San Sebastián

Dubbed the capital of food in Europe for a good reason, San Sebastián is every food lover’s dream destination.  I planned my first trip to the charming sea-side city back in August 2016 and could not resist booking another weekend break there 9 months later. Yes, it’s that amazing!

The easiest way to get there is flying into Bilbao in Spain or Biarritz in France, renting a car and driving along the stunning coast of the Cantabrian sea. We went for our wedding anniversary so splashed out on the most beautiful hotel in town, Hotel Maria Cristina. Rooms are furnished with the biggest bed’s I’ve seen, elegant accessories and artwork, and not to forget the Elemis toiletries awaiting you in the all around marbled bathrooms. Perfectly located near the old town and the beach, I can’t think of a better place to stay.

Besides mouthwatering pintxos and endless Michelin star restaurants to choose from, there are many ways to burn off all the scrumptious foods on offer.

Activities

  • Join the locals at the beach, surfing or paddle boarding. Walk along Playa de la Concha all the way to the end.
Playa de la Concha in the summer
  • Walk up Mount Urgull, take the long route up and down – don’t cheat.
View of Playa de la Concha from Mount Urgull
  • For a proper morning workout, hike to Pasajes de San Juan, a nearby town to San Sebastian. Besides what I’ve read online, the trail we did was incredibly tough and took about 4 hours. We took the more scenic route, along the coast, which was absolutely worth it. Take lots of water and be prepared for a workout – so dress appropriately. Don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious meal on the other end. Just make sure to arrive there by 2:30 pm. We enjoyed a great lunch at Txulotxo, with a wide array of fish plates, their signature baked crab dish and the slow cooked beef cheek in red wine sauce.  You’ll need to take a small taxi boat over from Pasajes de San Pedro to Pasajes de San Juan.

    Stunning views all around
  • Not much of a way to burn calories but I highly recommend going to Getaria to visit a Txakoli house, the local wine of the region and then have lunch at Elkano – order the turbot. Random fact for the fashion enthusiasts, Getaria is the hometown of Balenciaga.
View of the ocean and the vineyards in Getaria
  • If it’s a rainy day – which is quite likely in that region of Spain – I highly recommend booking a class at MIMO San Sebastián. We did the Basque cuisine class and what a wonderful experience we had! From foie gras, to pulpo, slow cooked lamb, globe artichokes and basque cake, we were incredibly spoilt for options and we learnt many skills. In addition to all the incredibly delicious local food we ate, an in house sommelier matches every dish with a perfect glass of wine. What’s not to enjoy?
Pouring cider the ‘real’ way

Food

I’ll start with my list of pintxos bars that I highly recommend in the Old town. They’re all within a few minutes walk from one another and can easily be covered in a couple of nights. A lot of places close on Mondays so if you’re there for a bank holiday weekend, make sure you don’t miss out on them! I must give credit to Guan Chuan – aka the boy who ate the world – for most of these recommendations. I’ve listed the dishes I’ve tried and highly recommend ordering but do check out his blog for more options and reviews of other places to try in San Sebastián, including the Michelin starred restaurants. All the bars are very close to each other and their locations can be found on this map.

  • Bar Zeroku (Arrandegi Kalea, 10) :  the hoguera de bacalao (smoked cod) is definitely the star of the show at that bar. A small piece of raw cod placed on a smokey grill, served with bread, and a fresh green paste. Don’t forget the solomillo con foie (steak and foie gras) for a sneak peak into a regional specialty. Wash it all down with your first glass of crisp txakoli or cider. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the large number of people trying to place an order and don’t expect good service. Go for the food and only the food!

    Hoguera de bacalao
  • La Cepa (Calle 31 de Agosto, 5): it’s all about the jamón. Try it in a bocadillo or on a plate, as long as you order it. The padrón peppers and fried calamari are also worth a try!
Padrón peppers at La Cepa
  • La Viña (Calle 31 de Agosto, 3): famous for its baked cheesecake, there’s no way you should leave San Sebastián without trying a slice or two. Nothing like an American one, it simply tastes of the creamiest of cream cheeses, that’s been slightly sweetened. I also think the guys at the bar are some of the nicest ones in town.

    Look at that creamy centre!
  • Atari Gastroteka (Calle Mayor, 18): don’t be fooled by its restaurant-look and go in and grab yourself a warming plate of their carillera en vino tinto (beef cheeks in red wine sauce). They also had a delicious beef taco as a special when we were there. Oh and the patatas bravas are worth ordering if you’re on the hungry side. Pair it all with a red wine from Rioja.
  • Bar Txepetxa (Calle Pescadería, 5): this place is mostly known for its anchovies pintxos. I know this may sound unusual and probably not interesting but do give it a try. It’s surprisingly good – in a delightful way. Have the anchovies with sea urchin and the one with papaya. It’s probably one of my favourite bars in town. I must admit, the charming and really nice men behind the bar do help.
Delicious anchovies pintxos
  • A Fuego Negro (Calle 31 de Agosto, 31): darker than most other bars and easy to miss but step inside for one of the most original pintxos menus in town. Try the Mackobe with txips (kobe beef sliders with homemade crisps).
Perfectly cooked kobe beef slider
  • Gandarias (Calle 31 de Agosto, 23): this is probably my favourite bar. Just order everything: the beef cheeks (carillera), croquettes, pulpo, padron peppers,  sea urchins, and anything else you see on the counter. Wash it down with their delicious Verdejo. Oh and their chocolate fondant hits the spot!

    Pulpo at Gandarias
  • Sirimiri (Calle Mayor 18): it’s the same ‘school’ as Atari, yet I found it nicer. Order the squid ink croquettes, they’re delicious. Not very béchamel-ey like all other ones I tried. I recommend the mushroom risotto, and the beef ribs – only if you’re hungry, the portion is huge! Their curry tortilla was unusual, and not in a good way. And last but not least, make room for their patatas bravas – they’re by far the best ones in San Sebastián.

Besides a wide array of pintxos bars to keep you full for a couple of days, you can opt for a sit down meal if bar hopping isn’t your cup of tea. A great lunch place I’ve been to twice is called La Rampa. It’s right next to the Aquarium. They mostly specialise in incredibly fresh and delicious seafood. Order the monkfish (for 2) and the pulpo in the starters. They’re amazing! I also hear that the set menu at a Fuego Negro is really good and I consider Atari and Sirimiri more sit down restaurants too.

Monkfish for two at La Rampa

I hope you find this descriptive guide useful for anytime you plan a trip to one of my favourite cities. If you do go and discover other great activities and food places, please share them with me.

PS: I spent a night in La Rioja during my last trip to Spain and would happily share recommendations of wine houses to visit and must-try bars in Logroño. Get in touch if you’re curious…