The Ultimate San Sebastián Foodie Guide

San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque) is renowned for being a foodie paradise. This city located on the coast of the Bay of Bisque at the Northern part of Spain boasts the second most number of Michelin stars per square metre in the world, only behind Kyoto, Japan. Food lovers from all over the world throng to the Parte Vieja (Old Town) to hop from one pintxo bar to the next. The cobbled streets are lined with bustling pintxo bars brimming with people holding a pintxo in one hand, and a glass of txakoli (a local sparkling white wine) in the other. It is unsurprising that the town holds the title for having the most number of bars per square metre in the world.

DSC_0025

Pintxos set out on the counter at Bar Zeruko.

As you would know by now, food plays a huge part in my travels, so I was extremely excited to kick off my Summer holidays with a trip to San Sebastián. It was a very laidback holiday and what I did there was literally wake up, eat, nap, chill, eat, sleep, repeat. Unfortunately, it was rather cloudy and it drizzled quite a bit when I was there, so I only did a little bit of sightseeing on my last day. Contrary to what I expected, the city actually experiences overcast conditions for the majority of the year. But that’s okay, because give me good food and I’m good to go!

DSC_1164

Head to the sandy beach, Playa de la Concha when your stomach needs a break from eating.

We hopped through quite a number of pintxo bars, visited a traditional Basque cider house, and dined at two 3-Michelin starred restaurants – Arzak and Akelare. Overall, I think I had a well-balanced experience of the food there! This post will be a rundown on the places that I ate at in San Sebastián, with a focus on the pintxo bars and cider house because I will be reviewing the Michelin-starred restaurants separately. Alright, let’s get into the main course of this post!

How to Get to San Sebastián

I took an Easyjet flight from London Stansted airport to Bilbao airport, and then took a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián. The buses run quite frequently and tickets can be easily bought from the ticket office on the spot, so it is convenient to get from Bilbao to San Sebastián. I chose to fly in to Bilbao, instead of San Sebastián, because the flight tickets to Bilbao were a lot cheaper, even after taking into account the price of the bus tickets. I actually spent a day in Bilbao, before heading to San Sebastián the next day. I got to visit an extra city, and save on travel costs – killing two birds with one stone!

Bus company: Pesa

Bilbao City – San Sebastián: 12 Euros

Bilbao Airport – San Sebastián: 17 Euros

Travel duration: 1 hour 15 minutes

Where to Stay

I stayed at Pensión San Vicente which was right in the heart of the Parte Vieja. I would highly recommend finding an accommodation which is close to the pintxo bars in the Parte Vieja because there is nothing more convenient than being merely a few steps away from some of the best food in the world. The main ‘touristy’ area of the city is very walkable, and I never had to take public transport, unless the restaurants were located outside of the city.

Where and What to Eat

Pintxo Bars

Pintxos are small bites, traditionally served with a bread slice at the bottom. They are similar to tapas and are commonly priced between 2 to 4 Euros. The bars usually also serve small plates which would cost slightly more. We averaged around 5 to 6 pintxos or small plates per person for each meal. The list below consists of our favourite pintxo bars and what to order at each bar.

Tip:

Each pintxo bar has their own specialties, so if you want to taste the best of the best, you have to be disciplined! After all, there is so much food, but you only have so much stomach space. With the wide array of tempting pintxos displayed on the bar counters, it was really no easy feat to exercise self control and stop ourselves from putting all the pintxos on our plates. So head in, order only the food that they are known to be good for, pair it with a glass of txakoli (at less than 2 Euros per glass, you’re welcome to drink to your heart’s content!), finish up and hop on to the next bar. A word of warning – it can get very busy, especially in the more popular bars, so be prepared to wait to be served. However, there’s nothing that a cheerful mood and delicious food can’t cure!

1. Goiz Argi (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_9987Gambas (Prawn skewers): The prawns were cooked to order perfectly and incredibly fresh.

2. Borda Berri (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0106

Veal cheek: Slowly cooked until it disintegrates in your mouth.

DSC_0111

Pig’s ear: Crunchy and nicely seasoned. Don’t be afraid. It didn’t taste funky at all!

3. Gandarias (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0084

Solomillo (Tenderloin)

4. La Cuchara de San Telmo (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0181

Suckling pig: We did not order this initially, but the kitchen accidentally prepared an extra and the server highly recommended us to try it. It was the best mistake ever! The skin was crispy, the meat was tender and the apple sauce was a beautiful match. Definitely one of the best suckling pigs that I have tasted (only behind Akelare’s)!

DSC_0191

Foie: The foie was cooked and seasoned perfectly so that it didn’t taste sickeningly fat!

