San Sebastian, Spain is one of the major food meccas of the world: wonderful shops, pintxos (tapas) bars, and some of the top restaurants On earth, all on the north coast of Spain in Basque country, off the Bay of Biscay, just a stone’s throw from the French border.
Pintxo bars are everywhere, especially in the old part of town where the narrow streets are for pedestrians only, and many bars specialize in just a few prepared foods, like the beautiful sautéed fresh mushrooms, above.
Some joints, like Cuchara de San Telmo, jam every night until they literally run out of food.
Clearly, we couldn’t get enough of the mushrooms!
No shortage of fantastic Basque cheeses and charcuterie in local San Sebastian shops, either.
Not all the best pintxo bars are in old town. This one, Restaurante Ni Neu, is just across the waterway from the classic Hotel Maria Christina.
Need a break from all that rich food? Craving a burger, a salad and a beer? Head down the boardwalk on La Concha Beach for the Wimbledon, a tennis club that has a great pub open to the public.
Many great family-run restaurants. Often, like with Munto and Egosari, you’ll find the first floor is all about the pintxos, and the second floor has a more formal dining area where you can sit down to a wonderful meal. Others, like Astelena, are finer dining experiences. And Narru has indoor dining as well as al fresco dining with a view of La Concha beach.
San Sebastian is home to many of the world’s finest restaurants, including Arzak, rated the #8 restaurant in the world. Here’s the gazpacho at Arzak…
And an incredible plate of fish, served on a clear dish so you can see the video of ocean waves crashing on the shore on the iPad the dish is served on!
The talented Elena Arzak was named best female chef in the world in 2012.
At the #3 spot on the top restaurants of the world, there’s Mugaritz, another amazing dining experience.
One incredible dish after another. An experience hard to put into words, but I tried. Read about it here: http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-vn
The “Linking Dish,” one of the most memorable moments of the evening at Mugaritz.
And no evening was complete without a tour of the kitchen…
Just a short drive from San Sebastian, we visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a day trip I highly recommend. Even if you’re not an art fan, the architecture of this building is out of this world.
And the bistro at the museum, where we had a wonderful lunch, was worth the price of admission.
On the way back from Bilbao, we stopped at the small village of Getaria, where we visited the hard-to-find mountaintop vineyard of Bodega Elkano. The Zimmerman family has made the wonderful wine known as Txakoli here since 1830, and we visited with Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman, neither of whom spoke any English. Fortunately, my Spanish was up to the task! (They do have a son and daughter, both of whom do speak English, but they weren’t in the area at the time of our visit.)
They welcomed us with open arms, and it was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had in my travels.
We had dinner back down by the waterfront, at the port of Getaria, at Restaurante Kaia-Kaipe. Excellent seafood.
Back at San Sebastian, we spent our days burning calories at La Concha beach…
…and visiting what is considered the oldest hilltop water ride in the world at the park at Monte Igueldo, just a short and fun funicular ride up the mountain.
Of course, the view doesn’t suck, either.
Amazing food and drink, a beautiful beach, wonderful friendly people, world-class dining, down-and-dirty bar hopping, art appreciation, a world-class aquarium…San Sebastian has it all. This was our second trip in 10 years. And one of the very few places I’ve ever been to where I started talking about coming back while I was on the plane going home.