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Published: September 18th 2019
We left Barcelona early on a stormy morning and caught a fast Renfe train to San Sebastian in Basque country, all the way across the other side of the country on the west coast. 5 and a half hours later we were in San Sebastian or Donostia in Basque language. The Basque language, we quickly learned, is vastly different to any language we've heard and we learned that no-one actually knows the origins of the language though we were later told there was a study to find out the linguistic origins of the Basque language and it was established that it's the closest language to the caveman surprisingly. But everyone speaks Spanish of course, and really I only heard Spanish around me, even bar staff speaking amongst themselves spoke Spanish so I'm not sure of the percentage of Basque speakers who speak it as their main language in their daily life.
We mainly came to San Sebastian to eat Pinxtos, the Basque version of tapas, and San Sebastian is famous in the culinary world for having the most Michelin-starred restaurants per square metre than anywhere else in the world. But the pinxtos bars are in no way pretentious nor
expensive, so it’s a great chance to try ‘foodie' food. We checked into our Pension and then took our long list of pinxtos bars written up by one of our Intrepid travel mates Himmy, who had been to San Sebastian not too long ago, to try one of his recommendations. Pinxtos, in my eyes, come in two varieties – the pinxtos you take straight from the bar – usually various toppings on a piece of crusty baguette or skewered pieces of food on a large toothpick – and everything else you order off the menu. Our recommendation for this place was order truffled rice with foie, and squid with 4 sauces. It was so delicious!! We then walked around the old town, taking in the views over the water and winding our way back to the main square, stopping for coffee and watching local life (well in this instance, tourist life given its now a big tourist destination). We booked a pinxtos food tour – it was a little expensive and we had 2 Intrepid friends tell us we can do it all ourselves for much cheaper, however after much back and forth we decided to stick with the food
tour. And we are so glad we did!! There was a group of 10 of us, plus the guide, and she gave us an amazing introduction to pinxtos as well as a mini walking tour old town San Sebastian. We also went to a local charcuterie, specialising in Iberico jamon and learnt the difference of the percentages of Jamon Iberico (the pig is fed 100% acorn therefore it tastes much richer and nicer). The other percentages mean that the pig is fed a mixed diet of acorns and grass. The food and pixtos venues were excellent- and we ticked a few more off Himmy's list. We also tried Sidra, a Basque cider which is very dry – it doesn't taste like apples at all, it has a more umami flavour to it. And Txakoli, a green wine much like the Portuguese Vinho Verde. Both drinks are poured at a height to increase the depth of flavour. To prove how good the pinxtos is, I don't like duck, I never have, but one place we went to the duck with pineapple reduction was my favourite, much more than the pork dish. We finished the food tour with Basque cheesecake with sherry
drizzled all over it (and to drink too). This particular establishment specialises in this cheesecake, which is light, airy and baked and not sweet at all. It was so delicious and I'm not a desserts person! Apparently, the staff have to sign a waiver not to disclose the recipe with anyone! We finished the night with gin and tonics with an American couple and an Irish couple – I see a pattern here, I only drink G&T's on holidays with other people as it’s not a drink of choice, but with the bitter burnt orange and ice it too was delicious!
The next day we went for a walk along the beach which is next to the old town and to La Concha beach, there seemed to be an overwhelming representation of older people, either retirees or tourists. We then wound our way to the other side of the river, to the neighbourhood of Gros to wander around this newer part of town and stopped at a couple of pinxtos bars, which of course is cheaper than the old town. Afterward we headed towards the coast and found the surf beach and walked along the coastline, watching the waves
crash against the rocks with such intensity and the colour of the water – an intense aqua blue and white cascading against the rocks was stunning!! We found our way back to the old town eventually, and had more pinxtos! I then decided to go for a swim at La Concha beach. What a difference the afternoon makes, the age demographic suddenly changed and there were much more people about. The Bay of Biscay is what they call this body of water, and there was a gentle ‘surf' I would say, waves crashing and it wasn't that deep so I could swim quite a bit out. That evening we went out for more pinxtos – yes, we ate and drank a lot that day, and finished the evening on a high with Basque cheesecake! I'm sure at the cheesecake place I spotted an Australian travel blogger I follow (who's also from Brisbane) and who now lives in San Sebastian.
It was a short visit, but we packed so much it and it is, as we have always said, a taster (literally) for a future trip to San Sebastian and the Basque country. We will most definitely be back
and can 100% recommend this beautiful and delicious city!
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