DSC_0185

Squid ravioli: The skin of the ravioli was not like conventional pasta, but instead thinner and slippery, almost like wanton skin. It is not something that everybody would fancy, but it is definitely something different and worth a try!

5. La Viña (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0075

Cheesecake: If you prefer lighter cheesecakes, unlike traditional New York cheesecake which is richer, then you would love this cheesecake. The shelves are lined with rows of beautifully caramelised and wobbly cheesecake, with the smell of freshly baked cake wafting through the restaurant. The texture of it is almost like crème brûlée and I really enjoyed the hint of burnt caramel taste. I loved this cheesecake so much that I went there three times!

6. La Cepa (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0520

Fried Milk

7. Zabaleta (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0912DSC_0920DSC_0923

Tortilla (Spanish omelette): The tortilla was so yellow that it almost looked golden. Locals frequent this place for breakfast and together with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, this was the perfect way to start my day.

8. Sirimiri (Modern)

Sirimiri was my favourite pintxo bar! It served many of my favourite dishes, and the restaurant had a very chilled vibe which I enjoyed.

DSC_1005

DSC_1027

Dinosaur ribs.

What to order:

DSC_0579

Ibérico pork: Perfectly cooked Ibérico pork with a sweet glaze, hazelnuts and bacon bits. It was so delicious that I went back the next day and ordered it again.

DSC_0571

Octopus: One of my pet peeves is rubbery, overcooked octopus, but this was beautifully grilled. This ranks as one of the best octopus dishes that I have had, and this is coming from someone who orders octopus whenever it is on the menu.

DSC_0563

Salad: This salad is proof that salad does not need to be boring. A delightful mix of fresh leaves, beets for sweetness, nuts and seeds for crunch and texture, fresh goats cheese, tossed in a fresh and tangy dressing. Amongst the heavy meats that we had all day, this was a wonderful relief.

DSC_1083DSC_1091

Burnt cream: The cream on top is torched for a burnt caramel taste. The inside is cold ice cream with a buttery biscuit base.

9. Zeruko (Modern)

What I liked about Zeruko was that everything was plated so beautifully. It is a modern pintxo bar, so the pintxos were served with a twist. I didn’t even know what were the ingredients for some of the pintxos. All I knew was that they tasted great.

DSC_0004

What to order:

DSC_0148

La Hoguera (The bonfire): It was a fun way to eat because we had to smoke the cod for 10 seconds on each side, eat it with the bread slice, and finish with the refreshing shot.

What we also ordered:

DSC_0012

DSC_0030

The two photos above looked like eggs, but they were not!

DSC_0138

DSC_0154

Fried courgette flower stuffed with cheese. This was 10 times better than Barrafina’s (1-Michelin starred Spanish tapas restaurant in London), and at a fraction of the price!

10. Atari (Modern)

What to order:

DSC_0547

63 Degree Egg

Cider House

This region is famous for cider production and local farmhouses have been making cider using the traditional method for centuries. The cider is crisp and dry, and is a perfect accompaniment to wash down a meal. The most exciting part of dining in a cider house is entering the cold cider rooms filled with huge chestnut barrels, and filling your glass with cider flowing directly from the barrels.

DSC_0443

Petritegi has three cider rooms filled with these massive 15,000 litre chestnut barrels.

Cider season runs from January to April, but some cider houses open throughout the year. We decided to visit Sidrería Petritegi because it is open all year round (we visited San Sebastián in June). It took us around 45 minutes to get there by bus, but we had to take a taxi back after dinner as it was past 11pm by then.

We decided on the traditional cider house menu which costs 28.50 Euros per person. For 4 courses and unlimited cider, it was well worth the price! The food did not look fancy, but it was truly one of the most enjoyable meals I have had. There’s something about traditional, humble food which touches your soul and leaves you feeling extremely satisfied.

DSC_0458

Each table had a baguette to be eaten together with the courses. To be honest, it looked like bread from the supermarket, but don’t judge a book by its cover! First, we were served two pieces of chorizo as appetizers. They didn’t look like much, but when eaten together with the bread, they tasted so flavourful and delicious!

DSC_0459

Next, we had the salt cod omelette which was smooth and creamy.

DSC_0473

The following course was the fried salt cod with peppers. The cod was a little bit overcooked, but it was still a delicious dish overall.

DSC_0480

The txuleta was the star of the night. This 700g bone-in rib eye steak had its outside seared crispy. The inside was rare, but not chewy at all. It was melt-in-our-mouths! This was the steak of my life.

DSC_0490

The dessert course was cheese, quince jelly, walnuts, almond ‘tiles’ and ‘cigarettes’. Cracking open walnuts was so addictive that I couldn’t stop even though I was already so full by then.

