Tuesday, August 28, 2012

San Sebastian, Spain - Day One in the Basque Country

I just spent a hugely enjoyable four day weekend in the Basque Country in San Sebastian, Spain and Biarritz, France. I had wanted to go to this region for some time now, as I heard that San Sebastian is the gastronomic capital of Europe (they have many Michelin star restaurants, not to mention pintxos bars) and all my friends who have gone have come back raving about it. I cannot recommend this area enough!!

We flew into Biarritz from London and drove the 40 minutes to San Sebastian (you can also fly into Bilbao and drive as well). As for hotel choices the two best are: the 5 star beautifully interior designed Starwood property Maria Cristina, which is not on the ocean, or the 4 star Hotel Londres, which is smack on the beach. We went for the sea view room at the Hotel Londres and left the balcony door open each night so we could fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.  

Our balcony at Hotel Londres. Jacket, Giorgio Armani. Dress, Roberto Cavalli. 

As we arrived very early in the morning, our first stop was breakfast. We decided to go straight for the famous pintxos (or pinchos) in the local bars, which are like tapas, and are a huge component of the social scene in San Sebastian. Pincho means spike, and refers to the toothpick that is put through these bar snacks to keep them together. We both had a huge Spanish omelette (eggs, onions and potatoes) in bread and sat outside at a traditional bar called Bideluze (Plaza de Guipuzcoa, 14in the center.

After breakfast (well it was already noon) we spent the rest of the day getting to know this quaint town, walking through the small streets, doing some shopping and peeking in the windows of all of the amazing bakeries. We took a long walk on the beach in the beautiful sunshine and then got ready for the main event: bar hopping for pinchos all evening.

Our first stop was Gandarias. This is how it works: you ask the bartender for a plate, you help yourself to the huge array of pinchos laid out on the bar, and then show your plate to the bartender so he can tell you your total. You also order your wine from him and if you like, hot pinchos, like croquettes as well. Make sure to order the hot steak pinchos at the bar, this is what Gandarias is famous for.

The famous steak pinchos at Gandarias
Hot baccala croquettes ... creamy and delicious!

After gorging ourselves on pinchos and wine at Gandarias, we went to another bar called Bar Aralar. Each bar has its own special pinchos, so you can pop in and out of each one, grab your favorites and then head to the next. I absolutely loved the pinchos! You spend as much time as you want in each bar, there is no waiting to be served or hanging around to receive the bill, it is great for socializing and meeting new people, and you can taste tons of different things so the meal is always varied. I wish I could eat like this every night! The best part is the prices are dirt cheap. A glass of amazing local wine was €1.70.

After our pinchos dinner, we took a very long walk around the port, the beach and the boardwalk and watched the sun set. We were particularly struck by the friendliness of the local people. 

Dress, Roberto Cavalli. Long cardigan, JCrew.

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