, a rationalist style building that appears as if it were a stranded boat. On the opposite side is the San Sebastián Aquarium, one of the most important aquariums in Europe and a must-see sight. To complete this journey, you can climb the stairs and enjoy the views of the bay and the coast from Paseo Nuevo, a look-out point.
Another highly recommended trip is to the Albaola Basque Maritime Factory, located only 6 kilometres away in the bay of Pasajes. It is a real shipyard where research, training and construction are carried out according to riverside carpentry methods; a replica of the Nao San Juan– a ship that was wrecked in the 16th century when it was whale-hunting off the coast of Canada– is currently being built. In the pier of Pasajes de San Pedro you can visit the interior of an artisanal fishing boat at the Mater Boat Museum.
Religious Monuments for Holy Week in San Sebastián
Any trip during Holy Week in San Sebastián should include a visit to the Good Shepherd Cathedral. It is a neo-Gothic style building completed (in record time) in 1899. Since the building was constructed during the time when Queen Maria Cristina spent her long summer holidays in the city, the queen received some important patronages that surpassed those of Madrid’s cathedral of La Almudena (begun at the same time but not completed until more than a century later). Its most spectacular features are its stained glass windows and its organ, one of the largest in Europe. Another great visit during Holy Week in San Sebastián is the two temples that were not set on fire during the dreadful fire set by the English troops in 1813. Both are located on Mount Urgull, at 31 August Street (the fateful date of the city). Closer to the port is the Baroque basilica of Santa Maria del Coro, while at the opposite end– next to the Zuloaga Plaza– is the Gothic church of San Bizente, which has interesting sculptures by Oteiza.
It is difficult to eat or drink mediocre food in San Sebastián because practically everything is either good or very good. Because the demand of the daily customers is high in San Sebastián, there are many great restaurant options. It is not surprising that the first university of gastronomy in the world was founded here: the Basque Culinary Center. Most tourists adopt the ritual of “getting pintxo-potes” (a drink and a pintxo for a single price) at several establishments in the Old Town; those in the streets of Fermín Calbetón and 31 August are particularly popular. But the saturation of customers on public holidays and the high level of restaurants throughout the city has been moving customers to bars and restaurants in other neighborhoods, especially those in Gros (on the other side of the Urumea River), behind the beach at Zurriola and in the downtown area around the cathedral.