A Short Break in San Sebastian

San Sebastian

San Sebastian was stop number three on our tour of the Basque Country and the place I was looking forward to the most. There are more Michelin starred restaurants per square metre than ANY other city in the world, it is the city where Spanish royals spent their summers and it is home to one of Spain’s best beaches. Needless to say my expectations were very high….

 

We arrived late the in afternoon and went straight for the old town to try some of the tasty food we had heard so much about. Although home to 16 michelin stars, it was the 200 pintxos bars that I was looking forward to the most! Pintxos (pronounced ‘Pintoes’) are a tradition in San Sebastian, small bite size food portions, traditionally served with local wine or cider. Or to put it another way – the Basque country’s version of tapas! In the old town there were dozens of places to choose from, each one packed. San Sebastian was buzzing, it was chic and stylish, with an old town full of character. It was everything I had hoped it would be.

We had our kids with us so bar hopping wasn’t ideal, but we did our best! There is no need to worry about children not liking the food as EVERY pinxtos bar has steak on the menu. Speaking of menus most locals order from a menu and don’t take the food on the bar. Of course its fresher but I’m also told you will also get better quality from the menu too. Children’s menus are not prevalent so although prices seem reasonable, when you end up paying for four adults – maybe not so much… We enjoyed a tasty meal and some nice Rioja but decided on a early night as we had an action packed next day planned!

We decided to opt for the local tourist train. It was handy with the kids and gave us a good idea of the layout of the city and where the highlights were. San Sebastian is a beautiful city. Buildings, side streets, alleyways, everywhere I looked I had to get the camera out. It is opulent and easy to understand why it is the holiday resort of Spain’s elite. Having the benefits of city living but with an amazing beach right on your doorstep, it’s the cliché – it offers the best of both worlds! Although you could easily compare it to Paris or Prague in terms of beauty, it is so small that you can easily see everything in a couple of days.


We started with a walk along La Concha beach. It didn’t take long to realise why it is one of the world’s best urban beaches. There is not a shell or stone in sight and the water is crystal clear. It was November when we visited and I was tempted to get in for a swim! A leisurely forty minute walk will bring you to the famous sculpture, El Peine del Viento (Comb of the Wind). With the waves crashing against the rocks, it’s the perfect picture spot! There is an a funicular railway to Monte Igueldo close by which offers great views of San Sebastián, as well as an old amusement park. In fact there are several places to enjoy the view in San Sebastian. Monte Urgull where the statue of Christ watches over the old town, is another favourite. This is the only place where you will see the city’s three beaches and is home to La Mota Castle and San Telmo Museum. In the summer time a boat trip to Santa Clara Island is also worth a trip. Home to the only south facing beach in the Basque Country as well as a forest with picnic tables and a great view of the city.


After all the sightseeing it was time for the highlight of my trip, a pintxos tour of San Sebastian. We started at the Bretxa market. This is where all the top chefs source their produce, this set the tone perfectly. I have no doubt we had THE best tour guide, Eskerne Falcon, from Discover San Sebastián. Her bubbly personality and perfect English won us over, even before we tasted the food! She immediately made the kids at ease, asked them what food they liked and assured them that they would enjoy some tasty pintxos! Our first port of call was Bernardo Etxea where we tried octopus, fried green peppers and a delicious shrimp brochette, accompanied by local cider and white wine from the area. Eskerne, ever the professional, had also ordered plenty of Jamon Iberico, in case we wanted to play it safe! We were told this particular Jamon Iberico was from small black pigs that eat only acorns – the benefits of a good diet were evident, it was the best Jamon Iberico I have ever tasted.

We moved on to Bar La Cepa. Open since 1948, it is practically an institution in San Sebastian. We had mouthwatering anchovies as well as Gavilla (ham and cheese toasties) for the kids.  Our last stop was Gandarias. Ranked as one of San Sebastian’s top restaurants on tripadvisor, it was packed with locals and tourists alike. We tried the local desert, Torrija. I liked it but unfortunately the cinnamon wasn’t a big hit with the kids. That was no trouble to Eskerne, she took us to San Sebastian’s best ice cream parlour instead, Oiartzun. Needless to say this was a big hit! If pintxos are not your thing, the lobster and sirloin at Lanziego is supposed to be excellent, but I guess I’ll just have to come back to make sure!

I’m not sure if it was the copious amounts of wine or food, or both, but it was time for a rest! We paid a visit to the aquarium, just a few minutes walk from the harbour, to let the kids have some much needed play time! It’s not the best aquarium I have ever visited but it was exactly what was needed after a morning full of adult entertainment 🙂 We had just enough time for a quick visit to Spain’s largest Zara store. We simply had to avail of the 20% savings – sure it would be rude not to!

San Sebastian is everything you want in a city and more. It is ideal for a short break, yet offers so much that you will want to stay longer. It is stylish, full of character and has some of the best dining options in the world. Go discover San Sebastian.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery