We're as fond as anyone is of the small hotel, the quirky hotel, the independently owned, off-the-beaten-path hotel — but there's something to be said for seeing a city from the vantage point of one of its classic grand hotels. San Sebastian's most luxurious hotel is the Maria Cristina, on the banks of the Urumea river, a massive Belle Époque mansion in the heart of the city, lovingly maintained and painstakingly restored, and today managed under the auspices of Starwood's Luxury Collection.
The building is stunning, and many original architectural details are still in place, including stately marble columns and ornate chandeliers in the public spaces. Guest rooms are a mix of up-to-date modern conveniences and charming antique décor, with all the trappings of a city-center grand hotel: marble bathrooms, balconies and windows overlooking the river or distant views of the sea.
You won't mistake the Maria Cristina for an anonymous business hotel, but neither will you find any bizarre surprises; service is nothing if not professional, and Westin signatures like the "heavenly bed" ensure creature comforts are taken care of. Easo, the elegant Basque eatery, is one of San Sebastian's finest restaurants, high praise indeed; other options include Cafe Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant, and the casual Gritti Bar and Lounge.