A Smidgen of San Sebastian

Donostia-San Sebastian is a favorite among visitors to Spain—at least three friends told us it was a can’t-miss stop if we were going to be anywhere in the vicinity. It’s largely beloved for its beautiful beaches and vibrant culinary scene (the town has 11 Michelin-Star Restaurants—the most per square meter in Europe). Being there over a chilly, drizzly three-day stretch and traveling with a pint-sized picky eater made it a little more challenging to enjoy everything San Sebastian has to offer, but we still had a lovely stay in a very charming town. Here’s what we did…

Hung out at the hotel: Dan nailed our accommodations on this piece of the trip, booking us into Villa Eugenia, a cool little boutique hotel with an incredibly friendly staff. It’s in Gros, a much more low-key neighborhood than crazy-crowded Old Town, but still easy walking distance to all the things. While the pool ended up being too cold during our stay (Fi and Dan braved it for approximately six minutes before calling it for the duration), we loved the small but perfectly curated breakfast buffet in the mornings and hanging out in the lobby lounge between activities.

Ate dinner at Bergara Bar (twice): After the bustle of Barcelona and a long day of train travel, we needed an easy dinner spot. A member of the aforementioned awesome hotel staff recommended Bergara in Gros, just a few minutes’ walk away. We ended up liking it so much we went there again on our last night. The server greeted us like old friends and gave us a wink as he presented us with a menu and pointed out his favorite tapas. While Fiona fell asleep on my lap (for the third night in a row! Poor jet-lagged girl!), Dan and I drank giant glasses of wine and ate an array of delicious bites our ever-charming server kept dropping in front of us (Dan loved the wasabi slider; I was partial to the mushroom risotto topped with foie gras). I eventually woke Fi up so she wouldn’t miss out on the mousse-like chocolate “cake” we ordered for dessert. Everything was yummy and we felt so welcome and well taken care of. A perfect way to kick off (and close out) our stay.

Hiked Monte Urgull to Castillo de la Mota: On day two, we tackled this popular and pretty easy walk, which offers sweeping views of the city and the sea and a chance to wander around an old crumbling castle-turned-fortress (although between this and Montjuïc Castle in Barcelona, Fiona is ready to see a “real castle,” preferably one with pointy turrets and flags and kings and queens living inside…). All-in-all, an enjoyable way to spend a chunk of our first full day in town.

Sampled pintxos in Old Town: We finished our castle hike on the late and hungry side and found ourselves in Old Town during the lunch rush, so we chose our first ever pintox bar based on where we could stake out a table. And it was… just fine? Everyone was super nice, but the experience was a little hectic and what we ordered was hit-or-miss. Definitely one of those times when we could have used a pintxo pro to show us the ropes, but still, not half bad.

Had our first chuleton experience: Being in Basque Country, we understood it was compulsory to seek out a traditional Basque chuleton, or txuleta, both of which roughly translate to “big-ass T-bone steak.” Dan found us a well-regarded spot called La Txuleteria del Iraeta near our hotel in Gros and, having made a reservation in person with a surly, smoking employee earlier in the day, we returned that evening for our meal. Harshly lit and plainly furnished with picnic-table seating, this did not appear to be an establishment overly concerned with ambiance. But a festive vibe prevailed, from the jovial staff to the charming “menu” to the communal seating. And it was pretty clear that the focus was the food. Specifically, the meat.

Within a few minutes of our sitting down, a giant, gorgeous hunk of raw steak arrived for our approval and then just sort of hung out at the table for us to marvel at for a bit before it was whisked off to be cooked. While it was away, we dug into salty padron peppers, sweet, olive-oil-y tomato salad, big hunks of bread and a bottle of local red wine. Then the meat returned, still extremely rare and ready for us to finish cooking to order on its cast-iron pan/platter. And OH, this meat. Just juicy and meaty and delicious in its simplicity. We all ate ourselves stuffed, chatting amiably with the Jamaican-American family sharing the table with us, and wandered home very happy.

Saw some fish: The next day dawned rainy and it was high time to give Fi a say, so we ended up at the San Sebastian Aquarium, a funky mix of whaling history museum and aquarium right on the harbor. It was the perfect destination for us that day—not quite as impressive as Cal Academy, but the shark views were pretty hard to beat.

Hit the road! On our last morning in town, we hoofed it back to the bus station to pick up our rental car, a little black Peugeot Fiona named Black Diamond, then waved adios to San Sebastian and headed west to continue our adventures in Northern Spain. More on some of the incredible sights and surprises from those next few stops soon!

Fiona and Black Diamond, ready to roll

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