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Insiders’ guide to San Sebastian

Town must be seen to be believed

MADRID — “It’s a fantastic place,” says Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker. Nobody with clear sight or taste could ever disagree. Huddled between soaring hills — like a verdant Rio de Janeiro and a horseshoe bay, San Sebastian has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Cafes: Kursaal, just up the River Urmea by the bridge. Or Picachilla, opposite the Kursaal Auditorium. A great chill-out far from the madding film crowd.

Bars: The Maria Cristina. Still the San Sebastian Film Festival’s biggest watering hole, especially just before lunch (1-2 p.m.) and an evening competition screening (7:30-10:30). Serves an excellent dry martini.

Tapas bars: Almost anywhere in the Old Quarter. Ask for Ganbara, Ormazabal or La Cepa, where ham hangs like shark fins.

Drinks: Never sangria. Try chacoli — a Basque dry white wine or, with tapas, a young red Rioja, which should be served in wide cups. For beer, ask for zuritos.

Restaurants: Arzak, voted one of the 70 travel wonders of the world by GQ. Try the fish soup, the seven-course tasting or let Juan Mari Arzak choose for you. Nicolosa and Aldanondo are splendid festival favorites; up on Igeldo, Akelarre serves a devastating nouvelle cuisine selection. Or try modish Patio de Ramuntxo.

Hotels: Hotel Niza, only three stars, but right on the Concha beach. Frequented by the discriminating Spanish producer Elias Querejeta.

Take a hike: Go on one of the finest walks in the world — from the Museo de San Telmo in the Old Quarter up to Monte Urgell, then to the Aquarium and along the Concha and Ondarreta beaches to the Peine del Viento.

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