“This Spanish city holds the second highest Michelin stars per capita in the world with fifteen stars awarded across eight restaurants for their exceptional and outstanding cuisine,” Cleave paraphrased as we researched which direction we should next cycle to. My ears immediately pricked up. Say what now? How soon can we get there?
The city is San Sebastián, just 20km from the French border, and is an example of impossibly charming elements joining together to create a compact package of perfection. Set on the coastline with wide expanses of soft sand and surfers, San Sebastián sprawls across the mouth of the River Urumea and up into the hillsides. This charismatic city boasts not only one of the highest concentration of the coveted stars, behind only Tokyo, but the reputation for the best pintxos (tapas, pronounced pin-cho) in all of Spain. Our bike touring budget unfortunately did not stretch as far as fancy Michelins, plus we definitely did not have appropriate clothing for fine dining, but a night bar-hopping from tapa to tapa, that we could do!
San Sebastián rolled out piercing blue skies and a cheery 20°C as we cycled into the centre. Tables were being wiped down ready for the lunch rush while people relaxed in the sun and swam straight from the central jetty.
Our hotel, Chomin Guesthouse, was on the other side of the beach, about a kilometre from the centre of town, making a very pretty walk along the promenade. It was such a nice day we delayed checking into our hotel, instead stopping halfway for a grocery run of baguettes, ham, cheese and white peaches. Using our back panniers as a table we took in the view.
At night San Sebastian really came alive. Using the hotel’s wifi and online articles/reviews of the best bars to check out I pinned a bunch of pintxo bars to Google Maps, which we then used to join the crowds spilling out from various doorways. Whole legs of cured ham hung from the ceilings, cold plates of tasty morsels lined up along the bar, and bartenders in waistcoats pour Txakoli (pronounced chak-o-lee), fizzy white wine from the region, from great heights. Any bustling atmosphere can be overwhelming at first but joviality is contagious and it wasn’t long before we too were gesturing across the bar for plates of grilled squid and fried green peppers.
We dropped into Txepetxa (anchovy specialist – simple and yummy), Bar Zeruko (visually appealing but actually bland and overpriced), La Cepa (absolutely fantastic), Taverna Gandarias (older bar, sweet and simple), Borda Berri (meh), Goiz Argi (english friendly – delicious and easy) and La Vina (absolutely fantastic). Each pintxo set us back about €1-4, while a glass of wine was about the same.
Each place was so much fun but if you twisted our arm we really loved La Vina. We were already propped up at the bar, completely enamoured by the fast-paced yet cozy atmosphere and nibbling our way through a pintxo of marinated white anchovies, when a small walking tour of two couples and a guide settled in behind us. Eavesdropping onto the guide’s explanations it dawned on us that we were standing in a very famous place, and their decor of tins stacked on shelves high up to the ceiling, which we had only rudimentary glanced at, was actually something very special.
They were rows and rows of baked cheesecakes.
Catching the barman’s eye we uttered the magic phrase “Cheesecake, por favor,” and a plate duly appeared with two fat wedges of fluffy soft deliciousness. You would think having a slice each would have satiated our stomachs but I’m not ashamed to say as soon as we had finished, we ordered another plate!
Completely stuffed now and it being almost 1am, we left the crowds to party on in the glow of the streetlights while we, slowly and slightly tipsy, followed the dark curves of the beach back to our guesthouse.