Currently, the hotel and tourism sector in San Sebastian is flourishing but it is worth remembering that San Sebastian has always been a cosmopolitan city. In fact, it was one of the first destinations to target high-end tourism and build grand, luxury hotels.
The first luxury hotel in San Sebastian was the Hotel Ezcurra, known at the time as the Gran Fonda Ezcurra as the term ‘hotel’ hadn’t yet caught on. Built in 1869, by a well-known hotelier from the Old Town, Martín Ezcurra, it stood on the corner of Paseo de Santa Catalina.
This was well before the Kursaal Bridge (1920), Victoria Eugenia Theatre (1912) and the Maria Cristina Hotel (1912) ever existed.
The Casino Indo, which opened in 1869, was located in a villa next to Hotel Ezcurra. Across the road, there was a bandstand where mostly military bands played on summer evenings. The symbiotic relationship between the casino and the luxury hotel was obvious. The wealthy casino clientele needed somewhere suitable to stay. Several years later, the bandstand was moved to the Boulevard.
Hotel Continental, Paseo de la Concha
The Continental was the most luxurious hotel of the period, coinciding with the construction of the Casino (now the Town Hall). The plans for both buildings were drawn up in 1881. The Continental opened its doors in 1884, and the casino followed suit three years later in Alderdi Eder garden. It was built to cater for the aristocracy and upper classes that had already started to visit the city and whose numbers were expected to grow in 1887, when Queen María Cristina started to summer here.
Fun fact: the hotel boasted the first lift in the city and had a “winter garden”, a large, glazed, interior courtyard (see photo).
The building initially occupied three sites along La Concha Beach but, in 1911, two adjacent plots were used to build an extension and the name of the hotel was changed to “Continental Palace”. The annex was built at the same time as the new luxury Hotel María Cristina, its major competitor in the premium hotel stakes. It also coincided with the closure, in 1915, of another grand establishment, the Hotel du Palais. When the Continental finally closed in 1972, the old hotel, with its wooden structure had seen better days.
Hotel du Palais, Avenida de La Libertad
Originally, the hotel was built in 1870 as a residence for a wealthy Cuban landowner called Juan Fesser. In fact, he soon passed away without ever having lived there. The quadrangular building, surrounded by a garden and an elegant fence, occupied the middle of the block. Its numerous bedrooms suggest that it was always intended to be a hotel.
It was unoccupied until the end of the Carlist War (1873-1876) when a Frenchman called Dupouy converted it into the city’s second Hotel Londres. He had opened the first one on the corner of Peñaflorida and Garibay around 1871. A hotel of distinguished reputation, it was frequented by government ministers and Presidents Sagasta and Cánovas when they visited San Sebastian in the summer.
In 1902, the Hotel Londres moved to its current location on the Concha promenade, and the old hotel underwent a major refurbishment, reopening as the Hotel du Palais and taking the same name as its sister hotel in Biarritz. It did not last long, however, and closed down in 1915, most likely because of strong competition from the María Cristina, Continental and Londres hotels.