For years I have been dreaming of visiting San Sebastian, a coastal city in the Northern part of Spain. It is the cultural capital of Basque country and also known as Donostia in the Basque language.
San Sebastian is known for its many Michelin star restaurants with exquisite cuisine for group dinners but also romantic intimate ones. Next to the more upscale restaurants they are also known for the most (Basque) tapas bars per square meter in the world! With these local tapas bars I mean: Pintxos bars.
Who’s a better travel companion than your own mother? She has a glutton for delicious food, just like myself. My parents and I like to enjoy some of the greatest Michelin star restaurants in the Netherlands, of which some of them are part of the Alliance Gastronomique, once in a while. Needless to say, I wish I had a money tree and would never gain weight because then I would probably eat at these kind of restaurants every single week! Next to indulging into my all-time favourite: pizza.
My mother and I flew into Bilbao with KLM and then took a local bus (PESA) to San Sebastian (DO50B), which was a cheap and convenient way to get to our foodies destination. From the bus station it was a short 10-min walk to our stay, PENSION ARTEA NARRIKA, which is in the middle of Old Town and nearby to a lot of the good pintxos bars! The pension itself has all the basics you need for a good stay: clean and friendly personnel. Don’t expect high standard facilities as it’s just a pension but it serves it’s duty right.
It was raining when we arrived so after checking in at the pension my mother and I hopped into a few pintxos bars to stay dry and tantelize our taste buds. Next to trying some traditional pintxos this was also the first time trying Txakoli which is a local refreshing wine which is known for its high acidity and one of the reasons why they pour the wine from a high distance into the glass. Although not entirely my taste, I think you could say it’s close to a Sauvignon Blanc when it comes to its crispness. If you know me well, I’m more of a Chardonnay with oaky full bodied flavors kind of type. Nonetheless, perfect pairing with the (seafood) pintxos!
Another drink you have to try is Txotx which is the local (apple) cider coming from chestnut barrels. Just like the Txakoli very refreshing and a bit of sour-ish.
In the evening we didn’t feel like walking a lot since we woke up around 5am in the morning and making our way to the bar to grab some pintxos was too much of a hassle when you’re tired. Therefore we decided to go to LA MADAME which is always fully booked, but for a reason. So yes, make a reservation in advance because it’s worth it!
Imagine foie gras nigiri with eel, egg prepared on low temperature with Iberian ham parmesan pearl pasta, dumplings with black vinegar sauce, supreme burger with foie gras and curry with scallops. Deliciosa!
The next day it was still raining, so we got some croissants from a local bakery around the corner (too sweet!). Luckily later in the morning the sun started shining and we made our way to Bateria De Santiago which is on top of the Urgull mountain (right of San Sebastian). It’s a bit of a hike, but even with a mother that is semi-handicapped and slow (always pain in her foot) it was do-able. She’s getting old lol.
Around lunch time we walked back down to Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus as that brings you back to Old Town to all the pretty restaurants. We decided to have lunch at ATARI GASTROTEKA where we had some typical local dishes such as Guindilla peppers and Anchovies. The restaurant would not be picked if I knew they had no local and some creative dishes served such as: foie gras with white chocolate.
Feeling overloaded with food again, we wandered a little more around the streets and then went back to the pension for a nap. Food makes you so tired!
In the evening we went to ZERUKO first and although the tradition is to hop from one pintxos bar to the other, my mum and I just couldn’t pick 1-3 dishes and move to the next bar. Why not pick 5-10 dishes and you know all will be delicious?! The staff is also extremely friendly and ready to make your evening a great culinary experience, despite the crowded rush hour when we arrived.
Finally I got to try sea urchin and next to having so many different creative delicious dishes on their menu that you should definitely ask for, all the pintxos from the bar that you pick they warm it up for you. So, yes give the filled plate back to the staff!
