The Incomparable Maria Cristina Hotel in San Sebastian, Spain & cooking at the Mimo Cooking School


Let’s begin with a little history. This Belle Epoque masterpiece built in 1912 is in the heart of Donostia-San Sebastián. Donostia is the Basque language name of the city. Since it opened, the 136-room palace hotel has been part of the city’s cultural life. Late in the 19th century this southern corner of the Bay of Biscay became a favorite destination of royalty, aristocracy, celebrity and the rich. They came to the sunny coastal town to enjoy the beaches and mingle with others of high society making it merely a sleepy fishing village no more. The Hotel Maria Cristina is named for Maria Cristina of Austria, Spain’s regent queen mother of King Alfonso XIII, who reigned as king from 1886 until the Proclamation of Second Republic in 1931, the king’s abdication and then the Spanish Civil War. The hotel was designed by Charles Mewes, architect of both the Ritz in Paris and Ritz in Madrid. The Hotel Maria Cristina was lovingly restored to its past glory during its 100th anniversary year in 2012.

As a member of The Luxury Collection of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG.com), the Hotel Maria Cristina is all one would expect it to be. The morning breakfast, is very good, and very expensive. There is oddly only one full-time restaurant, Café Saigon, and it opens only for dinner at 8:30. The Dry Bar is a delightful place for cocktails and offers bar food in the afternoon and into the evening. Don’t miss master mixologist Javier De Las Muelas’ Jim-Let Fox-Trot. You may never want a regular gin and tonic again.

Currently considered one of the top culinary destinations in the world, San Sebastian should be on any foodie’s bucket list. And the premier place to stay with its 5-star luxury is the Hotel Maria Cristina. In the heart of the Basque region, San Sebastián showcases its superb cuisine, including its vibrant pintxo bar restaurants that are full of youthful vitality and high energy. There are more Michelin-starred restaurants in San Sebastián per capita than in any city on the planet. That says something about why this city is a top destination for serious foodies. Underneath the Hotel Maria Cristina, where the former spa once was, is now the Mimo Cooking School. Chef and teacher, Mikel Martija, helped and taught us to put together a 5-course Basque Country lunch, paired with wines, of: tortilla de patatas (potato omelet); croquetas de Iberian jamon (croquettes of Iberian ham); txangurro a la Donostiarra (spider crab with onion, leek, tomato and Panko); carrilleras (beef cheeks with veal stock and a pimento sauce); and pantixneta (puff pastry with cream dessert). Mimo offers a range of different cooking classes. For people who like to cook this is a hands-on class that is 5 hours of fun while learning.

There are Mimo Cooking schools in Sevilla (in the Hotel Alfonso XIII), Algarve (at Pine Cliffs Resort, Portugal) as well as at the Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastián. In the Basque language Mimo means love, care and attention, something that good cooking brings to our lives. Mimo’s founders and directors, Jon and Nicole Warren, have built flourishing cooking schools in various high-end venues on the Iberian Peninsula.

In a city famous for their pintxo eateries we went on a Pintxo Tour in the old town. Think of bar hopping, only in this case it is all about the food, and then consider one to two bites of a tasty treat multiplied several times. The pintxo portions are on many plates on the bar where you help yourself and payment is on the honor system. We were told however, “there are many eyes.” Pintxo means stick in the Basque language. In the old days one would choose food served on a stick and then pay according to how many sticks they held at the end of their evening. Our pintxo tour began in the early evening and, with our tour guide, we visited 6 different pintxo restaurants, and lastly the 7th whose offerings consisted of desserts, one after the other to taste each establishment’s specialty along with wine pairings. Our tour guide, Almudena Manso, is a lifetime resident of San Sebastián’s old town. Her family’s history in the restaurant business going back to the 1940s in this very neighborhood gives her the experience, knowledge and credibility to decide which pintxo restaurants are among the best of the best. We highly recommend this unique experience. Visit mimofood.com to learn more.

What a beautiful city. Its location at the southern-most point of the Bay of Biscay is wrapped in the arms of green mountains. This is one of those cities that is very easy to fall in love with and quickly. It has it all. Its beautiful sandy beaches, its old and new neighborhoods sit nicely side by side, and of course, its incredible food scene. And the Hotel Maria Cristina is at the heart of it all with its luxurious and spacious accommodations. San Sebastián is even more of a tourist destination than before particularly since the restoration of the Hotel Maria Cristina.

Hotel Maria Cristina, Paseo, Republica Argentina Kalea 4, 20004, Donostia Gipuzkoa (San Sebastian), Spain, Tel: +34 943 4376 00
Mimo San Sebastián Cooking School, Calle Camino, 1, San Sebastián, 20004, Spain
Tel: +34 943 421 143

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