San Sebastián / Donostia

I recently had the opportunity to visit one of the real confluences of culture, environment and fun all in one beautiful place.

Spain is a place I had previously only been familiar with because of food and because of the misfortune to be hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. There was pig’s meat, red wine and seafood; or so I thought. Spain also had the chance to have lots of fun at reasonable prices, and there were also beaches. So when my girlfriend and her friends decided to plan a trip to San Seb (as we called it), or Donostia (as locals call it) near the end of summer, I jumped at the chance.

We arrive in Bilbao, a beautiful place onto itself and we know we’ll need to explore it later in the trip. For now, we can’t wait to see the sand, so we take a bus trip directly from the airport out to the coast – just long enough to build anticipation.

This area of Spain is known as Basque country, of which I knew a little since the close border with France means some Basque dishes are a little French and vice versa (but let’s not get into the who-made-it-first debate).

Here’s a few things to know when you first step off the bus:

They serve Pintxos here, not tapas (and it’s pronounced “Pinchos”), although you could be forgiven for thinking it’s tapas because they are essentially one and the same. The locals will not mind either, though they may be extra friendly if you inquire about pintxos while ordering a Kalimotxo (pronounced “Cali-mocho”) or several. This surprisingly refreshing mixture of Rioja (red wine) and Cola is a Spanish creation and they have every right to be proud of it. For some though, the classic Sangria may be the way to go.


Photo by Katie Emma

Rock up to any bar and you’ll know immediately what you’re dealing with, as the bar surface will be covered with plates of food ready to be served or quickly cooked to your liking. I was hesitant because I can’t speak Spanish, but remember: this is Europe. Most people will speak English and even if they don’t, they are used to multiculturalism. With a little patience, anything is possible.

Literally everyone I met in San Seb was nice, easygoing, and happy to help. It was wonderful.

For accommodations I’ve found renting an apartment with a group of friends is always fun and affordable. If that’s not your speed, there are many classy establishments your travel agent would be happy to help you find. After you’ve arrived and had something to eat and drink, and maybe you’ve actually dropped your bags wherever you’re staying (you keener, good on you for being organized), you’ll want to hit the beach.


Photo by Katie Emma

The two main stretches are the famous Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta, both free to frolic for all and protected by a natural harbour. Sun baking and swimming are both encouraged since there aren’t sharks to worry about and the sun isn’t so warm you’ll burn to a crisp. Just remember to be responsible and don’t lose track of time too far. The tides move in quite a way, and once you’ve had a few Kalimotxos or another Jamon sandwich, you may just drift off.

Although, drifting off would be encouraged as this is Spain and people really do take Siestas here. Keep that in mind when planning your day, as there will be a mid-afternoon period when many small shops will be closed for a few hours. Don’t fret, however, about making the most of your vacation, since this time is more than made-up for at night with most places staying open at least past midnight and often much, much later.


Photo by Katie Emma

As for the Pintxos, pig is obviously huge here and it is very good. As is the fresh seafood, but be mindful that everything is fresh. Without recommending specific establishments, all I can say is to be responsible when choosing where to go. But definitely do go and be patient. Unless you go very early, the bars will become so packed, you may have to be extra polite to get in the door.

At the time, I was actually unaware that there was a food festival in town. To hear the locals talk about food and drink – that is pretty much every weekend.

Of course there are vegetarian and vegan options as well, as there always are. A particular favourite of mine were small, sweet roasted green peppers called Pimientos de Padrón.

So get out there! A few days in the sun with some drinks, some food and some sand will be the best medicine, guaranteed.


Photo by Katie Emma

Patrick Merrithew is a Canadian boy from Toronto living and working in Perth, Western Australia. After graduating from Queen’s University with a Bachelor’s in Physical and Health Education (Honours), a personal trainer’s certificate and a yoga instructor’s certification, he completed the Grand Diplôme at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Paris. This is where he completed several internships in cuisine, pastry and baking. He currently enjoys the internet, films, running, yoga, skiing, sand, sun and of course, food and travel.

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