San Sebastian

93572786_b3fb7cad68_mWhen it comes to sun, sand, and unrivaled tapas restaurants, few do it better than San Sebastian. This small coastal city in the Basque region of Spain draws thousands of visitors every year for its exceptional seafood tapas and spectacular architecture–and yet it remains absent from many tourist agendas.

First stop is La Parte Vieja, the old town, where you’ll find many of the best restaurants with Michelin stars and quirky designer boutiques. Prices tend to be more modest than what you’ll find in Barcelona or Madrid. Pick up your fun souvenirs at Kukuxumusu, a local shop famous for carrying everything from bold t-shirts and flasks with a local flare. Head over to the harbor where you can naturally find spectacular seafood and other Basque specialties.

After lunch start out with some culture at the San Telmo Museoa, a former 16th-century Dominican convent that now showcases Basque art and artifacts. In the afternoon take a stroll or dip at one of the city’s three sandy beaches, the most pristine of which is La Concha, named after its crescent shape. Catch the sunset right: ride the funicular to the summit of Mount Igueldo for some panoramic views of the city.

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Tapas were perfected in this town, and it seems that each corner is laden with tapa bars and the ten o’clock crowd. These are best sampled with a local guide who can show you the ropes via a txikiteo–the Basque equivalent of a tapa bar hop.

Biarritz: Catch a local bus (2.5 hours; sadly no trains from San Sebastian) across the French border to Biarritz, a stylish town that appeared on the radar after Napoleon III spent his holidays here. The main draw here are the beaches, great for surfing, swimming or simply dozing on the sand. The architecture hearkens back to a faded Golden Age, a clashing monument to belle epoque and art deco. Also of interest is the Russian Orthodox Church of Sainte Eugenie and the local aquarium, the Museum of the Sea.

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How to Get There: The region’s main gateway is Bilbao airport, which has direct connections from Amsterdam, so you can fly Delta from Portland to Amsterdam to Bilbao. It’s great to combine San Sebastian/Bilbao with northern Spain and Barcelona, or with Bordeaux and the wine chateaux. You can also base yourself in San Sebastian and take day trips to nearby Hondarriba and Parador.

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