San Sebastián, Spain quite possibly my new favorite place! San Sebastian is in the Northern “Basque Country” region of Spain, along the coast of the Bay of Biscay just 12 miles from the France with the most picturesque shoreline. This stunning and charming little city frequently lands itself at the top of lists for the world’s best places to eat, and rightfully so, as it is one of the world’s most exciting culinary destination, with more Michelin stars per capita (currently 16) than anywhere else. San Sebastian is a foodie’s playground.
One of the joys of San Sebastian is hoping from bar to bar to enjoy the variety of Pintxos! Pintxos (pronounced “pinchos”) are basque style tapas, small, savory bites that come in a variety of colors and flavor combinations. They are displayed on giant plates and spread across the counter tops of every bar in town.
There really is an art to ordering Pintos here, and I had so much fun learning it. Although I felt like such a tourist the first night trying to figure it out how to go about ordering food and staring blankly at it with crowds of people pushing and grabbing, the people were super friendly and willing to teach you.
Here are some of the things I learned about how to order pintxos so hopefully you can go straight in and blend in with the locals.
- Most people hop from bar to bar, simply having one or two pintxos at each place.
- Don’t be afraid to ASK for house specials or recommendations. These are usually made hot in the back and they will bring it to you when they’re ready. That way you’re guaranteed to get something good and unique to that restaurant.
- Ask for a plate. Then simply start grabbing what you want from the wide range of cold pintxos on display.
- Some of the Pintxos may need to be warmed up so give your plate to the bartender and they’ll get those nice and hot for you.
- It is OK to throw used paper napkins on the floor. This was hard for me at first. It was so foreign to me, the bartender literally had to take it out of my hand and then throw it on the ground himself the first time. But there really are no trash cans available, so you either hold it all night, or drop it like everyone else.
- Order some Txakoli (pronounced chak-o-lee) with your food. This is a slightly sparkling Basque white wine with a unique sour taste made with locally grown grapes. When they poor it they hold the bottle up high so the wine breaks against the glass opening it up more. You must try it!
- You don’t ask to pay after each plate. Keep a mental note of what you’ve eaten and drunk and then pay at the end. The busy bartenders can’t keep up with everyone and rely on the honesty among their customers.
Though food is a huge draw to come here, and really I wish my stomach was bigger because there was so much I wanted to try, there is still a lot to do.
In between all your culinary tastings (or more so face-stuffings) you might want to do something active in order to prepare for the next glorious meal.
- You can take the “funicular” (like a trolly) up to the top of Mount Igeldo where you can enjoy this glorious view. There is also a small amusement park up there for kids and adults alike!
- There is also an island in the middle of the bay called the Island of Santa Clara. On this island you can take a hike up and around it where you get a whole new perspective and view of San Sebastian. On this island there is a small bar that offers drinks and food for purchase. And there is a a place where you can jump off into the water.
- You can get there by way of motor boat, or do what I did and rent a stand up paddle board and paddle your way across the bay. I highly recommend this path.
- You can obviously sit on the beach and soak up the rays.
San Sebastian is such a fun city with so much to offer, this post is just a small glimpse into all there is to do and eat! I hope you stop there during your next trip to Europe!