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San Sebastian = Pinxtos

Food was a large part of the three days we spent in San Sebastian – the local specialty, Pinxtos (Peen-chos), supplemented by the traditional sangria, went a long way towards keeping us busy (and happy) while visiting in this small Basque city.

Bitten out of the Bay of Biscay, glistening on the shores of La Concha Bay and tucked neatly into the foothills of the Pyrenees, San Sebastian seduces many a tourist crossing the border from France.  San Sebastian boasts three beaches, all within walking distance of the town and each other.  Perhaps comforting, perhaps unnerving to some, but no matter where you lie on the soft sand you are always presided over by the statue of Jesus, high on the hill above.  The 12metre statue perched high on Monte Urgull can be seen from almost any point in the city and its presence feels calming and immutable in this busy place.

More on the food…the old town area (Parte Vieja) of San Sebastian is where we spent our evenings…  Pinxtos are a Basque specialty, along the lines of the typical spanish tapas, but perhaps more like canapés.  The pinxtos are arranged on the bar counters and when you arrive, if you are able to muscle your way to the bar, (which is always crowded) you are rewarded with a plate and can select your own choice of delights (there are also warm choices which you can order off the menu behind the bar).   The flavours are spectacular – prawns, pate, chorizo, prosciutto, mushrooms, etc – quite often served on slices of baguette. Each bar offers its own specialties and the options seem inexhaustible – as were our appetites as we hopped from bar to bar.

Cycling in San Sebastian is very easy. The powers that be are making a concerted effort to make San Sebastian bike friendly. Cycle paths are marked out on most roads and the cars are patient and respectful.  We cycled a fair bit in the city and up into the hills in search of a new tripod for Carl. Unfortunately our search wasn’t fruitful, but we enjoyed the ride (and the view from the top of the hill too).

We also needed to get the gearing on our bikes changed so that we could better cope with steeper hills on our loaded bikes. We found some of the hills in France close to the Spanish border a bit steep and Carl wanted to get lower gears fitted before we carried on to the Midi-Pyrenees area. After a few false starts, we struck gold with a local bike shop called Jaia Bicicletas. They had the very small ‘granny gears’ that Carl was looking for in stock and fitted them overnight for us.

We also cycled up the hill to the Jesus Statue; most people walk it, but we figured it would be quicker to cycle. The view was breathtaking and the area felt very tranquil – with people sitting on benches reading or simply looking out at the bay enjoying the view. On our way down we found a tiny bar perched on the side of the mountain and headed in to linger over a drink and the view a little longer.  We chuckled to ourselves as we sat down; in a curious paradox the bar-man had chosen to play hardcore rap with ‘mother$%^**’ words. In a location so serene – our peace felt shaken quite abruptly, but we stayed for the drink nonetheless!

This Basque interlude was a real highlight of our trip and we were sorely tempted to head deeper into Spain.  After many a contradicted conversation, we decided to continue on the path we had chosen already, which was back into France and the Pyrenees…

Time in San Sebastian: 3 nights

Best things about San Sebastian:

  • The pinxtos!
  • The beaches
  • The view from the two hills that overlook the city
  • It is very bike friendly!

Interesting facts:

  • Part of the basque region of Spain, it has its own language and cultural traditions.
  • San Sebastian is home to a number of world renowned restaurants including ‘Arzak’, boasting three Michelin Stars
  • The Basque language, Euskara, is the traditional language of the region and children are taught in this at most schools.  It is regarded as a ‘language isolate’, meaning it isn’t linked to any other indo-european language.

San Sebastian tips:

  • If you need a bicycle shop in San Sebastian, Jaia Bicicletas staff are knowledgable and very helpful (and speak a little English!)
  • Pinxtos can be quite expensive if you are hungry as we were – most locals would advise not to eat pinxtos when you are hungry, but treat it as bar food and perhaps then eat a proper meal.
  • The locals way of eating pinxtos is to have a beer or sangria and one or three pinxtos at a bar, then move on to the next bar… and so on…
  • The city is regarded as a fashion hub and many quality boutiques can be found here.
  • You can take a funicular up Mount Igeldo for a meagre amount, or you can cycle or walk up it, but still have to pay a fee to get right to the top.
  • Walking up Mount Urgull is free.
  • Look out for the bar perched on the side of Mount Urgull, the view is lovely and a drink is refreshing and deserved after the walk up.

Following post: Cycling the Midi Pyrenees