A FOODIE TRAVEL GUIDE TO SAN SEBASTIAN:
A Three Day Foodies Itinerary to The Infamous Basque Region
As you might remember from my last post, or more likely my instagram feed, a couple of weeks ago I jetted out on a very last minute trip to San Sebastian in Spain. It’s a city i’ve had on my radar for a few years now but not one I’d planned to visit yet, when the invite came through I didn’t deliberate and despite knowing no one on the trip, said yes immediately.
The trip was a work jolly with a media owner we work with, one of the perks of working in media but I have to say it was my first proper jolly abroad so I was really excited. The three day itinerary was born out of a foodies dreams, and not only did we get the chance to eat in some of San Sebastians most exquisite restaurants, we also got to experience some of the Basque way of life which isn’t something you get the luxury of experiencing on every trip. The trip was masterfully planned making it all the more incredible.
I thought the best way to share my travel diary and guide for you, was to share our daily itinerary, not only might it help you plan your future trip to the city but I think it gives the best overview of what we got up to too.
A quick note: Despite the fact this is definitely a foodie guide, I didn’t take any pictures of the food we ate on my camera (you may have seen some on stories) as I wanted to be in the moment when we were dining and not taking tons of pictures, especially given the restaurants and company I was in, I hope you understand.
THREE DAY SAN SEBASTIAN ITINERARY
DAY 1: A LOCALS EVENING
We arrived in Bilbao around 230pm and after a picturesque hours transfer to San Sebastian arrived at our base for the next few days, the Five Star Hotel Maria Cristina. The hotel was a beautifully classic luxury hotel, white table cloths at breakfast, traditional luxe interior decor, and grand bedrooms with the sweetest nightly turn down service.
Once we’d settled in, freshened up and for me unpacked my bags and made myself at home, we headed downstairs to the hotels lounge area for drinks (champagne and Aperol) and our first taste of iberico ham … I like to think of this as the warm up, for what was to follow, tonns of the most delicious ham you’ve ever eaten.
At 630pm three local guides joined ready to take us off for a very brief tour of the local area, and most importantly a taster for the Pintoxs bars San Sebastian has to offer. I sadly can’t remember the names of the Pintoxs bars we visited, but needless to say the old city was packed street after street with little bars selling their delicious nibbles. Each Pintoxs bar tends to have a speciality, whether it be their steak, anchovies or of course iberico ham. The best thing about these bars is the idea is you visit a few, taste a few things that take your fancy, and generally catch up with friends before you head onto your evenings dinner plans. We tried some delicious meat and prawns during our Pintoxs visit, and had our first taste of the local wine, txakoli (pronounced chicoli).
My one tip is to ask the barman what the chefs are cooking, as we learnt that often the best Pintoxs are actually not on display, but cooked fresh on request, so don’t assume you have to choose from those Pintoxs laid out on the bar. For those that don’t know or haven’t tried, Pintoxs are effectively little tasters laid out in Spanish bars for you to come and eat as a snack pre dinner, culturally people tend to enjoy them with friends after work, and traditionally they’re served on bread as a means to act as a plate – so don’t feel you have to fill up on the beige!
At 8.30pm we headed for dinner at a traditional Basque restaurant in the old village, I had baked lamb which was like nothing i’ve ever had before, both majorly tender but also a really delicious flavoursome chewy skin (almost pork belly style).
DAY 2: TXAKOLI & ARZAK
After a mighty breakfast at the hotel, we headed out of San Sebastian city centre to a local Vineyard, Txakoli Rezabal vineyard. We had a wonderful tour of the vineyard and tried three of the local wines produced here. The overall consensus was the Rose Txakoli was the best. If the morning wine tasting wasn’t enough to fire our belly’s, we tend headed to a Petritegi (a local cider producer) for traditional Sidrería and an absolute feast of local basque food. You would need a car or planned transport for these trips, but given they are such a fundamental part of basque culture they’re worth doing for a morning. Despite the fact the cider was the main point of the Petritegi visit, it was the food I wanted to report home on. My goodness the food was something else: salt cod omelette, salt cod, and more rib eye than you can imagine – I truly mean MORE RIB EYE than you could even imagine, it was so much we skipped the cheese course AND the pudding course. Ironically the food is ‘poor’ food traditionally, but if you love salt cold and a good steak then the flavours aren’t to miss.
The afternoon was then spent exploring the local area and in a siesta trying to digest lunch before a rather special evening. Starting with roof top drinks in the suite.
Any trip to San Sebastian, for a foodie lover, must include a visit to San Sebastians three Michelin starred Arzak – one of the best restaurants in the world. We were lucky enough to not only get the entire tasting menu and delicious hand selected wine to boot, but to also have a kitchen tour and the chance to meet the celebrity chef behind the restaurant, Elena Arzak. The food was delicious, interesting and presented as beautifully as you’d hope. I had a custom menu as I can’t eat dairy or gluten, and some of my dishes blew my mind they were so tasty. Eight courses later, it was gone 1am by the time we arrived back at the hotel.
If you plan to visit Arzak you need to book at least 3/4 months in advance.
DAY THREE: LOCAL MARKETS & SOCIEDAD GASTRONOMICA
I feel a little bad sharing the day three itinerary, as I think it would be tricky to replicate unless you have basque friends or know people in the area who are members of one of the few gastronomical societies that are infamous in San Sebastian. But nonetheless, day three was yet another foodie extravaganza …
After morning walks or leisurely lie ins (I fell in the latter camp, obviously), we started our morning (post another feast at the hotel) with a walk around one of San Sebastians food markets. The fresh and seasonal food culture is really admirable and highly celebrated, not least by those who are members of the society clubs I mentioned. We were fortunate enough to get the chance to dine at the highly esteemed Sociedad Gastronomica, cooked for by local members, and invited as a guest of one of the members, who happens to work with Elena Arzak on their books.
The afternoon was then yet again, spent exploring the local area and clocking in another siesta before our final night in San Sebastian.
The evening started with pre dinner sherry tasting at MIMO cooking school (they’ve actually just opened a school in Bermondsey too), naturally I prioritised my time quaffing as much Pedro Ximenez as possible (love a good desert wine me), followed by a sea front sunset and dinner at Bokado – a seriously delicious seafood restaurant on La Concha.
As you’d expect after the rest of our trip, the food was delicious, and it’s no surprise given its the restaurant choice of most of San Sebastians chefs. The seafood was divine, I particularly loved the Scallop in crab bisque and the monkfish, and the setting was the perfect finale to our three nights in San Sebastian. The sunset setting was just the perfect close … and annoyingly the only time I didn’t have my camera on me (but a good moment to truly be ‘in the moment’).
The following morning after breakfast, we travelled back to the UK to rain and a lot less food.
I expected San Sebastian to be beautiful, with it’s coastal positioning, basque heritage and slightly french infused architecture (it felt similar to Cannes to me), but I had no idea the food would be such a prominent part of it’s culture. And being a huge foodie, it quickly rocketed this city on my list of favourites.
If you love food, love wine and love a city break with substance, then add this on to your list. Even better, tie it in with the whole basque region and visit Bilbao too.