Vacation anticipation is setting in. Thinking about the deliciousness of San Sebastián, Spain, first stop on our 2016 adventure.
It’s said that nothing is impossible. This is wrong. It’s impossible to lay eyes on San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia) and not fall madly in love. This stunning city is cool, svelte and flirtatious by night, charming and well mannered by day. It’s a city that loves to indulge, and with Michelin stars apparently falling from the heavens onto its restaurants and a pintxo culture almost unmatched anywhere else in Spain, San Sebastián frequently tops lists of the world’s best places to eat.
But just as good as the food is the summer fun in the sun. For its setting, form and attitude, Playa de la Concha is the equal of any city beach in Europe. Then there’s Playa de Gros (also known as Playa de la Zurriola), with its surfers and sultry beach-goers. As the sun falls on another sweltering summer’s day, you’ll sit back with a drink and an artistic pintxo and realise that, yes, you too are in love with San Sebastián.
San Sebastián has four main centres of action. The lively Parte Vieja (old town) lies across the neck of Monte Urgull, the bay’s eastern headland, and is where the most popular pintxo bars and many of the cheap lodgings are to be found. South of the Parte Vieja is the commercial and shopping district, the Centro Romántico, its handsome grid of late-19th-century buildings extending from behind Playa de la Concha to the banks of Río Urumea. On the east side of the river is the district of Gros, a pleasant enclave that, with its relaxed ambience and the surfing beach of Playa de Gros, makes a cheerful alternative to the honeypots on the west side of the river. Right at the opposite, western end of the city is Playa de Ondarreta (essentially a continuation of Playa de la Concha), a very upmarket district known as a millionaires’ belt on account of its lavish holiday homes.
PINTXO BARS HERE WE COME!
Just rolling the word pintxo around your tongue defines the essence of this cheerful, cheeky little slice of Basque cuisine. The perfect pintxo should have exquisite taste, texture and appearance and should be savoured in two elegant bites. The Basque version of a tapa, the pintxo transcends the commonplace by the sheer panache of its culinary campiness. In San Sebastián especially, Basque chefs have refined the pintxo to such an art form that many people would say that there’s simply no other city in Spain that can beat it.
Many pintxos are bedded on small pieces of bread or on tiny half-baguettes, upon which towering creations are constructed and pinned in place by large toothpicks. Some bars specialise in seafood, with much use of marinated anchovies, prawns and strips of squid, all topped with anything from chopped crab to pâté. Others deal in pepper or mushroom delicacies, or simply offer a mix of everything. And the choice isn’t normally limited to what’s on the bar top in front of you: many of the best pintxos are the hot ones you need to order. These are normally chalked up on a blackboard on the wall somewhere.
Locals tend to just eat one or two of the house specials at each bar before moving on somewhere else. When it comes to ordering, tell the bartender what you want first and never just help yourself to a pintxo off the counter!
* Descriptions are taken from Lonely Planet.