Final Thoughts

The restaurants in San Sebastián always cook to a very high standard and we never had a bad meal there. It was an amazing destination for a relaxing holiday filled with endless eating, with beautiful beaches as a side. One of my friends remarked that when in San Sebastián, you only have one meal a day because the meal lasts from morning until night. The food in San Sebastián was truly game changing and I don’t think that Spanish cuisine outside of Spain can ever be a real match to the amazing quality of food there!

DSC_0085

A Summer holiday isn’t complete without gelato.

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetDSC_1128DSC_1153DSC_1178Processed with VSCO with a6 presetUntil next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!

How to Plan a Holiday

Studying in the U.K. for the past 4 years has blessed me with opportunities to travel around Europe. Thankfully, I have progressed from being a clueless newbie who barely had any experience planning trips back then, to the more seasoned and confident traveller that I am today. Summer is almost here, which means that it’s time for holidays! I thought I would share some tips on how I plan my travels, and hopefully these will help you as you plan your ultimate getaways too! So let’s get started!

untitled (1 of 1)

Let the planning begin!

1. Where to Visit?

Sometimes you may already have a destination in mind that you want to visit. That’s great! At other times, all that your wanderlust-ing self knows is that you need a break from real life (this has happened too often for me, because #lifeasaLawstudent). Or you may have a clear budget, but you are flexible with the destination. What I do when this happens:

a) Ryanair – Fare Finder 

The first website that I usually check is Ryanair. Ryanair is one of my favourite airlines to travel with because of their more generous cabin baggage allowance – passengers are allowed to bring one cabin-sized bag and one small bag! This is great for people like me, who are incapable of travelling light, but too stingy to pay for check-in luggage. Other airlines like Easyjet have strict one-bag policies, so do remember to check the baggage policy of the airline that you are using before heading to the airport! Furthermore, Ryanair often has cheap tickets to a wide variety of destinations! (This is not sponsored by Ryanair, although I would be more than happy if they are willing to do so.)

After getting to the website, I would click on the ‘Plan’ heading, and select ‘Fare Finder’. This allows me to search for cheap flights all over Europe, and I can filter down the results by adjusting the departure airport, budget, travel dates and even travel duration. This is how I scored my £19.98 return tickets to Marseille, France! This was definitely the most worth-it amount of money that I have spent on travel tickets.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 3.14.39 PM

b) Skyscanner – Explore Map

Skyscanner has a map function which many may not be aware of. Similarly, you can search for potential destinations by setting the departure airport, price, departure month, and travel duration, while navigating around the map.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 3.14.17 PM.png

2. How to Get There?

a) Flight

Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight options.

Before booking flight tickets, I would always do a search on Skyscanner first to find the cheapest airline for my preferred departure dates and times. Common low cost carriers include Ryanair, Easyjet, Monarch, Flybe and more. It may be worth using the private browsing feature of your browser (shift+command+n for Macs; shift+ctrl+n for Windows) when searching for tickets, to prevent websites from storing cookies. Occasionally, you may realise that ticket prices increase, if you repeat searches for specific routes and dates. Going incognito prevents that from happening!

Midweek departures (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) may be less popular, and thus cheaper!

b) Train

Eurostar is a very convenient (and frequently overlooked) way of travelling if you are looking to visit France or Belgium (they also have routes to the Netherlands and Germany). The train departs from London St Pancras International, which is in the centre of London, and brings you right into the city that you are travelling to. Saves you the hassle and cost of travelling between the city centre and the airport! Immigration and safety checks at the train station are also often a lot faster, so you save time too!

Eurostar snap is a great way to get cheap, last minute tickets to Paris, Brussels and Lille. Perfect for that spontaneous weekend getaway! This is basically how it works: You choose a destination, pick a travel date and whether you want to travel in the morning or afternoon. 48 hours before you travel, you will receive information regarding your train times and booking reference. Prices start from £25 each way, which is such a steal!

c) Bus

Companies like Megabus and National Express offer bus services to destinations in Europe, often at significantly cheaper prices compared to flights and trains. However, I personally would not choose to travel by bus, especially if the journey time is long. I once took a Megabus from Coventry, U.K. to Antwerp, Belgium. The journey time was more than 10 hours, the seats were incredibly uncomfortable and unfortunately, we were seated near noisy passengers. The experience was very unpleasant and we arrived at our destination extremely tired. It was not worth the money saved, in our opinions. Nevertheless, if you are on a tight budget, and do not mind travelling in not-so-comfortable conditions, then taking the bus is an option!

