San Sebastian is a beautiful introduction to Spain. With 3 days in San Sebastian we only touched on what this fantastic city has to offer. Our main focus was on the ‘Old Town’, the Donostia area, where we planned to eat our way through the Pintxos bars.
Worldschooling in San Sebastian had some surprises. We visited Albaola, the Basque Maritime Museum and came across a French Replica Ship L’Hermione.
We didn’t see nearly as much during our 3 days in San Sebastian as we would have liked, the weather was very unkind to us! Huge thunderstorms and down pours meant we had to keep ducking into bars for shelter. We never made it to the end of our walking tour of the city!
La Brexta Market
We started our first day in La Brexta market, making a beeline for the fish market. Things have changed since our first fish market in Singapore when the kids hated it. They now pronounce fish markets one of their favourite places to visit. We have to stop them poking their faces too close to the fish!
From La Brexta we headed into the heart of the old town and all the winding lanes crammed with Pintxos bars.
Pintxos in San Sebastian
Pintxos are small culinary bites, traditionally piled high on a slice of bread and held in place with a cocktail stick or Pintxos hence the name. These days Pintxos bars compete to make the most delicious and creative mouthfuls of food.
Going for Pintxos can be a bit intimidating to the new comer, the bars are packed with people and if you don’t speak Spanish it is quite overwhelming. The top of the bar is covered in Pintxos, you can just help yourself, or if it is a hot Pintxos, you order from the barman. With your Pintxos you should order a small beer or wine or a glass of Mosto. Mosto is a grape juice drink, in Northern Spain it is served with a slice of orange and an olive. The kids went crazy for these and ask for them everywhere.
It is usual to have one round of a drink and Pintxos in a bar, and then move on to the next bar. Locals eat standing, not sitting down.
Travelling on our budget we don’t eat out too much in Europe, but Tapas and Pintxos are great for us. We can have one or two rounds, trying a number of different bites between us and it isn’t too expensive, certainly better than ordering a full lunch in a restaurant. These snacks keep us going until we have a sandwich later or buy some fruit at the market. I love that the culture here is completing accepting of people turning up for one drink and a small bite. There is no expectation for us to order 4 main courses or 3 course meals.
Old Town San Sebastian
Between Pintxos and rain showers we also saw: Plaza de la Constitución, dating from 1813 but on the site of an older square. Once used as a bull ring, the surrounding buildings have balconies that were rented to spectators. The Santa María del Coro Basilica and the San Vicente Church, beautiful buildings that we had brief glimpses of between rain drops.
On our way back we headed back into La Brexta market to pick up supplies for dinner. When we arrive somewhere new, we do a shop and stock up on supplies for a couple of days. With 3 days in San Sebastian we had a chance to make the most of the delicious local produce.
We learnt some new Spanish words from the patient vendors who took their time to help us and appreciated our limited attempts at their language. The produce here is so delicious, giant tomatoes and peppers, fresh seafood, so many hams. We tried and enjoyed the local un-pasteurised sheep’s milk cheese Idiazábal.
Camping in San Sebastian
Back at our campsite on Mount Igueldo things were very drippy! There was no way to sit outside but luckily our tent is big enough for us to cook and sit inside if necessary. The weather was miserable but we were staying cheerful. Our patience was tested when we did a load of washing and then discovered the campsite dryer was broken. We had wet washing hanging all over the inside of the tent, no chance of it drying because the air was as cold and damp as the clothes. Some bad words were said, wine was drunk and we went to bed hoping for a better day tomorrow.
It had at least stopped raining the next morning, we decided to bag the washing and find a laundry in town. Piling into the car we were ready to leave… but we were stuck. The ground was so boggy the wheels couldn’t grip, mud flew everywhere, including all over the tent. Finally Paul managed to get one front wheel onto the kerb and had enough grip to move. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of this spectacle.
We spent half an hour driving around the laundries on google maps trying to find parking near them. When we gave up and headed back to the old town we found one there anyway! It seemed logical to head to a Pintxos bar while the washing dried…
3 days in San Sebastian is enough time to explore one of the nearby fishing villages, especially if the weather is not good enough to visit the beach!
With dry clothes and full tummies we drove to Pasaia, a few kms out of San Sebastian City Centre. Pasaia was Europe’s main whaling port. It was from here that the great Basque sailing expeditions set out towards Newfoundland.
The maritime museum at was fascinating, it gives insight into the history of fishing and whaling in Basque Country, Spain. L and S found it very engaging learning about the different types of ships, the supplies they took and the places they sailed to.
At Albaola they are building a replica of a famous 16th Century Whaling Ship, the San Juan. This ship was one of the first transoceanic ships sailing from Basque Country to New Foundland. It sank off the coast of Canada in 1565. Over 400 years later the wreck was discovered by a Canadian archaeological team. After 30 years of study this is the best known 16th Century ship. The knowledge they’ve gained is being used to build a replica using traditional boat building techniques.
We got a bit lost looking for Albaola, actually getting lost was a common feature of our 3 days in San Sebastian. There are some complicated one way systems, miss one turn and it’s a long way round again! It turns out Albaola can only be reached by foot, parking about a 15 minute walk away. This was a bit risky as it had rained a lot.
Our optimism was rewarded by the discovery that the ship L’Hermione, a replica of the 1779 ship of the same name was visiting Pasaia. We were able to purchase tickets to go aboard and look around the ship. L and S loved this, another way to see what life was like on board for sailors in the past.
On the final morning of our 3 days in San Sebastian we were greeted with rain (again). We decided to call it a day, pack up and head to La Rioja in the hopes of sunnier skies. We didn’t find them but the wine cheered us up!