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  • Writer's pictureDave Jackson

Pintxos & Txakoli in San Sebastian

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

San Sebastian turned out to be one of our favourite cities. It is known for having the most Michelin Stars per square Km in Europe & the 2nd most Michelin Stars per Capita in the world (behind Tokyo). Living on a budget we didn’t visit any of the Michelin Star restaurants (there are currently 20 stars between 11 restaurants) but as big foodies our aim was to sample as much of the famed Basque cuisine as our budget would allow, and the good news is you don’t need to be rich to enjoy what San Sebastian has to offer.


Where to stay when visiting San Sebastian in a campervan


As we were travelling in our VW camper Moose and had Becca’s Mum, Jane, who was staying in a tent with us, we stayed in Camping Igara on the outskirts of San Sebastian (5 miles from the old town). A pleasant site that runs a shuttle service to the closest bus stop several times a day, up until 7pm. From the bus stop you can then jump on the local buses; number 5 & number 25, which run regularly into the old town. If you are travelling in a van that can be self-contained, it may be better to stay at Donosteria-San Sebastian camper area. It is currently €7.60 per night (max 3 night stay, grey/black water dump & fresh water available) and it is only a 20-minute walk into the old town. Camping Igara was €35 per night but we did have the use of a swimming pool, electricity, showers, toilets etc.


Things to do in San Sebastian


The best way to explore the city and learn about its history and traditions is to hop on a free walking tour. We did ours with “Free Tour San Sebastian” however there are a number on TripAdvisor. Our tour leader, Daniel, was very informative, ran through the history of San Sebastian & gave some helpful hints of places to eat & drink in the old town. The tour started at 11am and was 2.5 hours long so by 1.30pm you are well & truly ready to sample your first Pintxos* & Txakoli**.


* Pintxos is the Basque regions answer to tapas. There is a massive variety, mostly served either on bread or on a small skewer. The key to Pintxos is not to order a full meal, order 1 or 2 nibbles to go with your drink, then move on & order a few more at the next bar.


** Txakoli (pronounced Chah-kuh-lee) is a local wine traditionally produced solely in the neighbouring Getaria region. However, in recent years a decision was made to allow the production of Txakoli outside this region. Txakoli is normally made in stainless steel tanks & during the 2nd fermentation the tank is sealed a few days before the end to give the wine its signature slight carbonation. In the bars Txakoli is expertly served by pouring the wine from about 30cm to release the carbonation.


Txakoli expertly poured in La Cuchara de San Telmo
Txakoli expertly poured in La Cuchara de San Telmo

Where to sample the best pintxos in San Sebastian?


We think these bars are definitely worth trying to squeeze into your itinerary;


La Cuchara de San Telmo

Highlights were the suckling pig roasted in beer, the baked goats’ cheese & the veal cheek served on a bed of creamy mash potato. All the dishes here were fabulous though so browse the menu and take your pick, or ask the waiter for his recommendations. The walking tour guide said that this place had won several polls when people were posed the question “If you could have pintxos from one place before you die, where would it be?”


Pork roasted in beer @ Txakoli expertly poured in La Cuchara de San Telmo
Pork roasted in beer @ Txakoli expertly poured in La Cuchara de San Telmo

Bar Nestor

Good for steak & famous for its Spanish omelettes. To get an omelette you need to get there for 11.30am or 7pm to put your name down for lunch or dinner as they sell out super quickly!


Ganbara

Give the grilled mushrooms a go.


Bar Txeoetxa

If you like anchovies this is the place for you! Lots of different dishes, all with anchovies & mostly served on a small piece of toast. We had smoked salmon and anchovy, which was a tasty option & sampled the famous San Sebastian ‘Gilda’. Gilda is a small skewer containing an anchovy, a piparra pepper (pickled mild chilli), rounded off on each end with a pitted green olive.


Salmon & anchovy Pintxos @ Bar Txeoetxa
Salmon & anchovy Pintxos @ Bar Txeoetxa
"Gilda" (anchovy pepper & olive Pintxos) @ Bar Txeoetxa
"Gilda" (anchovy pepper & olive Pintxos) @ Bar Txeoetxa

La Cepa

Known for their sandwiches, however, these can be pretty filling if you are wanting to embark on a pintxos crawl.


Bar Sport

We had a beef slider & a pork skewer. The place is known to get a bit lively towards the end of the night, so a good spot to go if you are out and about later in the evening.


La Vina

Known for its baked cheesecake. As far as baked cheesecakes go it was tasty, but we both prefer the non-baked variety. If baked cheesecake is your thing this is great place to end a pintxos crawl. If they are not your thing it’s still quite fascinating just to go and see the hundreds of cheesecakes stacked up ready for serving. I don’t know how many they must get through a day, but I am certain it’s a lot!!


Baked cheesecake @ La Vina
Baked cheesecake @ La Vina

Irrintz

We had an Iberico Meat platter, garlic mushrooms & a ‘meat ball’ which was a deep-fried meat fritter. We stumbled across this bar by chance as some of the more well-known places on the street were very full. The food we had in here was great & staff very friendly. We’d all had our fill of Txakoli by the time we went in here, so I opted for the local IPA which was good & Jane & Becca went for the house red which they both raved about & it was only €2 per glass!


Iberico Meat platter @ Irrintz
Iberico Meat platter @ Irrintz

Walk to up the statue of Jesus


We took a walk up the hill overlooking the city to the statue of Jesus. It’s not a particularly hard walk, although steep in parts, a lot of it is on a tarmacked path and provides some spectacular views across the bay. There is a little bar near the top where you can reward yourself with a cold drink and a small selection of pintxos.


La Concha beach
La Concha beach
Sagrado Corazón overlooking San Sebastian, Spain
Sagrado Corazón overlooking San Sebastian, Spain

Neighbouring Getaria & Zarautz


Getaria is a small fishing village, 30km to the west of San Sebastian and is the birthplace of Txakoli wine. We visited one of the vineyards, a family run business called Txomin Etxaniz, on the hillside above the town of Getaria. I would highly recommend the tour, €20 per person which also included a very healthy sized tasting of three of their wines, accompanied by bread & homemade tuna & sardines. During the tour, the wine maker explained many interesting facts. The most notable to us was why the vines in this region are grown slightly differently to the majority of wine growing regions around the world. Due to the amount of rain along the northern coast of Spain (142 days on average per year) they grow the vines about 2 meters off the floor. This is to avoid fungal infections caused by the humidity.


View looking towards San Sebastian from Txomin Etxaniz vineyard in Getaria, Spain
View looking towards San Sebastian from Txomin Etxaniz vineyard in Getaria, Spain

Where to stay to visit Getaria


We stayed at a campsite called Gran Camping Zarautz, a little further along the coast in Zararutz and opted to walk from there. It was about 6.2km along the coastal road (there is a footpath) and then steeply up through the vines for the last km or so.


Zarautz itself is a surfer town with a long flat beach with a backdrop of cafes and restaurants. It seemed nice but nothing jumped out at us to make us stay longer.


After the wine tour we decided to continue walking along the coastal road into Getaria itself. The fishing village has become famed for its fish BBQ’s. Nearly every restaurant will have a BBQ roaring out the front and most offer a ‘Menύ del dίa’, Menu of the day, which is usually a three-course meal with a drink for a reasonable price. We paid €10 per person for three courses and half a bottle of wine each.


BBQ'd fish in Getaria, Spain
BBQ'd fish in Getaria, Spain
BBQ'd fish in Getaria, Spain
BBQ'd fish in Getaria, Spain

All in all, this part of Spain stole our hearts and our stomachs and is one not to miss.

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