3. Where to Stay?

The main websites I use for travel accommodations are Booking.com and Airbnb. I know that there are many hotel comparison websites, but I find Booking.com to be the easiest to use, and they often have the cheapest rates anyway. Hostelworld is a good site if you are looking for hostel options.

I would always do a Google search to find out the best areas in the city to stay in, before searching on each website and making price comparisons. The location of the accommodation is very important to me and I like to stay where the attractions are. I would rather not waste time and transportation costs, travelling to and from an accommodation that is not placed at a convenient location. Time and money are precious!

DSC_6608.jpg

This cheap Airbnb apartment that we rented in Seville had a rooftop balcony which gave us this beautiful view of the sunset!

4. Where to Eat?

80% of my travel photos are food. I love eating. I plan my itinerary around places that I want to eat at. Eating is my priority. Have I mentioned that I love eating? I do my research by Googling for reviews from food/travel websites, bloggers, YouTube videos, online ratings and more.

IMG_9775

Ready to bury my face in one of Du Pain et Des Idées’s (Paris) famous escargots.

This really depends on personal preference, but the online rating that is most accurate for me is surprisingly Google ratings. Generally:

4.2 – 4.4: Likely to be above average;

4.5 – 4.7: Likely to be quite good;

4.8 – 5.0: Almost definitely pretty darn good.

I like to go to places where the locals go to, because we are totally about immersing ourselves in the local culture and cusine, right? So I tend to stay away from Tripadvisor recommended places which have most of their reviews given by tourists.

DSC_6395

Dinner at La Garet – a traditional bouchon in Lyon, frequented by locals.

Occasionally, if I am able to splurge a little, I make reservations at ‘fine dining’ or Michelin-starred restaurants. These restaurants may be very popular and require bookings weeks or even months in advance. So do remember to plan ahead!

DSC_1810

In order to secure a reservation at Eleven Madison Park (No. 1 restaurant in the world, World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017), I had to call the booking line the minute it opened for reservations! (Note: They recently changed to a much more convenient online-booking system.)

5. How to Plan My Itinerary?

Tripadvisor gives a convenient list of sights to visit. You can also easily search for recommended itineraries on Google and plan yours according to them. I like starting off from a suggested 2/3/4-day itinerary, and then altering it according to my preferences. This is more convenient because the itineraries often have already mapped out the most efficient route for visiting the sights and attractions, so that there is lesser need to travel between different parts of the city.

I am quite an obsessive planner, so I like to know the list of things that I will be doing for the day and how to get from one place to another. I do this by creating a document with tables for the itinerary and all the essential information that I need. Even if you are the more laidback-type of traveller, I think it is useful to have a prepared list of places, restaurants and experiences, so that you can fully maximise your time there.

Creating a single document containing your itinerary and all the important information ensures that you remain clear and organised.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 2.56.20 PM

All about that tabling.

6. Mapping it Out

I use the app Maps.me on my phone to pin down the places in my itinerary. This map can be used offline, but the mapped area has to be downloaded beforehand. Pinning down the places and colour-coding them gives me a good idea of where they are located in relation to one another, and how to plan my routes.

Google maps also has an offline option. But do take note that only driving directions are available offline. Transit, bicycling and walking directions require a working Internet connection.

7. Google Drive and Spreadsheets

Google Drive is wonderful when travelling with a group of people. Create a shareable folder with your travel buddies and everyone will be able to participate in the planning process. It also ensures that everyone is kept in the loop and has the important travel information. We don’t want anyone getting lost, or worse, missing a flight!

8. Splitwise

If you are travelling with friends, this app makes splitting bills so much more convenient, especially if you are bad with numbers like me. Holiday trippin’ with friends often means a lot of shared expenses like meals, accommodation, transportation costs and more. With this app, you can create a group for your travel companions. Whenever someone pays for something for the group, he or she just has to add it into the group on the app. The app will automatically calculate how much each person has to pay or be paid. This is an easy and stress-free way to clear off your ‘debts’ after the trip!

9. Staying Safe

Big cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona and others are unfortunately notorious for pickpockets. However, you should not let this deter you from visiting these beautiful cities! Read up on some of the common methods that pickpockets use to prey on their victims. Ensure that your bags and pocket zips are always closed. Always keep your bags with you. Refrain from putting valuables in your pockets where they are easily accessible. Look confident and be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas and on public transportations. What is important is to just be alert and stay vigilant!

DSC_5944

Always stay alert, especially when in busy cities.

That is all for now! I hope you found that useful. Regardless of what type of traveller you are, whether you are a rigorous planner or chilled and relaxed, planning well and doing research beforehand can bring you a long way. It’s Summer time, so make full use of the beautiful weather and start planning your next holiday!

DSC_3554

Until next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!