January 2019: Matia Kalea - super lively street in San Sebastián

In San Sebastián the beautiful beaches buzz in the summer and the gastronomic offer throughout the year is amazing - even when the weather takes a turn for the worst!

The three beaches and their surrounding neighbourhoods all have their own vibe: Zurriola beach and Gros is the hipsters surfing beach and part of town; La Concha and Centro is more patrician and Ondarreta beach and adjacent Antigua caters for a mixed local population. There are only a few hotels in Antigua, so if you stay here you are among the local residents and get a very good idea of how the city functions.

Donostia/San Sebastian: Access and location of Matia Kalea.

We love to get a feeling for the day to day life of a city. We noticed that Matia Kalea - in Antigua - is an intriguing example of urban life. It has a plethora of banks, bars, cafes, restaurants and a diverse range of shops catering for the needs of the local community.

Retail heaven

In less than 500 metres there must be at least half a dozen bakers and cake shops, often including a cafe, plus butchers and delicatessens, numerous banks, a bathroom and sanitary ware showroom, costume jewellery, a fishmonger, a florist, greengrocers, hairdressers and beauty salons, a herb and health food shop, a furniture and interior design showroom, men’s and women’s fashion shops, a newsagent and stationery shop, opticians, several pharmacies, a photographic shop/studio, several shoe shops and a tiny specialist croquette shop. All these (and more) are flourishing in spite of a large Amara supermarket with bakery, butchery, charcuterie, cheese and fish sections just round the corner on the big boulevard - Tolosa Hiribidea.

Density and diversity 

This end of the city, below Monte Igueldo, includes the 19th century Miramar Jauregia, built as a summer palace for Spanish royalty. There’s some big properties near the beach, mainly apartments now and some terraced houses priced at over €2 million! Matía Kalea comprises mainly 5 storey apartment buildings of various ages all with retail premises at street level, with taller blocks on surrounding streets.

So the locality is quite densely populated and quite wealthy with some young mums and elderly shoppers on the street during the day. As in the rest of Spain, shops are open until around 8.00pm for people returning from work. Later the bars and restaurants are popular with a younger age group - university students and ‘twenty somethings’.

Gastronomy and participatory sports 

San Sebastián is especially known for gastronomy. The world famous Michelin starred establishments, the gastronomic societies, the bars, cafes and restaurants in the old town all offer a quality of food that is unsurpassed. 

So cooking, food and quality ingredients are regular topics of conversation for the local community who cook at home or in the street meeting friends or punctuating the day with a beer, coffee or glass of wine and accompanying pastry or ‘pintxos’ bar snack.

Balancing the emphasis on food and drinks the residents are cycling, kayaking, running, surfing and sailing all day long - and walking the dog is an essential all year round activity! Dedicated cycling lanes run along main roads and round the curves of La Concha and Ondaretta beaches. There is even a cycling tunnel, repurposed from a disused railway line under the hill between the city centre and the university. 

The Real Club Tenis beside Ondarreta beach has a gymnasium, indoor and outdoor courts, a swimming pool, bar/cafe and restaurant. After school lessons for young hopefuls are very popular. Visitors can buy a day or weekly pass for the gym and pool.

Getting around 

In addition to cycling and walking, the public transport system is very good and popular with all members of the community, with local [Donostia], regional [Lurralde] and long distance buses and two rail systems [RENFE & FEVRE]. The funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo is just behind the Real Club Tenis and the terminus for a local bus route.

Street life

Matia Kalea is now a one way street with widened pavements and parking bays for delivery vehicles and private cars. Buses have dedicated stop bays for the single route from the city centre. Although the street is busy with traffic, the wider pavements allow for a limited amount of seating outside the bars, cafes and shops providing food and drinks. Thus there is a dynamism to the street scene all day long with residents shopping and socialising and into the evening with young people spilling out of the bars onto the pavements. 

Visitor experience 

For the visitor from the U.K. used to the sad experience of many regional high streets, Matia Kalea shows how a street can function for residents living in a coastal city that’s a pleasure to be a part of for a few days. 

Here some of the enterprises on Matia Kalea that we found interesting. Street numbers are based on buildings, so groups of shops have the same address.

1 ‘an hel o’ Costume Jewellery

First shop on the street, with an eclectic collection.

1 AMBA Ladies Fashions

3 Foto Miki Photography shop/studio

They still have roll film on the shelves for sale.

3 BOIS ET FER Furniture and interiors 

Own brand contemporary steel and solid wood furniture plus complimentary items from leading manufacturers. Also on Avenida Zurriola.

5 TAHONA Bakery, Confectionery and Cafe

A family run local business with two other locations.

5 Garmendia Butcher (Jose Martin Garmendia Marichilar)

5 BAR LUIS Traditional Bar

6 Mi Teneda Menswear.

Contemporary but not high fashion.

6 BAR DANENA Traditional Bar.

Very narrow space, plus a few chairs outside.

6 OGI BERRI Bakery and Confectionery

Established in 1933 and owned by the Altima family with numerous shops in the Basque region.

6 ARAMENDIA Bakery and Confectionery 

Established in Sangüesa, Navarre in 1898. Currently run by Javier Aramendia, with 8 bakery and confectionery shops and a specialist chocolate outlet in San Sebastián. Visits and chocolate tasting can be arranged.

11 THE LOAF Bakery

Tiny outlet of the trendy bakery/restaurant on Avenida Zurriola.

11 MU! HARAKINAK Butcher and Delicatessen 

18 Oskarbi Oinetakoak Shoe Shop.

Very contemporary interior - lots of trainers.

35 Triku Harri Bar/restaurant (Menu in English).

Packed on a Thursday evening.

36 Angel Andres Fruiters and Greengrocers 

44 Croqueta y Presumida Croquettes

Tiny shop selling delicatessen food and many varieties of croquettes. Numerous branches in Northern and Eastern Spain.

44? GARAZI Newsagent and Stationery

48 Picabeo Butchers

52 THE TXOTX GORMET ALBIZTUR Cideria/Restaurant

Some of the bars and restaurants now have recommendations on various blogs and websites.Traditional ; and Triku Harri, more contemporary La Mera Mera Donosti is Mexican(ish) and Drinka is a trendy spot too.

Accommodation

nh Collection San Sebastián, the Codina and Hotel San Sebastián - all are biggish, contemporary and close to traffic. Just a few streets away and nearer the beach is the La Galeria and our preference the Ezezia - a lot quieter and with views of the bay and a cafe at ground level that is popular all day.

If you like Antigua, check out the bars, cafes and restaurants on Matia Kalea and the surrounding area. There’s lots of good food all over Basque Country: Bilbao, Hondarribia, Getaria, Gexto, Plenzia and Vitoria-Gasteiz are all great. The Repsol Guide has an interactive map - not too user friendly - look out for future posting!

Market Stalls on Plaza Gizupcoa, Matia Kalea.