San Sebastián, Spain

Okay, I'm going to try not to get carried away here, but I absolutely adored San Sebastián. It's charming, friendly, clean, completely idyllic and gorgeous, and oh by the way, it's one of the premier destinations on earth for food. So yeah, basically it is perfect, at least for a foodie like me.

I wish I'd planned a couple more nights, because I so thoroughly enjoyed my time there and didn't want to leave. The guy working at the hostel said that happens all the time, that in fact most people plan to come as a stopover before heading to Madrid or Barcelona, but wind up staying weeks – or in his case, getting a job there and staying indefinitely! I had train tickets pre booked, otherwise I would have stayed who knows how long. I still had innumerable pintxos bars to try, for heavens sake!

There isn't a lot to do in San Sebastián in terms of cultural monuments or museums (although there are some!), so the major activities consist of going to the beach during the day to swim/surf/boogie board, and doing pintxos-bar-hopping at night. “Pintxo” is the Basque word for the Spanish word “tapas”, which is a little plate. In San Sebastián, pintxos bars are everywhere, the entire bar counter lined with platters of little snacks, mainly toasts with anything imaginable on top (omelet, fish, marinated veggies, etc). Every pintxos bar has its own specialty too, something made fresh to order. One bar was known for its “gambas”: shrimp on toast with garlicky salsa on top, another for its mushroom risotto. The fanciest pintxos bar in San Sebastián (where I'm told chefs come from all over the world to apprentice), the specialty was a smoked cod (I didn't try, just watched in utter amazement, photo above!) where they bring it to you steaming and bubbling, like some serious molecular gastronomy business!

One night I went to a boisterous fast-food style bar that only had bar counters, no stools, so everyone was standing and eating. The staff didn't speak much English, but they were friendly and chatted with me in between taking and yelling orders to the back. I got a huge glass of sangria, a patatas bravas (a local specialty involving potatoes, creamy sauce and spicy sauce: sounds weird but SO good), and a big portion of calamari: all completely delicious, all for about $10 Canadian. Plus afterward I got to emerge into the glowing sunset and watch the world from the beautiful pier.

I don't have very many stories from San Sebastián, only wonderful memories. We climbed to the top of one of the hills to see the Jesus statue up close. I renewed my tan after a few weeks without beaches. I swam in the utterly gorgeous water, both on the calm beach and on the surf beach where you can swim out past where the waves break and just float over them as they come in. I stayed in the most laid back, friendly hostel, literally a two minute walk to the beach, where the windows were always open and you could hear the bustle of the street, one of the cafes on which serves the most famous tortilla in San Sebastián (I tried it, and it was outstanding. Could eat that for breakfast every single day – keep in mind this is IN Spain, so the locals don't say “Spanish tortilla”, but that's what it is, an omelet with potatoes, like a frittata). I made friends from Germany, Australia, and believe it or not, Montreal! We went swimming off the docks and did some pier-jumping, which was really fun. I ate good food and drank my weight in sangria and felt so relaxed and calm and happy.

Favourites:

  • Olga's Place Hostel: so wonderful. Everyone I met there was friendly and open, and we had such a fun time together. It's a great hostel, ideal location.
  • Bar Zabaleto: where you can get the famous and amazing tortilla.
  • Parts Vieja: the old part of San Sebastián is where you'll find all the pintxos bars and beautiful old buildings. I don't have any specific recommendations because we just walked into any one that looked good without caring about the name. Borda Berri is a famous one that lives up to its reputation for sure. But honestly? There doesn't seem to be any bad food in this part of town.
  • Playa Zurriola and La Concha: I mean, these go without saying, everyone goes to these beaches. Zurriola has more waves and more surfers, and La Concha is just stunning, with calmer water. I hit both up as much as possible. :)

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