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San Sebastián: Why You Should Add This Incredible Spot To Your Next Eurotrip

San Sebastián: Why You Should Add This Incredible Spot To Your Next Eurotrip

Scorching, gorgeous, and endlessly mouth watering, San Sebastián is a tiny glittering gem in Spain’s crown. Located at the base of Pyrenees on the Bay of Biscay, the capital of Basque Country (known as Donostia in the local language) is a heady mix of cultures: surfers, skaters, chefs, sunbathers have all found a home here amidst the baroque laneways of the old town. Not convinced yet? Here’s a few reasons why you need to discover this place.

#1 The food

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(Photo: Casa Urola)

The undisputed food capital of Europe, tiny San Sebastián possesses more Michelin stars than any other region in the world. But the Michelin stars barely matter, because any pintxos (tapas) bar that you walk into will satiate your most extravagant culinary desires. If you’re after a quick bite (which you won’t be once you’ve tasted it), simply load up your plate at the food covered bar, get the waiter to count your pieces, eat, and then repeat. But for the best food, order the hot pintxos off the boards. The seafood is an obvious specialty, like the crumbed and crisp Bakalou fritters, or the generous slabs of marinated octopus, or the melt in your mouth anchovies. For meat eaters, the slow cooked beef cheek is a must, as is the pigeon.

For desserts, La Vina on 31 de Agosto has won countless awards for their cheesecake – an impossibly fluffy creation that tastes like a lightly sugared cloud. Word of warning: vegetarians and vegans will have trouble here. Some places will have one vegetarian option, but most places are only carnivore friendly. For self caterers, head to the markets (situated ironically behind McDonalds) for every kind of foodstuff imaginable. Pick up some bread, balsamic vinegar, olives, cheese, jamon, and anything else, and head to the pier for the best picnic you’ll ever have. Some brief bar/restaurant recommendations: head to Atari, Astalena, Txtepxa, Casa Urola, or La Cepa for the best comida around.

#2 The drink

Cider drinkers, you’re probably in for a shock, because Basque cider has little to do with that sugary concoction that we all know. Dramatically poured from way above into the intended glass, the drink sits somewhere between a very cloudy Apple cider and a tart white wine. It’s an acquired taste to be sure, but when coupled with the salt of the pintxos, the dripping heat and the sea spray, it suddenly makes tasty sense.

The wine ranges from all over Spain, but the best drops are the Rioja and Tempranillo varieties, both coming from regions fairly close to San Sebastián. Over the course of an evening, it’s the done thing to wander from bar to bar, sampling each one’s specialty pintxos, drinking glass after glass of cider and rich red wine. Nights don’t begin until at least 9:30pm, and thankfully stretch on until the break of day.

#3 The beaches


Playa de la Concha curves languidly from the old town in the north to Monte Igueldo in the south corner, the blue green waters of the shallow bay blissfully cool and calm. Concha has been named one of the best city beaches in the world, and not incorrectly. In summer you’ll struggle to find a place to roll out your towel, which is why it’s often better to keep walking around to Ondaretta beach where football games, volleyball matches, and beach tennis are the norm. Or head across the river to Zurriola and grab a board.

#4 The surfing and skating

With regularly massive swells and an excess of easy, rolling, left breaking waves, Zurriola beach has been a quiet mecca for surfers for years. The surfing culture is everywhere: schools and surf shops dot the shopping strips, and there is a steady stream of tanned and shaggy haired Californians populating the bars. For lessons, board hire, and anything else, check out Pukas Surf. They’re the oldest surfing school in Spain, so they should know their stuff by now. The break is at its best from June to November, although you’re pretty much guaranteed good waves whatever time. The skating scene is subsequently growing – it may not be at Barcelona levels, but it’s getting there. The long wide promenades along the river become roads for the swift longboards.

 #5 The culture

(Photo: RStacker/Flickr)

It’s been said that Spain is less of a whole nation and more of collection of countries working together (sometimes fairly reluctantly), and nowhere is this more obvious than in the fiercely independent Basque Country. It has been an autonomous community since the 1978 Spanish Constitution, retaining their own Parliament and Prime Minister. That said, demonstrations for total Basque independence happen not infrequently – and even if they’re not carrying placards through the old town, it’s impossible to miss the ubiquitous red, white and green striped flag that hang from most shop windows and ship masts.

Basque (Euskara) is the dominant language, and due to it not being related to Castilian or Catalan at all it can be a little baffling to get your head around. While most locals speak Castilian and/or English, they always appreciate any travellers willing to pick up a few phrases. Try ‘kaixo‘ (kai-sho) for hello, ‘mesedez‘ for please, and ‘eskerrik asko‘ for thank you.

#6 The scenery

(Photo: San Sebastian Tourism)

Backing on to the dramatic Pyrenees mountains, with craggy headlands jutting out into the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastián is, quite simply, astonishingly beautiful. A walk around the headland reveals the coast unfurl to France in the north east and down to Bilbao in the west. The old town is a cramped grid of honey coloured laneways, with the baroque Santa Maria Basilica capping it off in the north. And only an hour away is Bilbao, home to one of the architectural wonders of the world, Frank Gehry’s Guggeheim Museum. Lie on the beach, eat some food, and drink some cider, you’ve found the best kept secret of Spain.

(Lead image: Daniel Lombraña González/Flickr)

Check out Qantas flights to Spain here.

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