The sky was bright and blue on this summer’s day in San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque). Fuelled by the excitement of being in a thriving Basque country, within 10 minutes of our arrival we sunk our teeth into the juicy flesh of big Spanish peaches. Feeling the nourishment of sugar-coated vitamins in our blood, we set off to Old Town, the most historic centre of San Sebastián.
Everything about this city resembled the shadows of Barcelona and Alicante, both of which are thriving big cities in their own geographical coordinates. The Boulevard itself, which is a long road fringing many classical buildings and on which buskers come to earn a day wage, is the mirror image of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street.
Best place to eat in Europe?
The San Sebastiáns (donostiarra in Spanish; or donostiarrak, in Basque) are wildly passionate about their cuisines. It is after all, famed to be the best place to eat in Europe – a land where Michelin stars grow on trees and where a grazer goes in their wet dreams, with small appetizer dishes called pintxos found ubiquitously.
Since the nice man at the tourist office refused to reveal his favourite local pintxos bar, we had to rely on our noses to sniff out the least touristy and most authentic of pintxo bars. Here’s how well we’ve done.
Fave for breakfast
Raviolina – La cucina della nonna, Calle Puerto 9, San Sebastián, Spain
We came here every morning without fail. Best place for a nice Spanish-styled fry up with butter beans to replace baked beans, their own brand of sausages, fried eggs, and fried bread. Also available on the breakfast menu are mueslis with yogurt; muffin; jamón on toast. Complimentary world’s best coffee or tea comes with each breakfast set. One word of warning, this is where our caffeine addiction began, it is just THAT good! Wait till you try their smoothies and ice creams too…No photo of food as it was wolfed down as soon as it arrived.
Fave for lunch and dinner
Since pintxos became our ultimate culinary delight, lunch and dinner practically rolled into one as we found ourselves bar-hopping from one pintxo to another. Our favourite pintxo bars in the Old Town are:
Bar Txalupa Jatetxea, Calle Fermín Calbetón, 3, San Sebastián, Spain
I would be broke if I move to San Sebastián. I would come to Bar Txalupa everyday. There’s a great variety, which makes it a feast for the eyes as much as the mouth. My favourite is the fall-off-the-flesh baked cod with caramelised onion soaked in olive oil. The most famous drinks in San Sebastián are txakoli (sparkling white wine) and sidra (cider), and both are available in this bar. I can talk all day about numerous gastronomic delights, so shall we let the pictures do the talking?
Bar Txondorra, Calle Fermín Calbetón, 7, San Sebastián, Spain
Everything above and their amazing tortilla patatas.
Admittedly, we may have paid more than a knowledgeable local would. Upon research, I found an article which detailed the cheap and cheerful authentic pintxo bars in San Sebastian. It took this guy 6 months to navigate out of the touristy bit of Old Town and into the more authentic parts of San Sebastian (Donostia dive bars: Night life in San Sebastián, Spain)!
What do you do after a meal? Ascend to cake, gelato, and cáfe con leche (coffee with milk) heaven of course. One of the hippest cafe-cum-bar we came across, Koh Tao, offers comfy cushions, cocktails, cake, and even soya milk to accompany my coffee. Not only that, but you can also doodle on the walls of this venue while you sip your stresses away.
Sun, Sea and Surf
Located on the southern coast of the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastián has three beautiful beaches – La Concha, La Ondarreta, and La Zurriola. The latter is the most popular amongst surfers, and approved by Australians. The best beach, albeit the most crowded, is La Concha, where we spent a full day. I giggled when the waves came crashing on me while I was playing at the beach, remembering the feelings of youthful innocence.
Panoramic views of San Sebastián
For a spectacular view of San Sebastián and its picturesque coastline, head up to the Igeldo Tower on the top of Mount Igueldo via a steep and rumbling funicular railway. The viewpoint was fantastic, although I would advise against falling for the tourist trap that is the ‘retro’ attractions park, utilising poor horses for paid rides.
Visit Donostia-San Sebastián
Just as we were leaving, the biggest sporting event in the Basque country, The San Sebastian Concha Cup where boats weighing over 300 kg were used to race, was going to take place.
For more information on this beautiful city, visit their tourist information centre here. You can get to San Sebastián by flying to its adjacent airports:
- San Sebastian Airport (EAS) – 20 kms.
- Bilbao Airport (BIO) – 105 kms.
- Vitoria-Gasteiz Airport (VIT) – 120 kms.
- Pamplona Airport (PNA) – 90 kms.
- Biarritz Airport (BIQ) – 40 kms.
I will return, perhaps in 2016, when San Sebastián will be the European Capital of Culture.
Thank you for writing this great recommendation, samalita. We’re traveling from the US and had recently read a review on New York Times. Now we know where to go to get away from the tourist spots in San Sebastian. I’ll look out for Koh Tao, sounds awesome!
Glad to help. While I was there, I noticed many Americans holidaying in San Sebastian, I think you will feel right at home. Yes, do find Koh Tao, it’s away from the hectic tourist village and you will settle into a dream on their comfy couches and cushions.
Tried the Raviolina breakfast this morning. The fry up was no good. 2 hot dog type sausages with under done fried eggs, no butter beans. The coffee was just a Nespresso capsule… The crossiant, ordered seperately, however was fantastic.