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Decanter’s Dream Destination: Akelarre, San Sebastián, Spain

Every month Decanter selects a must-visit destination for wine travellers. Michelin star Basque cuisine and local Txakoli wines are among the many attractions at luxury Akelarre Hotel in San Sebastián. Marti Buckley pays a visit.

The salty Bay of Biscay and its chilly waters stretch as far as the eye can see from the floor-to-ceiling windows and terraces of Akelarre Hotel. Located on Monte Igueldo, at San Sebastián’s western edge, this breathtaking hotel is composed of minimalist stone-clad cubes.

It was designed by the Spanish firm Mecanismo with two goals in mind. Soak up the gorgeous natural surroundings and create an oasis where guests can taste the best of its produce.

Akelarre began as, and remains, one of Basque Country’s most influential restaurants. Chef Pedro Subijana was a founding member of a group of young, idealistic Basque chefs that created the nueva cocina vasca. This culinary movement later went on to inspire Spain’s contemporary cuisine. Pedro continues in the kitchen to this day, while his daughter Oihana runs the hotel – a family affair.

Food and drink

©Akelarre Relais & Châteaux

Hotel guests get the best tables at the emblematic restaurant, which has held three Michelin stars for the last 15 years. Choosing between the two tasting menus (€270pp) is easy, because both feature impressive innovations and hyper-local dishes – like the famous Basque micro-sized teardrop peas that pop in your mouth like caviar. Oteiza is the property’s more casual restaurant with a menu of refined Basque classics – perfect for a lighter dinner.

Choosing your pairing from the wine cellar, however, is slightly more challenging, thanks to rows and rows of historic vintages – about 10,000 bottles in total. Spanish wines are 75% of the menu, so guests can take a fascinating tasting tour through the best of Spain.

Gems include G-1200, a rare natural Basque Txakoli from boutique winemaker Jon Goenaga and Fondillón Brotons Gran Reserva 1964, a rare oxidative Monastrell from Alicante. Not to mention classic Riojas, such as CVNE Viña Real Reserva Especial 1951.

Beside the sea

©Akelarre – Restaurant & Hotel

All of the 22 sleekly modern rooms have the same jaw-dropping unobstructed ocean view at Akelarre. The two sprawling Ocean Suites feature a floor-to-ceiling marble-clad plunge pool for better contemplation of the infinite waterline.

The Getariako Txakolina wine region encompasses the coastal area around San Sebastián, meaning that its rows of Hondarrabi Zuri grapes get a constant dose of salty sea breezes and precipitation from these waters. The resulting Txakoli wine is effervescent, with a touch of saltiness, made mostly in family-size wineries that are lovely to visit.

The concierge team has a direct line with many of these wineries – and a tasting tour makes for the perfect day trip to nearby Getaria, a gem of a village. Pop into Txakoli Rezabal, home to one of the few rosé Txakolis made in the area, run by rock-and-roll couple Mireya and Ander Rezabal. Or take a tour of Gaintza Txakolina, where the fourth generation keeps tradition going, crafting this Basque wine by fermenting at low temperatures to preserve the fizzy carbonic bubbles.

Take a car or taxi to the wineries, or splurge on an exclusive helicopter ride that can take you from door to door. Akelarre’s helipad is the perfect launching point for a tour of the coast (starting at €215 for a 20-minute tour). Or take to the sky for a ride to Asador Etxebarri, the world’s third best restaurant according to The World’s Fifty Best Restaurants awards. Table and tasting menu are included in the price (starting at €2,648) – not too shabby considering it is by far the toughest reservation in Basque Country.

Get active or relax?

©Akelarre – Restaurant & Hotel

If helicopter isn’t your style, step out of the hotel’s front door onto the legendary Camino de Santiago and hike your way to nearby picturesque villages and vineyards. The Camino del Norte route is one of the most gorgeous hikes in the world, and this stretch is conveniently sprinkled with traditional Basque grill houses. Stop for a snack at Asador Nikolás or Xixario in Orio.

The spa at Akelarre oozes relaxation – featuring sleek oak with zen minimalist design, a steamy marble hammam, sauna and a relaxation zone with floor to ceiling glass. Entry is included with the room. The perfect day at Akelarre ends with a cocktail in the sprawling terrace, with low-lying seating areas and a bar run by San Sebastián’s best mixologist.

More than just another luxurious stay, Akelarre is a chance to be invited into the home of one of the most influential families in Basque cuisine and taste the best it has to offer.

For more information, visit the Akelarre website.


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