Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review



Gastronomy, nature and design

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10 minutes by car from the centre of San Sebastián and 5 minutes from Playa de la Concha, once again voted 'the best beach in Europe'

Travel Information

100 kms and just over 1hr by car from from Balbao Airport (BIO)

Top Tips

A 'Pinxtos' walking tour of San Sebastián, covering 5 tapas restaurants over 3 hours. Amazing!

5-Star X-Factors

The food, the views, the food!

San Sebastián's shining stars

It’s not often you can say: I found my place. For me, it’s called Akelarre. Nestled in the heart of Basque country on the slopes of Monte Igueldo overlooking the Bay of Biscay, the hotel is sandwiched between Orio, a small fishing village 11 kms to the west, and San Sebastian, 7 kms to the east. Akelarre is unique because it epitomises a luxury explorer's dream, combining: gastronomy, nature and design. 

The architecture of Akelarre is exquisite and modern; it’s materials sympathetic to the surrounding natural coastline; and it’s positioned perfectly to take in the vast expanse of ocean. The interiors are alluring: walls of windows; clean elegant lines; interesting and quirky angles which require a second glance; neutral fabrics and broad panels of warm wood.  All of these elements are intentionally used to lead the eyes to the main attraction;: the sea.  Designed by the architectural studio Mecanismo, the spine of the hotel is a strikingly bold steel spiral staircase which seamlessly integrates three floors: a reception, two restaurants, terraces, wellness centre and twenty-two rooms and suites. We were told that the hotel was built around the staircase.


Breathtaking views

The rooftop terraces boast the finest views on the northern coast of Spain.  Built of natural stone and wood, surrounded by landscaped garden blossoms and grasses, these series of circular, partially sunken cubicles are sleek in dimension and function. The terraces are oriented to the breath-taking views and cleverly designed to buffer against the refreshing offshore winds. Here, you can soak in 180 degrees of the sea; the ever-changing Atlantic weather as it passes through; and the sounds of the birds, distant cow bells and subtle hum of the waves below.

‘Oh wow!’ we both uttered, as the door swung open to our room.  Two words which say everything. The roomIt exuded tranquillity with its cool-toned soft furnishings, white crisp bedlinen and sleek lines.  The uncomplicated design is intentional: the room’s most important feature is the floor to ceiling window with panoramic views, allowing nature to provide the most exquisite and mesmerizing show, with layers of a stylishly landscaped garden, lush tree tops and a horizon filled with every shade of blue.
The beautifully appointed bathroom was spacious, combining more wood and light stone. The piece de resistance (or ‘erresistentzia pieza’ in Basque) was the perfectly positioned bath against a wall of glass, aided by the reflection of an adjacent oversized mirror, overlooking the sea.


Michelin maestro

The hotel is an offshoot of Pedro Subijana’s namesake three Michelin- starred restaurant, established in 1970. Tasting menus combine Pedro’s signature dishes and new culinary innovations, creating a gastronomic adventure not to be forgotten. A more casual dining experience can be found on the floor below at Oteiza with a Basque-inspired à la carte menu. Next to Oteiza’s bar is the impressive wine cellar which holds its world class collection and where guests can arrange tastings. Taking gastronomy to the next level is Aula de Concina, Akelarre’s latest addition of a separate space within the hotel, dedicated to culinary research & development, experimentation and testing overseen by Pedro and his team. Guests can indulge in Master classes (groups of 8 or more).
The Akelarre Spa centres on wellness for the body and mind with its treatment rooms, gym, pool, sauna, steam bath and relaxation room.  The spa incorporates Sisley Paris products, the prestigious Parisian brand, into its treatments.  My husband indulged in what he described as ‘the best massage I’ve ever had’.  I couldn’t get enough of the relaxation area with its elegant loungers, soft background music and herbal infused teas. I made the rookie mistake of bringing along a book but didn’t open it once because my focus was constantly drawn to the extraordinary sea views.
Staff at Akelarre were friendly, professional and all too happy to help make our stay a special experience. Prior to arrival, the team arranged table reservations, transfers and offered advice about things to do in the surrounding area.  On arrival, we were welcomed by four members of the team who immediately reviewed our itinerary and showed us around the hotel. On our last day, our plans changed slightly and the concierge team were fantastic at making suggestions and organising a memorable trip along the coast.


Out and about in San Sebastian

The region is a culinary mecca and home to countless Michelin-starred restaurants.  San Sebastian, or Donostia to the local Basque people, is at the epicentre.  It’s a unique mixture of avant-garde combined with pintxos (tapas) cooking, where all have an equally-valued place in the hearts and stomachs of this foodie-obsessed city.  The enthusiasm and pride in Basque cooking is one to be experienced and celebrated. One highlight was our Pintxos & Wine Walking Tour in the Old Town, hosted by Mimo Bite the Experience Cooking School.  Five restaurants and three hours later, we became firm friends with Nerea, our excellent tour guide and our lovely group, made up of us, an American doctor, and a Scottish family who were  also celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary. Nerea educated us on the customs, culture, food and wine of the Basque region. It was a delightful and memorable night. An absolute must-do in this beautiful seaside town!
Other sites to behold in San Sebastian: a walk along Ondarreta la Concha and Zurriola promenades; a funicular ride up to Monte Igeldo for stunning views of the town and nearby beaches; or dip into Church of Saint Mary for an impressive example of mid 18th century architecture.


Further afield

Further afield, we drove along the coastline to Guetaria, a small fishing port, for lunch at Kaia Kaipe to sample delicious seafood, fresh off the nearby fishing boats.  Dinner at Mugaritz, voted one of the top ten restaurants in the world and holder of two Michelin stars, was a combination of molecular gastronomy, theatre and a spiritual pathway to the ‘Mugaritz universe’. Three hours and twenty courses later, I became a convert. Another adventure: lunch at Casa Camara, a 4th generation family- run restaurant established in 1884. Arriving by small boat, we relished in the views of  Pasajes Harbour and the bustle of passing boats.
As we flew in/out of Bilboa, our four days of celebration didn’t leave us enough time to stay in this intriguing city, but we did make room for a quick a stop at the Guggenheim.  This iconic ‘free flowing-shaped’ example of architecture is made of titanium and home to one of the world’s finest collections of contemporary art.
Our trip to Akelarre Hotel and the region was the perfect way to mark our Pearl anniversary and left us wondering why it took us so long to visit this very special place in northern Spain. With picturesque shorelines & beaches, world class food and abundance of culture, we’re already planning our next trip!


Kelly Hail
Kelly Hail

Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer