San Sebastian (or Donostia in Basque) is a foodies heaven – nestling in the bosom of the north eastern Basque coast of Spain, it is famous for its surfing and its pinxtos bars (tapas-like plates of food served on slices of baguette). The Chef – a familiar face in San Sebastian, having been six times or so already – and I spent a week there over Easter and it was an amazing experience. Here’s some ideas of things to do if you are planning a trip there – Easyjet flies to Bilbao for around £150 return so its a great cheapie holiday option.
1. The Old Town and its pinxtos bars
Oh pinxtos how I miss you. Most venues in the Old Town have bars filled with pinxtos – crab and prawn mayonnaise, octopus and squid, beef cheek and seared liver, jamon and manchego. All absolutely delicious and really cheap at around 1-2 euros each. The basques don’t suffer fools gladly so you may find they won’t offer much information on how to order, but it goes like this: ask for a plate (plato), stick as much pinxtos as you want on it, and pay at the end – they will either have taken a note of what you have or you can tell them how many you took. You can also order hot pinxtos like calamari or polpo or foie which will be brought out to you quickly. Remember if there is any fish on the bar to check if it is cooked or not before shoving it in your gob, or you may look like an arse. Also make sure you try the vino tinto, the cider and txakoli – a fizzy wine they pour from a great height – see below. You should also check out Constitution Square in the Old Town which is a sun trap (my sunburnt chest is a testament to that) and great for a coffee, and has wierd numbers above its doors – apparently from bull-fighting where spectators booked number to get a view, and not from, ahem, whoring as we thought it might be.
My favourite places were:
This is the best all round pinxtos bar in my humble opinion, where we headed for breakfast of vino tinto and foie, lunch of polpo and cider, and dinner of crab and jamon and cerveza. Also has a great restaurant at the back for sit down dinner, which served us amazing suckling pig and steak and fried cepes.
A lively, lovely bar which is chocka every night and which serves beautiful hot tapas. We tried the polpo, the foie, beef’s cheeks, baked goat’s cheese, and pretty much everything else on the menu and it was uniformly brilliant. Takes a while to get served as its so busy but persevere, push in, and enjoy the wonderful food.
2. The surf beach
It wasn’t really hot enough for surfing when we were there, although I’ve encountered crazy Basque surfers in other parts of the world and sure enough they were out there roughing the cold and wind. Also near the surf beach is the gorgeous conference centre and also a couple of brilliant award-winning pinxtos places (again!) – we tried Bergara Bar which was fantastic, a bit more family-oriented and the most pretty pinxtos we’d tried – they take their pinxtos very seriously, entering into competititions, and the plates they gave us were lovingly produced (see below) – the food was incredible.
3. The new town and the playa de la concho
The new town has a feel of Biarritz or Nice to it but imho is a bit meh after the higgledy piggledy fun and chaos of the narrow streets of the Old Town. However there the gorgeous shell beach which stretches along its banks which is perfect for sunbathing and admiring the view over the Old Town. Water is mucho frio but great for cooling down after the sweatiness of the Old Town.
4. Visiting a cider house
This was one of the best fun nights oot we had, thanks to the bonkers Basque tradition of visiting Sidrerias (the Guardian has a good list of the best ones here) and eating wonderful food while getting cider straight out the barrel into your glass (a lot ending up on the floor). We took a 10 euro cab out of town into the hills around San Sebastian to visit the Petritegi cider house – one of the biggest and most popular. Its worth going alone for the fun of pouring your own cider, but also for the yummy food – a set meal cost about 25 euros each with all cider included, starters, cheese, and the most amazing steak I’ve ever had in Europe (see below).
5. The harbour
The harbour is perfect for lazy walks and people watching – the Basques appear to be follicly infatuated with both the mullet and the rat’s tail and there were some wonderful examples of both to be seen. It is also filled with seafood and fish restos where you can sit outside and admire the haircuts. We found a great one and ordered sardines and fish soup followed by a whole hake which was perfectly and simply fried in butter and garlic.
6. Walk up to see Jesus
The statue obvs. It stands arms outstretched over the town on Mount Urgull like a poor man’s Christo Redentor. The walk up there is leisurely and extremely pretty – overlooking the Altantic and with a lovely view over the playa de la concho. You actually do need to do a walk after all the food and booze you’ll be plying yourself with but make sure you wear elasticated trousers and take plenty of breaks. You may as well have a few pinxtos at the end to reward yourself.
You can see all the HPL’s food photos from the trip here – be warned though do NOT look at them when hungry 🙂