Les Clefs D'Or
Les Clefs D'Or

Your Key To San Sebastian & La Belle Époque – 2020 Les Clefs d’Or Award Nominee – Spain

San Sebastian, Donostia in Basque language, was an attractive port to invaders thanks to its strategic location open to the sea and next to France. Known as the Pearl of the Cantabrian Sea, since the late nineteenth century, it has prided itself on its position as the holiday destination of the Spanish royalty and European aristocracy.

After the devastating 1813 burning of the city, and subsequent reconstruction, its population increased significantly. The lack of space inside the walled metropolis brought the need to demolish its barriers and expand the city.

What firstly was planned as a city of commerce, due to several circumstances such as the decline of the trade industry and the Spanish royalty´s choice as a holiday destination, the city started to focus on creating services for the leisure of the high society instead.

Spanish Queen Isabel II, due to a skin disease for which she took seawater baths, chose San Sebastian as her summer destination. Herself and her daughter-in-law, Queen María Cristina, encouraged the high society to travel to Donostia. This period gave birth to the culture of leisure, and amongst other buildings, theaters, casinos, hotels, and amusement parks were built.

Start your itinerary at the Kursaal Congress Center. Did you know that the building that stood proudly at that same point was the Gran Kursaal Casino? Due to prohibition of gambling in 1924 all casinos in San Sebastian were forced to close down. 

Cross Zurriola Bridge and admire the two grand buildings in front of you: Victoria Eugenia Theater and Hotel Maria Cristina, A Luxury Collection Hotel. 

Take the Alameda Boulevard, the place to meet and be seen during the Belle Epoque where the best shops and cafes were located. This street will lead you to La Concha Promenade. Spot its iconic handrail called “Barandilla de La Concha” (1910) today turned into the symbol of the city. 

This walk named after it shell shape (“concha” in Spanish means shell) offers stunning views and connects today´s City Hall with the Funicular Station within a 45-minute walk. 

The municipal building was the former Gran Casino de Donostia. Known for many “donostiarras” (local citizens) as the “Temple of Saint Roulette”, it has witnessed fancy parties, espionages, and important meeting of heads of state. In 1924 it was closed and converted into a hospital, later as an events venue, and finally as a city hall. 

Today´s La Perla Spa was the Royal Beach Hut of Queen Maria Cristina. Due to the prudish moral climate of the late XIX, the aristocracy wanted to enjoy bathing in intimacy. Therefore, mobile huts, first pushed by oxen and later by steam, allowed them to approach the seashore.

To finish this itinerary, access the funicular station and buy a ticket to the top of Mount Igueldo. It was built in 1912 as a means of transport to access the third casino in the top of the Igueldo mountain, also closed and converted into a hotel and a theme park.

Meet the Author
Edurne Mayoz

My name Edurne means “snow” in Basque. I am originally from San Sebastian, the Basque Country, in Northern Spain. As much as I like my name, it does not stand for my real character. My family and friends always tell me that I smile all the time and that wherever I have been, I have made good friends. Being a Concierge was not my career goal, it was something completely unknown for me. Today I know that this is what I want to do, surprising guests and participating in creating unforgettable memories is what I like most. When I have some time off, I love to do small day trips that I can recommend to my guests, sports, or enjoy some quality time with friends and family. Since I was young, I have studied foreign languages and worked abroad. I have always thought that it was important to experience what other cultures had to offer. I am a member of Les Clefs d´Or since 2018 and I have recently been promoted to Head Concierge of Hotel María Cristina. The association is a very important networking and support resource in a concierge’s life and has increased my passion for my job.

Hotel Maria Cristina

This majestic building known as the Grande Dame of hotels was designed by Charles Mewes in 1912. A noble mansion in golden stone, it dominates the city from its prime position on the banks of the river Urumea within sight of the Cantabrian sea. Named after the Spanish queen who vacationed here and brought Europe’s fashionable upper classes in her wake, this grandest of grand hotels is both an expression of Basque culture and a cornerstone of the city’s social scene. Few hotels anywhere in the world can rival the Maria Cristina’s history and mystique. Since its inauguration in 1912 this grande dame has paid host to the 20th century’s most influential personalities, among them royalty, aristocracy, and since 1953 with the first International Film Festival to the most famous personalities and film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Brad Pitt or Susan Sarandon. Renovated in 2012, The Hotel Maria Cristina, A Luxury Collection Hotel has witnessed, joyful and fancy events such as lavish parties, and elegant piano concerts as well as dark and disastrous times such as the Spanish Civil War. Its elegant façade, chandeliers, marble floor, and glassed celling on the top floor, showcase the beauty of the Belle Epoque. Despite of all this beauty, bullet holes from the civil war (1936-1939) that can still be spotted on the building walls as a sign that not every episode of its history has been radiant and joyous. Hotel María Cristina is part of The Luxury Collection Brand one of Marriott Hotels and Resorts brands, and our ambition every day, is to offer its well-travelled guests an indigenous, rare and authentic experience in San Sebastian and the Basque Country. For that the role of the Concierge is key.


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