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San Sebastián film festival flyersWhen? 17–25 September
Where? San Sebastián, Spain
What? Cannes’ cooler, smaller counterpart, the San Sebastián Film Festival is a perfect blend of arthouse and Hollywood, set in a beautiful sandy bay that is also home to some of Spain’s best food and wine.

Style Lights, camera, tapas
Setting Elegant Basque bay



Event highlights The Donostia Prize, a lifetime achievement award given to an outstanding actor, actress or director, is the focus of the festival; recent winners include Sir Ian McKellen, Meryl Streep and Woody Allen.




Head count Around 200,000 people come to attend the screenings and mingle with their celluloid heroes.

Packing tips Sunglasses – to help with the shock of coming out of a screening into the glare of the Spanish sunshine, and to give you that high-rolling film-producer look.

Bar chat During the fest

ival in 2003, disgruntled staff at the Hotel Maria Cristina walked out in a dispute over pay, leaving guests Kevin Costner, Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron to make their own beds. (It may seem unseemly to point out that this isn’t a Smith hotel, but there it is – we’ve gone and done it anyway.)


DOs & DON’Ts

Try the local cider at a sagardotegiak or cider house in the hills around the city.
Pick up a copy of the official festival poster. You’ll see them everywhere while you’re in town, and they make great artworks to take home.
Visit one of the three gorgeous beaches that nestle up against the town.
Don’t forget to brush up on your Spanish before settling down to watch the international fare. The Spanish-language films, and all those featuring in the official selection, will be subtitled in English, but many others will simply have Spanish subtitles.


Getting there
British Airways flies direct to San Sebastián. You’ll find a selection of car-rental companies at the airport; otherwise a taxi into town will set you back about €24. The Iparbus goes to Plaza Gipuzkoa square for €2 (+34 943 491 801; Alternatively, you can fly into nearby Bilbao with a variety of budget carriers. From there, a regular bus service serves San Sebastián – ring +34 902 101 210 for details. Alternatively, you could hop into a taxi, which will cost around €100, or rent a car from the airport. The journey takes about an hour.

Children This is not the most spellbinding event for kids, but the area is great for families, and festival organisers do screen one film specially for the young ’uns.

Parking Cars don’t have access to the old part of town, and parking spots can be difficult to come by and squeeze into.

Astoria7, San SebastiánSLEEP
What could be more appropriate than a cinema-themed boutique hotel? At Astoria7 in San Sebastián (right and below), every room is themed after a different film star, so your silver-screen dreams can continue 24 hours a day (and night). You’re just a 10-minute stroll from the beach and there are plenty of exciting dinner options nearby.

If you’d rather head away from the action, just 10 minutes drive out of San Sebastián is Hotel Karlos Arguiñano; it’s not Smith-assured, but this four-star stay in a mediaeval castle is right on the Zarautz beach – it has an excellent Basque restaurant, too (+34 943 130 000).

Astoria7 hotel in San Sebastián, SpainFOOD & DRINK
San Sebastián is rightly celebrated for its fine food, from world-class contemporary cuisine to spanking fresh tapas. The Parte Vieja – the old town – is where you’ll find the liveliest pintxo bars (that’s Basque for tapas), for an evening of txikiteo – like a more civilized pub crawl with snacking en route. Martinez (+34 94 342 4965) is one of our favourites, on Calle 31 de Agosto. Our taste buds can recommend courgette stuffed with crabmeat, the squid with onion, and the wonderful garlicky mushrooms… And because you’re in a great wine region, a glass of red costs next to nothing, and tastes all the better for it.

On the gourmet side, San Sebastián has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world (at the last count, 15 stars for a population of less than 200,000). Try century-old, family-run, three-starred Arzak, which serves up fresh, fabulous, locally sourced Basque food (+ 34 943 278 465). A little less pricey but still wonderful, and also family-run, is Zuberoa (+34 943 491 228), where the fish is superb.


Read our San Sebastián destination guide…

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