The tapas-bar scene is the best of Spain
SAN SEBASTIAN: After a short break in Bilbao, I am off to the Spanish city of San Sebastian as a VIP Tourist. The easiest way to become a VIP Tourist in Basque Country is to buy the San Sebastian Card. It costs 9 or 16 euro, depending how VIP you like to be. Actually I’m not here for art or shopping, I’m in San Sebastian to eat. And if I have time to do something else, I like to eat some more.
All the stars. For those who don’t are familiar with the hard gastronomic facts; San Sebastian has some fabulous chefs making art of gastronomy. Of the seven Michelin-star restaurants with 3-stars in Spain, three are in this city holding a total of 16 Michelin stars. When it comes to these attractive stars, San Sebastian is only beaten by the Japanese city of Kyoto, and well ahead of cities like Paris and Lyon. Here the famous chefs are the real VIPs.
Taste of glory. Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subjana, Martin Berasategui and Andoni Atxa are the four Chefs each with three Michelin Stars, and many other receive the recognition from food critics and guests. It’s like a stream of honours year after year. For a taste of glory, book well ahead to be sure of a table, and you will never forget the three-hour meal – or the bill.
Culinary art. But the local cuisine is not only recognised by the Michelin Guide. The secret of food comes from the older generation and you eat well in the Basque culture and every family.
Another foodie treasure is pintxos, the Basque tapas. Go for a pintxos safari from bar to bar in San Sebastian’s Old Town and you will learn a lot of this miniature culinary art – and for sure you will have great time tasting a myriad of flavours. I followed the tourist information and dropped in to Antonio Bar, Bar Bartolo and Bar Iturrioz, the last one specialized in cod confit. Continue to stroll, but don’t skip pudding. Save room for a locally famous cheesecake at La Viña (Address: Calle 31 de Agosto 3) and a glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry. It’s a sweet finish to a perfect and delicious evening.
Experience lunch in a cider house, or sidreias in Basque language, is an experience not to be missed. Serving a variation on a menu of grilled T-bone steaks, chorizo cooked in cider, salt-cod omelette and fresh fish with peppers in tortilla – all for around 30 euro with unlimited cider. Astigarraga is a town nearby San Sebastian famous for it’s cider houses. The main cider season runs from January to May. Lunch in a cider house is well worth a try. Hidden in a farmhouse, Lizeaga is one the region’s oldest and most atmospheric cider houses. Open all year. Gartziategi Baserria, 20115 Astigarraga; +34 943 468290.
Heaven. It’s not hard to find an award-winning restaurant or pintxos-bar, a food market or a delicatessen store, there is sure to be one nearby, and you don’t need a stuffed wallet to dine here. I had chosen San Sebastian as a destination for its food – and before I left one local claimed I have an excellent taste, while I’m still convinced I visited the food heaven.
Make it Happen!
Touch Down: BA, EasyJet, Vueling, Lufthansa, Norwegian and other airlines fly to Bilbao Airport. Renting a car in Spain is cheap. Coaches run from Biarritz (France) and Bilbao to San Sebastian.
Stay: Good location and next to river Urumea, Silken Amara Plaza, address Plaza Pio XII. 7, San Sebastian. 25 minutes walk from the beach and old town. The staff is helpful and friendly. Villa Soro is a charming 25-roombelle époque house within walking distance to Arzak and a 10-minute bus ride from the old town.
Eat: The tapas-bar scene is the best of Spain, with dozens of places to eat crammed into its cobbled streets and squares.
Play: San Sebastian has some night leisure areas, each with it own identity. Nothing is better than taking a stroll around the Old Town. The city’s nightlife continues at the port area and in the heart of La Concha Bay.
Mini Guide: Pintxos are the Basque equivalent of tapas; the world literally means thorn, originally served on toothpicks and over the years evolved into tiny version of bigger dishes. Beaches. San Sebastian is visually tempting and on the beaches you can swim late into autumn. La Concha and Ondarreta are two beaches near each other, while Zurriola is the biggest one. I found La Concha with clean sand one of the best urban beaches with plenty of space and services for visitors. The San Sebastian Card is valid up to five days. Point of sale: San Sebastian Turismo, Boulevard 8, Tel: +34 943 48 11 66, sansebatianturismo.com