So next to their creativity, what was that culinary experience? Well just like the dish in the upper right corner from the pictures below is a small piece of cod on a little skewer that had to continue its smoking process for a few minutes when served at the table. The combination of the fresh soup and the baguette (can’t remember what it was) all together was an awesome trio of smoky, rich and fresh flavours.
So no other pintxos bars that evening, except for one where we got dessert: LA VIÑA. Although the staff rude and not caring about their customers, the cheesecake that they serve is to die for! The portion is served per 2, so order 1 for 2 people or you get into an argument with the people there like I did (the portion size is not noted anywhere!). Creamy, rich, but light at the same time and also a little wiggly.
The third day we first got a quick breakfast at BAR AZKENA to try heir famous tortillas and then we took the hop-on-hop-off bus to explore San Sebastian. We started in the city centre and then drove from Mountain Urgull on the right side to the left side of San Sebastian.
From there we took a funicular cable railway to Mountain Igueldo. There is a little theme park on top, where we took a short boat ride, but more importantly we went there for the view over the bay of San Sebastian which was absolutely stunning.
In the afternoon we enjoyed some patatas bravas with garlic sauce, Iberian ham and croquettes de jamon at the boulevard. Even more indulging because it was such a warm day, we got strawberry ice cream dipped in chocolate with almonds on top. LOCO POLO has a variety of fruit and chocolate bar ice-creams with different chocolate dips and toppings. I strongly believe that my chosen ice cream combination was in someway still healthy..
During our last evening we went to A FUEGO NEGRO, which was by far one of my favorites as it wasn’t too busy. Probably because it’s a bit more expensive, but the food oh so delicosa!
Accompanied with a glass of prosecco we got a full board of home made pastrami de Euskaltxerri (Basque wild pig), Little bird, carrot & red onion (quail), Cod cauliflower & curry, Tartare of bonito & watermelon with grated yolk and a kobe burger. Overwhelmed by the menu I asked the staff to help us choose and no regrets at all. This was an absolutely beautiful evening!
While leaving the restaurant with a fulfilled and satisfied big belly we walked around a bit more and then bumped into ROLL’ITOS at the Constitucion Plaza. It’s a place where they roll ice cream over an ice cold plate. We obviously had to try the mango one and glad we did!
Note: yes we were heavily sunburned that day, so my mother’s skin color was almost as bordeaux red as her shirt. We had overcast all days, and suddenly it was a sunny bright day during our last day. Bye clouds, hello sunburn!
On our last day we had breakast at one of the well known hotels HOTEL DE LONDRES, which gave me an omelette with tomatoes while I asked for an omelette with mushrooms and cheese. Anyone knowing me a little also knows I fear fresh tomatoes and I just start puking by the thought. When I told them that I’m allergic to tomatoes to make clear I absolutely don’t want any tomato and thus they had to serve me a new omelette… guess what: they gave me the mushroom omelette served with fresh sliced tomatoes on the side. I guess they preferably have their guests harmed. I’m not coming back there, extremely expensive and they can’t even note a simple order.
As unsatisfied as I was, I got some croissants for our way back home. I wish I could say that was it, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try one of the delicious sweet things they have at OIARTZUN. When I get back to San Sebastian I’ll enjoy a good cup of coffee and some breakfast buns or croissants there instead of the nasty omelette I got that morning. But I guess this is all of the experience, nothing can be perfect and we can’t complain after so many days of great indulgments!
I can’t remember what the yellow stuff was, but does it matter when it tastes like heaven? The croissants with ham and cheese were so delicious that I regret I didn’t get more to take home.
After 3,5 days spend in one of the beautiful cities of Basque Country: San Sebastian, I still missed out on: pig’s ear, Txuleta (aged grass fed beef), squid donuts, and so much more… I can’t wait to return to this absolutely beautiful place, the friendly people and the astonishing food!
That being said.. do you believe me when I tell you I didn’t gain weight? I even dropped in fat percentage while I felt like wiggling around being pregnant of all the food that I ate those few days.
I’ll be back, Donostia!