Basque in the glory
If A-list celebrities are more your thing, make sure you’re in town for one of Europe’s most glamorous cinematic feasts – the San Sebastian International Film Festival. Widely considered the biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world, the festival has hosted the European premieres for big-hitters as varied as Star Wars and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
It’s back for its 64th year, from September 16-24, with a guaranteed outstanding line-up.
Pick up some pintxos
San Sebastian is a magnet to the sort of sweeping, exaggerated statements which are normally written off as marketing talk or lazy journalism. The difference with this Basque beauty, however, is that it beats the easy hype. The beaches really are that good. And the film festival truly is damn cool. But here’s a third one for you, the biggest of the lot: San Sebastian is the best place to eat in Europe.
There, it’s said. We know, it sounds ridiculous, but here are the facts. For starters, check out any list of the world’s top restaurants. Keep your eyes to the skies and you’ll likely spot Donostia (the town’s Basque name) eateries Arzak and Mugaritz in the top 10. Better yet, forget Tokyo or Paris, if you’re after the city with more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world, look no further than here.
But so what, we hear you cry. What if you don’t want to cripple your credit card on a meal that will probably leave you hungry? Well, the best bit about eating out in San Sebastian is that it actually makes no sense to spend a fortune on the top restaurants – the cheap stuff is just so good. The local delicacy – pintxos – cost around £2.00 each and can be found on just about every street corner.
Basically the Basque version of tapas, pintxos (spot the ‘x’) are more often than not small pieces of bread generally topped with mushrooms, cheese or seafood, as well as a scrumptious sauce. From classic staples like tortilla to more decadent dining experiences, such as spider crab tarts or braised pig’s ears, pintxos tick every box on the holiday eating wishlist – delicious, reasonably priced and unique.
So make like a local and hop from bar to bar, gorging on pintxos while washing them down with txakoli, the local fizzy green wine.
It can be a little daunting as these places are busy and loud, especially as the work crowds’ escape and get ready to party. A great way to navigate from one place to another and make sure that you don’t miss some of the best things like San Sebastian cider, is to book a pintxo tasting tour with the San Sebastian Food company.
The old ones are the best
If you’re not sure where to go to satisfy your alcoholic appetites, a good bet is always to head into the Parte Vieja, San Sebastian’s characterful old town.
Some claim these atmospheric alleys are home to more bars per square metre than anywhere else in the world, but a lot of places make that claim. What matters is that you’ll find the lively little lanes packed with people grazing on pintxos and chugging the region’s best beverages, wine, cider and gin cocktails. Calle Fermin Calbeton is often the liveliest street, with many drinkers hanging around waiting for the all-nighter train.
It’s easy to escape the boozy buzz for those wanting to find something more romantically charming. Either way, in typical Iberian style, don’t expect the action to really get going until the early hours, so try not to hit your first bar before 10pm.