Today, with reluctance, I left San Sebastian behind. I’m here to tell you why I think this place is the bee’s knees. Here are my top ten picks of things to do in this city.
1. Eat pintxos and drink txakoli.
This is where the legendary Spanish tapa gets such a good name, I swear. All you need do is walk the old quarter to witness row upon row of food-laden bars and if the sight doesn’t entice you in, the smell will.
Pintxos (Basque for tapa, pronounced pin-chos) are bite-sized morsels, usually pre-prepared on bread but sometimes skewered or ordered and cooked fresh. They can be anything from stuffed bell peppers or creamy Basque blue cheese through to roasted pork suckling and battered artichoke hearts wrapped in bacon and accompanied with prawns. The idea is that you go barhopping and sample them in different places as the night progresses. Prices range anywhere from €1 to €4. They are heavenly and look a little like this.
By the way, head to La Cuchara de San Telmo for the mouth-watering, most tender veal cheek you’ll ever come across. The best €3,20 I have ever spent!
Txakoli is a dry, white wine, local to the region – made from an indigenous grape that grows along the rugged Atlantic coastline. Described as sunshine in a glass (surprisingly not by its marketers), it is light, fruity, slightly effervescent and must be drunk cold. If you order this drink you must watch how artfully the bar staff pour it into the glass.
Did you know? There are many stories regarding the origins of tapas but one of the most frequently told has to be that in the 13th century, doctors to King Alfonso X advised him to accompany his wine between meals with small snack-sized food. Apparently the monarch liked this idea so much that he passed a law requiring all bars in his realm to follow suit. Others just say they were created as a useful way of keeping bugs and flies out of traders, pilgrims and other such travellers’ beer by covering it with a lid of food. The word tapa in English means lid or cover.
2. Come to Jesus.
Walk to the top of Monte Urgull to say hello to one very handsome recreation of Christ. He looks over the city and I gotta say, he has one heck of a view.
3. Take the funicular to Monte Igueldo.
At San Sebastian’s most-Western point, you will find one almighty mountain. You could choose to walk up it but for €2,80 return, I took the beautiful old-school funicular. It’s a pretty steep climb but once at the top, you will find a fun fair with all sorts of rides, it even has a cute little log flume an a House of Terror. But if fun fairs are not your thing, you will still find yourself amidst the most incredible scenery and the best view of the city you could probably get from land (I say this because I saw some very keen paragliders swooping in over the city that evening and I am sure that would’ve been incredible). Take a picnic and time it for the sunset and you have the recipe for one very memorable evening. All credit to a friend for that idea.
4. Hit Playa de la Concha.
The longest beach in the harbor and the much calmer of the two, here you can find a spot on the white sand and laze all day in the sun. In between your summertime melting moments, you can take a dip in the refreshing ocean and swim to one of the several pontoons there or you could turn around and wander up to the beachside bar and get a cerveza. If boredom does get the better of you, walk out to the point and check out the blowholes in the rock – they’re great if there’s a swell.
5. Catch some waves at Playa de Gros.
In summer, this could be the perfect spot for you to take your first surf lesson if that’s ever taken your fancy. The waves can get big though, while I was there, I must confess they were not. Nonetheless, many were in the water with their boards, willing to give it a shot.
6. Visit la Mejillonera.
This place dishes up the tastiest mussels around and for a bargain too. A plate of eight tasty mussels will be around €3, a generous portion of calamari or a 1.5L beer is the same. But the best part about this place is its staff. They are so friendly! Oh and I am forgetting to mention that after you’ve finished with your mussel, you toss the shell on the ground. A unique feature that gives the place a bit of novelty factor.
7. Eat Cocos at Oiartzun Gozotegia.
Ok so I am sensing a food trend here but let me just mention now that San Sebastian has the highest amount of Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world. Go figure.
Cocos are like soft, melty balls of death. Sorry, that’s a terrible explanation. But when you eat these – you will die and go to heaven. They look really ordinary but they are amazing! They are the Spanish version of macaroons, but BETTER! All I can say is you have to try one. The only catch is, you have to be a fan of coconut.
8. Try banana split gelato at Boulevard.
Again, do this and you will die and go to heaven.
9. Hike the eastern coastline until you reach San Pedro.
So I have realised since my travels this summer that I am quite into hiking. Or tramping as my Dad would call it. And what better place to do it than North Spain where there are countless trails you can take that offer breathtaking scenery, whether it be forest, coast or the mountainous Pyrenees. I took a nice 4-hour walk along the coast, starting from the most eastern point of San Sebastian, at the far end of the surf beach.
I was with another eager Kiwi and an enthusiastic Canadian and none of us really knew where we were going. We saw plenty of people on their way from France who were walking the Camino de Santiago and we were reassured that we were headed towards a town. Sure enough, we found beautiful San Pedro. It was 30 degrees so we took the bus back.
10. Kayak to the Isla de Santa Clara or rent a bike.
I guess I have to put something else active to counter the encouragement I am giving you all to eat your hearts out in this amazing city. You can rent a Kayak from Playa de la Concha for €10 for an hour (I think!) and it’s a mere ten minute paddle over to the island where you can stop off, get a drink at the bar, wander around and head back.
Alternatively, if land is more your thing, hire a bike from Sanchez bike hire for €8 for two hours. You can easily bike the entire city in this time. There are discounts for groups or those who stay at Roger’s House hostel.
So there you have it! I was really taken by this place and I know I am not the only one. If you come to Spain, it’s a must.