There are many things to love about the Basque gem of a seaside city, San Sebastian, or as the old locals still refer to it, Donastia. This city which lies on the Bay of Biscay in Northern Basque country is where the scenery is breathtaking, the history is rich, the people are over-the-top accepting and friendly, the energy is pulsating, the streets and neighborhoods are clean, and the food — well, it should tell you something that this little area of Spain holds the gastronomical rating of 15 Michelin stars (the second highest per capita in the world.)
We arrived (finally – after a French detour) late in the afternoon to our B&B in the Parte Viaje (old town) neighborhood of San Sebastian. We had been instructed by our host to “find the La Concha parking garage” in the middle of the city and then walk to the hotel since it was in a pedestrian only section. Easier said than done, but when an elderly local woman saw us scratching our sweaty brows over a map of the city, she graciously walked us all the way around the beautiful waterfront boardwalk expanse to the door of our accommodations. It was a great welcome to the city that would soon win our hearts.
As we left our baggage and worries behind in our hotel, we walked the tight little back streets and rounded the corner just past the cathedral. A couple of blocks from our hotel, this scene opened in front of us: thousands of locals and tourists merging together in what can only be described as the biggest food party ever. The cafe bars were packed with people seeking the tastiest pinchos (tapas on baquettes) and the coldest beers or txakoli (pron. Chakoli), a locally produced dry white wine with a tinge of sparkle. Pinchos bars are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Almost too pretty to eat, each delicacy is a 2 euro work of culinary art, and the hardest decision of the night is how many of these treasures can be devoured before moving on to the next bar for round two (or three).
There is definitely a protocol to the pinchos experience. First, you find the most crowded place, muscle your way up to the bar through all the happy patrons, order a drink from one of the hustling bartenders who will then hand you a plate. This is where the fun begins. Now you must choose a pinchos or two to decorate your plate, show the bartender who has by now handed you your drinks over the heads of the crowds hovering over the bar. Taking your drink and plate outside to sit on the steps of the cathedral or a little stone wall near the bar, youwith finish the mouthwatering event and then muscling your way back to the bar, you pay the same bartender who, by some miracle has remembered you, your pinchos and your drinks. Pay him and off you go to the next bar for more of the same. We joined this invigorating party each night we were in San Sebastian usually finishing the ritual well after midnight.
Lest you think that all we did was eat and drink, I will tell you that, although that was definitely the highlight of this charming city, we filled our days with activities like swimming, boating, hiking and biking (Thomas from Urban Adventures was our fun and knowledgable guide – highly recommended!) All in all we were enamored with this beautiful city and understand its well deserved distinction as the “2016 Capital of European Culture.”