We have just finished 5 great days in San Sebastian. It’s been another relaxing wee stint, due mainly to the fact that there isn’t a great deal to do in San Sebastian other than eat. San Sebastian is in the Basque region of Spain, which shares with Tokyo the honour of having more Michelin starred restaurants than any other region in the world. There is an abundance of bars, cafes and restaurants and the quality of food across the board is amazing. I know that not everybody gets as excited about food as I do, and that photos of food are usually really boring (typically I could not care less about seeing photos of what other people have baked, or eaten for dinner), but the food here really was something to write home about. Bear with me.
The cornerstone of the San Sebastian food scene is Pintxos. These are bite sized dishes that you typically help yourself to from the bar. The variety is totally overwhelming and there are both cold dishes and hot ones that you select, which are then whisked off to the kitchen to be cooked and returned to you. The idea with Pintxos is to have only 1 or 2 at each place, and to bar hop your way around until you are full. It’s intended to be a social experience, rather than getting stuck in like it’s your “birthday” and you’re dining for free at Valentine’s. There are often no tables or chairs in the bars, which encourages people to eat, drink and move on and make room for new people arriving.
Understanding the etiquette and how all this works can be tricky, so we thought we’d sign up to do a Pintxos tour on our first day. Only problem was that the food tour was an absolute budget-buster, so Campbell (we’ll call him “husband of the year” for the purposes of this story) elected to sit the tour out and sent me off solo. The deal being that I would use all of my new-found Pintxos knowledge to take him on a few Pintxos crawls of our own.
The tour was an absolute highlight, notwithstanding the fact that I was the youngest member of the group by at least 40 years. I had a wonderful afternoon with Ruth, Margaret, John, Douglas, Stuey and the rest of the salt and pepper gang, and Stuey’s dodgy knee only slowed us down a little. Our guide Vicky was really lovely, and got us boozed up on local wine and sherry and gave us the most amazing Pinxtos to sample – prawn bruschette, deep fried chillis, squid stuffed with softshell crab, pine nut and wild mushroom tarts, scallops in an almond cream foam, beef tenderloin, iberian ham, braised veal cheek and deep fried french toast.
To balance out all of that eating we also did a fair amount of walking in San Sebastian. The weather wasn’t flash, but we got out when we could. The best walk we did was a section of the Camino trail, which took us from San Sebastian to San Pedro. It was a 3 hour walk, which started out with an absolute arse kicking set of steps. I absolutely hate walking up steep hills or stairs, but that deep fried french toast was weighing heavy on my mind/thighs, so we persevered. The pay-off was the most amazing coastal scenery and bush tracks. There was loads of other walkers on the track, including those who were doing the entire Camino pilgrimage. We’re toying with the idea of adding that to the bucket list – final decision TBC.
When we got to San Pedro we jumped in a tiny little boat (check out the Captain’s builders’ crack) that took us 100 metres from San Pedro to San Juan de Pasaia, a really cute little fishing village where we had lunch and wandered the streets looking very touristy.
We also did walks around San Sebastian’s famous La Concha, and Zurriola beaches. These are beautiful stretches of white sandy beach, which the locals enjoy on the 165 days of the year that it doesn’t rain in San Sebastian. At the merest hint of sunshine everybody strips down to their togs and makes a beeline for the beach. We didn’t brave the water, but there were plenty making the most of it.
After a 6 hour train ride we now find ourselves in Barcelona. Sadly, our AirBnB apartment is veering towards the “shit pit” end of the spectrum, but it will do the trick for 3 more nights. We spent this morning listening to the All Blacks game on the radio and eating bacon and eggs. You can take the Kiwis out of NZ . . . .
*For the record, Campbell had no part in naming this blog.