About this hotel
Akelarre Hotel is a well-designed 22-room retreat perched on a bluff overlooking the Cantabrian Sea, just a short drive from San Sebastian, Spain. Originally renowned as a 3-star Michelin restaurant, Akelarre has expanded into a hotel that is a part of the Relais & Châteaux group.
We flew into the very small San Sebastian Airport, rented a car and drove about 35 minutes to the hotel. Parking is free and a speedy bellman came to help us with our bags as soon as we parked. The check-in process was pleasant and informal, with a friendly agent welcoming us onto the beautiful terrace. While we booked their base room, a Horizon Double, directly through the hotel, we inquired about possible upgrades. Surprisingly, the agent quoted the full rack rate difference between our room and the next category room, so we opted to stay in our original room.
Double Horizon room
Our room, 104, was impeccably designed, with high-quality materials and furnishings. I was impressed by the thoughtful design choices like a key card-operated door with no handle and a stylish seating area with a two-seater sofa and lounge chair. The Gubi multi-light pendant hanging in the corner was a favorite of mine.
The room had a small terrace with gorgeous views of the Cantabrian Sea, and this quickly became one of my favorite spots in the room.
The spacious bathroom featured a large soaking tub with the same breathtaking view, a dual-vanity sink, a separate toilet room (though a frosted glass door would have been preferable), and a walk-in shower. The bath amenities were their own brand and smelled really good.
The hotel’s design centers around a striking central spiral staircase, which I thought was very cool.
On the highest floor, sits the renowned Akelarre 3-star restaurant, the check-in lobby and an outdoor terrace. One level down is Oteiza, a more casual restaurant by the same chef as the main restaurant, the library and another outdoor terrace with service.
The two lower levels house the 22 well-appointed rooms and the beautiful spa, which, though it was impressive, felt slightly cramped when multiple couples were using the facilities at the same time as us. The gym was laughably small, with dated equipment and no fitness class offerings.
We have come to expect a high level of service from Relais & Châteaux properties, but I don’t think this hotel lived up to those standards. As is customary the hotel reached out to us a week before our visit to inquire about any special requests. One of the main reasons for our trip was to celebrate our 1-year wedding anniversary, so we shared that information and expressed an interest in an upgrade if one was available to make our trip extra special. Unfortunately, neither our anniversary nor the upgrade request were acknowledged, with staff citing the hotel’s small size as a limitation to providing an upgrade (even though there was a room available over our dates) and no special amenity in our room to signify our celebratory trip. In my opinion, these service misses underscores the importance of a competent and well-trained general manager and staff who can anticipate guests’ needs and elevate an experience.
I think it is worth pointing out that the general manager is the daughter of the famous chef behind Akelarre restaurant, and she used to be the general manager of the restaurant. I think there is value in keeping a small property close to its family beginnings, but based on her LinkedIn she doesn’t have any formal hotel management experience or training. I think her lack of training showed and it trickled down to the rest of the staff and ultimately the guest experience. I think the hotel would do better bringing in a more experienced GM.
Food & Beverage
Although we did not eat at Akelarre’s 3-star restaurant, we enjoyed a meal at Oteiza, the more casual dining option at the hotel. While the menu offered a variety of traditional Basque dishes, our experience fell short due to the somewhat stuffy and untrained staff. Despite a few delicious dishes like the spider crab dip, the overall experience left something to be desired. This was really disappointing given the hotel’s history as a famous restaurant.
Breakfast was included with our stay (either in-room or at Oteiza), and was very good. I really enjoyed the house made sheep’s milk yogurt, which I got every morning we were there. Their egg dishes were also well prepared.
Akelarre Hotel stands out as one of the newest and most modern hotels in San Sebastian. The well-designed accommodations and the peaceful location, just 15 minutes outside of the city center, provide a serene and relaxing environment. Service and food fell flat, so I would look at other options if I was returning to the area.