A stroll through time and the passageway of illustrious persons that have inhabited San Sebastián offers up plenty of surprises. Something about the drastic surroundings of steep cliffs, shockingly green landscapes, thundering waves, and peaceful valleys forms a special character. This character expresses itself in the creative work done by the city’s most renowned sons and daughters.
Pio Baroja / born: December 28, 1872, Donostia-San Sebastian / One of Spain’s most important literary figures. He was a key member of the Generation of ‘98, a group of novelists, poets, essayists, and philosophers committed to cultural and aesthetic renewal. Get to know him better: La Tierra Vasca (The Basque Country, 1900–1909), a trilogy that includes El Mayorazgo de Labraz (The Lord of Labraz, 1903), one of his most popular novels.
Cristobal Balenciaga / born:January 21, 1895, Getaria / One of the most famous fashion designers of all time. Balenciaga grew up under his mother’s sewing machine, and became a tailor’s apprentice at the age of 12. He revolutionized the silhouette in the 1950s and dressed all of Europe’s royalty. His fashion house remains one of the world’s foremost.
Eduardo Chillida / born: January 10, 1924, San Sebastian / Sculptor with a strong sense of language, influenced by the Basque culture. His roots in both architecture and the industrial Basque Country come to fruition in gigantic works of oxidized metal. Celebrated worldwide, he began working with metal as a happenstance, thanks to the forgery located across the way from his home in Hernani. Now his works are everywhere.
Mikel Laboa / born: June 15, 1934, Pasaia / A doctor by day and one of the Basque language’s most important musical voices in his off time. He founded the cultural group Ez Dok Amairu (“There is no 13”), which brought back Basque culture, long dormant under the dictator Franco. Grandfather of the new Basque music. Get to know him better: Lekeitioak, an album of experimental songs based on onomatopoeia and shouting sounds.
Juan Mari Arzak / born: July 31, 1942, San Sebastian / Raised at the stoves of his grandparent’s restaurant, Juan Mari got serious about cooking after a stint in the military. Along with a few local chefs, he helped create the New Basque Cuisine, which put Basque Country on the map thanks to new stylized versions of traditional dishes. This new cuisine formed the basis of Spain’s alta cocina movement, which culminated in the famous El Bulli.
The afternoon sun sparkles through the trees, and you think how this museum is unlike any museum you’ve ever visited. Green grass, tall trees, and taller rusted metal sculptures are all you see, surrounding you in a beautiful fusion of nature and art. The works of Eduardo Chillida are at home here, and you feel the same way.
Jauregi Bailara 66, Hernani
943 33 59 59
Just outside of town, you step into the ground floor of a large home. Inside, lights are low, and you are led to a white tablecloth, where you settle in as you wait for the beginning of the tasting menu. Elena Arzak, the current head chef and daughter of Juan Mari, comes out of the kitchen and wishes your table on egin! Plates begin to appear, and you recognize local ingredients, like pigeon, cod, and local beer, but the dishes look like works of art hanging in a museum—but much more delicious.
Alcalde J. Elosegi Hiribidea 273, San Sebastián
943 27 84 65
The village seems so tiny—can this really be home to a museum to one of the world’s greatest fashion designers? The modern, angular building rises up from the hill, and you enter. You’re quickly silenced, shocked by what beautiful dresses and couture are right in front of you. The oeuvre of this designer changed the fashion world forever, and all after being born and raised in this little seaside village.
Aldamar Parkea Parkea 6, Getaria
943 00 88 40
The building itself is huge, and you imagine a line of cigarette rollers waiting to clock in every day outside. Today, a fashionable couple with a beard and small dog sip one of the city’s best espressos, and you make a note to try it after you visit the Tabakalera. This culture center holds the works of many of the city’s artists and artisans in its multi-floor exposition center.
Plaza de las Cigarreras 1, San Sebastian
943 11 88 55
The red carpet rolls down the sidewalk of the city, and in the evening lights of cameras flash and lines of onlookers shout for the celebrities making their way into the movie premier. You feel glamorous just by association, and you settle into the viewing at one of Europe’s top film festivals. After the film, you’ll rub elbows with the stars, crews, and fellow moviegoers at the pintxo bars just down the street—everyone loves Zinemaldia.