san sebastian

One Night In: San Sebastián

When we moved to Lisbon, we decided to make the journey by car. It would have been fool-hardy to do this in one go though (especially as Caitlin doesn’t drive, but is very good at sleeping, so it would have just been me and my Aziz Ansari audiobook for 21 hours straight), and we therefore decided on three stopovers. The first one was in the Loire Valley, which is lovely and relaxing and we drank wine and we ate bread and cheese and we stayed in what was essentially a castle, but it wouldn’t really be a riveting blog post. The final stop was in Porto, which was amazing and we ate great food and found a couple of interesting places, but it rained a lot so we left very early the next morning and it is a city that deserved more than that. For the middle day, we stopped in San Sebastián. And what a great place San Sebastián is.

We’re talking mid-April here, and a lot of the drive, plus the preceding days back in London, had been dominated by rain. Luckily, the weather had taken a turn for the better, so we headed straight to the beach. San Sebastián has approximately 307 beaches, but we just chose the one nearest to our hotel. That was Playa la Zurriola. It may have been the time of year, but it wasn’t overly busy. In fact, most of the beach users were more concerned with surfing. It was perfect for a quick paddle and a beer.

As with everywhere we visit though, food was the priority. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that like its basque neighbour Bilbao, San Sebastián is all about pintxos. Those little handheld snacks, served on the counters of bars. You’ve got your traditional options, with fish, veg or meat served on a piece of bread, and then the newer, more experimental options. An evening eating pintxos is perfect for bar hopping, and trying all different types, so that is exactly what we did.

For the best options, you want to head for the old town. We were staying in Gros, but it’s just a short walk along the beach and then across the bridge. Deciding to start with the more traditional fare, Bar Goiz-Argi was our first stop. It was busy and paper napkins covered the floor (the sign of a good pintxo bar is the number of paper napkins left on the floor), but the guy behind the bar was eager to help. He pointed us towards their house speciality of prawns, and they didn’t disappoint. We could have easily stayed for three of four more servings, but we were here to bar hop, and had plenty more destinations to get to.

When you’re out for pintxos, you’re only really supposed to have one at a time, and then move on. That’s what the locals told us anyway. But what are you supposed to do when you walk into somewhere specifically to have their world famous Solomillo steak, and you also spot a delicious looking shrimp and chorizo brochette? I’ll tell you what you do. You have both. Gandarias‘ Solomillo is a rare steak on bread, and it is perfect. Wash it down with a glass of Ribera del Duero and you’ll fall in love. This place has got a full restaurant in the back as well, and if we’d been there for more than one night, I’m sure we would have tried it.

It was time to try some of the newer, more experimental places. The perfect starting point was Bar Zeruko. Dozens of different types of pintxo line the bar, which is two deep with locals. It’s easiest just to point to what you want and let the bar staff sort the hot from the cold and bring the finished dishes to you. There’s food stacked high, food in cages, food that I have no idea what it was even after eating it. There’s food everywhere. And by god it’s good. It might not sound like the most exciting of all the dishes, but try the egg. And thank me later.

There was one more that we wanted to make sure we got to before the end of the night. A Fuego Negro is very special. The menu, written and illustrated up on the wall, changes regularly apparently, and offers both pintxos and bigger sharing dishes – more like tapas. When we visited, the dish they seemed most proud of was their take on a KFC. Using their own spices, it came served in a bucket with a face very similar to a certain Colonel. At this stage of the night though, it was a bit much for us and we stuck to pintxos. We plumped for (the largest) olives (you’ve ever seen) in vermouth and the tuna carpaccio with peppers. I don’t know how to describe the olives, as I’ve never tasted anything quite like them before, or since. Like I said, this is a special place.

The next morning we had time for a quick bit of breakfast and a bit of a look around the shops before heading off. For breakfast we headed to Belgrado, and great little cafe with good coffee, nice granola and yoghurt, and even a small little shop. The shops holds both food and some clothing, and I still regret not getting a sweatshirt I came across.

We did have time for one quick purchase though, and that was from the brilliant Bois et Fer. There’s plenty of nice mid-century and contemporary furniture, but that’s not really practical to pick up when you’re in the midst of driving across the continent. Caitlin, who has a knack of always finding something, got herself a very nice little mug from local designer Jean-Vier. It’s become her go-to coffee mug, and reminds us everyday that we have to go back to San Sebastián very soon.