We stayed at Hotel Astoria7 in San Sebastián, just opposite the Estación de Autobuses de San Sebastián (main bus station that is both the arrival and departure terminal for buses to and from Bilbao). Refurbished from the Astoria Cinema, the hotel retains the cinema theme, from the lobby right through to its 102 rooms. M kept this hotel a surprise for me, so I was puzzled when I saw the words ‘Which star will stay with you tonight?’ on the wall right above the concierge. When the concierge gave us the keys, I then understood that each room is dedicated to a personality who has attended the San Sebastián International Film Festival since its inception in 1953 (P/S: We had Melanie Griffith – M was less than happy with that…- and our two foodie friends were ‘staying’ with Lee Ang).
What I loved most about the hotel was the uber cool library which looked like it stepped out of a pretty Ikea catalogue. The shelves were stuffed were books on travel, autobiographies, languages, photography and I regretted not spending more time in it (was busy terrorising bar people with my insatiable appetite for pintxos). It doesn’t look it here, but right at where I was sitting when taking this picture, there are plush sofas and cool chairs that I wanted to take home if not for my baggage limit. M thinks we might want to build a similar library-esque room when we return to Singapore and get our own place in future. I like the idea! The library also boasts internet access at two computers, and the hotel has free Wifi (which explained how I was updating you guys on Facebook without incurring data roaming fees).
Moving on to the interiors, the hotel was clean, modern and a conscious effort was made to include the theme everywhere. At the lobby, we spotted a wax figure of supposedly someone famous (a director perhaps?) sitting on the old chairs from the Astoria Cinema (I think). The walls scaling the stairs were filled with pictures of personalities. The walls were covered in names of personalities, and conveniently annotated with room numbers. Melanie Griffith also made an ‘appearance’ in our room, right above the bed and in the bathroom too! The king-sized bed was awesome, though the pillows were a little flat, but I like a hard bed for my bad back, so I slept like a baby. The bathroom was spacious, unfortunately ours came with a standing shower, but the rain shower suited me just fine! Service is very friendly and efficient, and the hotel is located in a quiet area, about 15 minutes’ walk to the commercial area, and 25 minutes to Parte Vieja (the old town part of SanSebastián). I think that was my only complain, the distance to Parte Vieja, the haven that is pintxos-land, my legs ached from all the walking, and mind you, I walk a hell lot in London!! But I felt better when I reasoned that this was a good way to work up an appetite whilst en route to Parte Vieja, and to burn off the calories from stuffing my face with pintxos. Turned out that I didn’t put on any weight despite eating heaps and heaps of good food.
I would also like to introduce you to a decent grocer near the hotel, Don Serapio. I strongly urge you to visit for it is a fantastic little nook that is filled up with all kinds of fresh and dried Spanish produce. I was most interested in the jamón section and stocked up on 400g of the best ham in the world, jamón ibérico de bellota, which is available more cheaply in Spain, the country of origin, than anywhere else in the world! Here in London, I pay about £19 for 100g, and I only paid €13 per 100g at Don Serapio for the best grade! The grocers were very friendly too, and offered us a rather generous portion of ham for a taste, even after we committed to 400g of the stuff. Needless to say, the ham was so good that it has got to be made illegal at some point. Mmmm. Don Serapio also stocks a good array of cheese, fruits, fresh meat (I spotted some really well-marbled slabs of beef), white asparagus, foie, I wish there’s such a prolific selection in London! This store is mainly visited by locals, and it’s open on Sundays (even La Brexta, the large market in town, is closed on Sundays). Lovely place to browse through if you’re a foodie, so be sure to visit!
Another thing that I’d like to highlight is the taxi system. The taxis run like buses, in that there are designated taxi stands where you wait for cabs to come. Nobody flags taxis at a random spot (or so that’s what the concierge told me), so if your legs are feeling like lead, make sure you have a map with you that shows you where the taxi stands are!
Drop me a line if you need any more information on this precious place that is San Sebastián. And look out for my posts on the food and scenery, coming up soon, I promise!
Hotel Astoria7 is located at:
Sagrada Familia 1 (Corner of Sancho El Sabio), 20010 San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa) Spain
Don Serapio is located at:
Avenida Sancho El Sabio / Antso Jakitunaren Hiribidea, 22, 20010 Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain