The grand dame of the Basque Country, the Hotel Maria Cristina still reigns supreme as the favorite accommodation of celebrities, royalty, and the see-and-be-seen since its inception in 1912, when the Queen Regent herself became the first person to walk through its doors. This spectacular Bella Époque palace is ultra-luxury incarnate, with all the services and expectations that come with it. And during the San Sebastián Film Festival, guests can rub shoulders with their favorite filmmakers in the spectacular bar and lounge spaces as the hotel becomes the artists’ hub during the month of September. Guests do not have to sacrifice location for luxury here; the property is located on the historic De Okendo plaza across from the landmark Victoria Eugenia Theatre, right where the river empties into the sea, providing ocean views while being just steps away from the beach and the popular Parte Vieja.
Marriott/SPG members will be pleased to learn the hotel is now part of The Luxury Collection and points can be used and redeemed here. Otherwise prepare for the serious price tag.
The 145 capacious bedrooms of the hotel are split between river and garden views and range from premium all the way up to the opulent royal terrace suite. The elegant lodgings blend the classic with the contemporary. Chandeliers hang from high ceilings while tall windows let in natural light to brighten the walls adorned with modern art and black and photography. The chaise lounge and tasteful furnishings do nice to compliment the big restful beds. All rooms come equipped with Flat Screen TVs, AC, and free Wi-Fi, plus complimentary water and chocolates.
The entire top floor of the hotel is dedicated to the terrace suites: besides the sheer enamor of their opulence, they boast big patios with black-and-white marble decks and lounge chairs to soak in the sun and beautiful views.
The marble-clad bathrooms are exceptionally spacious in even the most standard rooms, with sleek vanity mirrors and deep tubs that sink into the marble slabs around them. Rainforest showerheads, robes & slippers, and top of the line toiletries add to the luxury.
Now this is the kind of hotel lobby that makes you never want to leave. Bellmen and suited staff greet guests as they step into the palatial splendor of the ground floor: an epic, sprawling hall with high ceilings, classical portraits adorning the walls, and sumptuous marble floors. Past the imposing marble roman column foundations is a grand staircase with wrought iron & gold rails that wraps around the entirety of the hotel’s 5 floors to a stained glass skylight crested with the seal of the hotel above. There are plenty of nooks and crannies peppered with leather furniture to settle into and a long outdoor terrace to soak up the UV rays in the summer.
Hidden under the ground floor is an impressive and expansive fitness center that has multiple of every cardio machine and a pair of studio-quality spins bikes. There is an entire separate room with lots of space for free weights, mats, and medicine balls.
The hotel got the memo about the most important meal of the day; breakfast is no joke here. Located in a fairy-tale ball room is an endless buffet bar of options awaiting guests, from traditional items like Spanish tortilla and Jamón ibérico to fresh fruits and cheeses to delectable pastries and even an omelet bar.
The hotel’s year-round restaurant, Café Saigon, is a tranquil ode to the East and serves a variety of well-prepared Asian cuisine. But let’s be honest; you’re in San Sebastián. You need to be eating pintxos and the wondrous epicurean delight that is Basque gastronomy. That being said, Café Saigon is both a tasty and tasteful option for those who have been traveling around the region for a while and need a little bit of diversity thrown into their pallet. There is also an extensive (albeit expensive) menu of Basque dishes available in the exquisite bar served day and night.
The real gastronomic gem at the María Cristina is the seasonal summer restaurant that runs during the high season, from July-October, housed in one of the most prized rooms of the hotel with menus prepared by award-winning chefs like Francis Paniego and Hélène Darroze.
We can’t help but lose ourselves in the romantic grace of Dry Bar. The lavish alcove twinkles with crystal chandeliers and adorned mirror arrangements with plush blue leather seating and matching drapes that create a ritzy Roaring ‘20s atmosphere that Fitzgerald himself would be proud to drink in. With menus by famed Spanish mixologist Javier Delas Muelas and an excellent team stirring the drinks, Dry bar makes the case for best cocktails in the entire city.
The hotel recently introduced an enchanting summer concept, known as the Secret Garden, out in the dreamy cour d'honneu of the palace. Drinking outside on a European summer night is as quintessential as it comes, and here guests can partake amongst an oasis of greenery as carts of pintxos and champagne and wine pass by.
There is live jazz and other seductive lounge music happening here on the regular in the late afternoon and early evening.
basque cooking school
Beneath the hotel is the Mimo San Sebastián Cooking School; a unique opportunity for travelers to learn the art of Basque cooking and to better understand what makes the culinary culture here so recognized. The intimate process pairs renowned chefs with groups as you visit a market to pick fresh ingredients, then learn to cook local dishes in the sophisticated kitchen space, how to pair them with wines and, of course, eat your delicious creations. Your friends back home will be wowed at your next hosted dinner. The concierge makes sure that guests of the hotel have special access and priority reservations to the cooking school before their stay here.
The location of the hotel is exceptional. The old quarter of Parte Vieja is just blocks away, and the iconic La Concha Bay, the surfer’s beach of Zurriola, and the shopping district are all within easy walking distance. The hotel has reserved spaces in an underground lot beneath the hotel for a nightly fee for those arriving by car. The main bus and train terminals are five-minutes away by foot and the hotel is very helpful in organizing whatever transportation needs you may have.
The hotel offers complimentary bikes to guests for a scenic way to see the city.
Besides its exceptional beauty, the food is the reason many flock to San Sebastián. The old town is teeming with the town’s famous pintxo bars, and the hotel has a wonderful guide for separating the worthwhile options from the rest of the pack. We love La Cuchera de San Telmo (5-minute walk) and Gandarais (6-minute walk).
The hotel also has a called their “pintxo passport,” which is a pre-paid pintxo crawl option that gives you tokens that are good for a pintxo and a wine at a variety of the best spots in town. It’s a very fun activity for those who like curated guidance to local dining. Though we personally suggest taking the excellent recommendations from the concierge and venturing out to experience it all on your own accord, no tokens necessary.
The city is also a mecca of Michelin-starred restaurants known worldwide for their excellence: make a reservation far in advance for Akelarre (10-minute drive) or Arzak (10-minute drive), these three-star restaurants have quite a waiting list.
Just across the plaza in the illustrious art nouveau Victoria Eugenia Theater, which was built at the same time and with the same materials as the Hotel Maria Cristina, is a splendid cocktail bar, Bar Victoria (1-minute walk). There is terrace seating overlooking the sea and the venue hosts jazz nights on a regular basis. Cote (6-minute walk) is a low-lite lounge in the old town that turns into a more energetic party later in the night.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Romance, luxury, service, location, history, gastronomy, modern amenities; the hotel truly has it all (and before you say, “except a pool, ” La Concha bay is the most stunning pool around). And we love that the atmosphere here is as equally welcoming to the traveling family or the low-key couple as to the high-profile guest. There are a lot of expectations that come along with being the most distinguished hotel in the Basque Country, and the Hotel Maria Cristina stands up to the challenge in every way, proving that she is still the undisputed queen around these parts.