Specials Trip Finder Brochures Menu
Christian Baines Senior Content Editor 1 year, 1 month ago

Why Basque Country is Your Next Foodie Destination

  • Pintxos in Donostia - San Sebastian

Which country has the best food in Europe? Okay, one, we’re not touching that question with a ten foot pole, and two, there is great food to be had just about everywhere in Europe! But going by the numbers, who’s got the most Michelin stars? Paris? Rome? Copenhagen? The answer might surprise you. 

Donostia - San Sebastian in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country in Spain, boasts the highest number of Michelin starred eateries per capita in Europe. But its delights aren’t confined to the world of fine dining! Guidebook giant Lonely Planet named doing a pintxos bar crawl in San Sebastian as the world’s #1 food experience in their Ultimate Eats book. While such lists may be arbitrary and wide open to debate, nobody disputes the Basque region’s culinary credentials. Whether it’s a multi-course degustation or a mouth-watering pintxos bar crawl, it’s time to follow your taste buds and head north to the Basque country on your next Spain vacation.

Old town shops and cafes of San Sebastian

What Are Pintxos?

Simply put, pintxos (pronounced peen-chos) are a kind of tapas unique to the Basque region, involving perfectly balanced morsels placed atop slices of bread and skewered to keep them together. There are countless varieties involving seafood, cured meats, cheeses, vegetables, pickles, or the classic tortilla. They can be served cold, usually on platters atop a bar in classic Basque style, or hot, freshly made to order. It’s reductive to say that any Spanish tapa can be turned into a Basque pintxo, but it’s not totally inaccurate. Pintxo chefs are constantly coming up with new creations to sate both the appetites and curiosity of locals, and it is mostly locals! Despite the global popularity of tapas, pintxos have stayed a uniquely Basque phenomenon.

Pintxos in San Sebastian

Best Way to Eat Pintxos

The best way to enjoy pintxos is the local way, of course! Order at the bar, where the goods are displayed, pointing out which ones you want to try (handy for cutting through language barriers as well). An anchovy, pepper, and olive combo called gilda with a glass of cold vermouth is a classic starter, but there’s no wrong sequence. Simply order up a few skewers to go with your drink, then move to the next bar for more. Unlike tapas, which are typically shared, you’ll enjoy your pintxo all to yourself. Unlike some other destinations in Spain, pintxos in San Sebastian rarely come free with a drink, but don’t worry. Each plate will only set you back a few euros.

Apartments and hotels along San Sebastian's beach

The Best Restaurants in San Sebastian

Again, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Splurging 240EUR will get you all the Michelin 3-star wonderment of Akelarre, Arzak, or, just outside the city, Martin Berasategui. Is it worth it? If you’re a serious foodie, absolutely! But you don’t have to spend this kind of money for an unforgettably tasty evening. A good menu del dia will have you covered for lunch. Just give yourself a good two hours to enjoy the experience. For dinner, at the risk of repeating ourselves, do the pintxo crawl! Spend from 2EUR to 5EUR in each bar and fill up slowly, enjoying the atmosphere at each stop as you go. We could name names, but honestly? It’s hard to go wrong. The tricks is to look for locals, but even if you do try a pintxo or bar you don’t like, the next one is never far away!

Seafood paella

Other Top Dishes to Try in the Basque Country

While the perfect simplicity of pintxos gets the most praise, be sure to try some other Basque specialties while you’re here. This is a region serious about seafood, with pil-pil cod in Vizcaya, marmitako (a tuna stew), and hake in green sauce topping the list of favorites. You can even try squid served in its own ink, or angulas (baby eels) if you’re feeling adventurous. If you’re not up for seafood, get stuck into a hearty lamb stew or alubias de tolosa with a glass of Rioja Alavesa (see below). Desserts don’t disappoint either! Almond and cherry flavors come together in etxeko biskotxoa, aka gâteau Basque. Go face down in a gooey Goxua, level up your French toast with the orange and cinnamon flavours of torrijas, or discover how smooth walnut pudding can really be, if you’re lucky enough to find somewhere that serves intxaursaltsa.

Vineyards in the Basque country

Kalimotxo, anyone? What to drink in Basque country

Anyone fancy a wine and coke? Despite the relative scarceness of Coca-Cola in the 1920s when it was invented (to be clear, it was named, not invented, in the 1970s), kalimotxo, which mixes Coke and red wine in equal measure, has become a Basque staple. It’s a little like the cola answer to the south’s popular tinto verano. It’s even (allegedly) used to salvage spoiled wine! Drinkers are a bit stricter about the cola, however. Pepsi attempted to package and market its own ‘sophisticated’ mix of cola and wine in 2017, and Kalimotxo fans were not having it.

Speaking of wine, the Basque country isn’t short on vineyards. Rioja Alavesa makes up about 20% of the famous Rioja region, producing fuller bodied, more acidic reds than its southern neighbours. More unique to the Basque country is Txakoli, a light, straw-colored wine poured from an arms-length height to give it a crisp, bubbly burst. Learning to pour yourself a glass of Txakoli can be a fun, sometimes messy memory to make in the Basque region, but if you succeed, drink it quickly for just the right amount of fizz. No wonder only 20 percent of Txakoli produced ever makes it outside the Basque country!

Bridge connecting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe to the Basque mainland

Where is Donostia?

If you’re in San Sebastian, you’re already there. Donostia is simply the Basque form of the name, and both mean ‘Saint Sebastian.’ Locals call themselves Donostiarras. You’ll hear the names used interchangeably, but remember that the Basque country is an autonomous region with its own heritage, language, myths, and culinary traditions. Immerse yourself in all that’s unique about it, and this region offers you an unforgettable vacation.

Panoramic view of Donostia - San Sebastian

12 Apr 2023, 7:37 p.m.

> Featured Articles

6 Reasons to Return to Thailand Throughout Your Life

Thailand is a destination to return to throughout your life. It rewards those repeat travelers who want to delve into different regions, enjoy different experiences, and see a destination through the new eyes that age brings.


Venture Beyond Sydney & Discover More of New South Wales, Australia

That first view of the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House will take your breath away. One of the world’s most famous and beautiful performance venues truly is a sight to behold, and at the core of what makes Sydney such a fabulous city to visit. But it’s not all that Sydney and New South Wales has going for it—far from it. Beyond the famed Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach, and Taronga Zoo lies a city and a state where history, nature, and culture combine in remarkable ways.

> Suggested Vacations

Way of St. James Self-Drive: Bilbao, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela & More

FIRST-CLASS | SELF-DRIVE: Discover the delights of northern Spain on a unique self-drive program. Start in Madrid, then discover the cities of Toledo, Burgos, San Sebastian, Segovia and more. See charming medieval cities, attractive beaches and stunning mountain scenery. Spend time in Santiago de Compostela, the final destination on the Way of St. James pilgrimage route, before heading back to Madrid.

See Details

Basque Country Adventure Self-drive: Bilbao, Pamplona, San Sebastian

MODERATE | SELF-DRIVE: Get off the beaten path in Spain's Basque Country on a 6 day self-drive experience! Discover a unique culture, rich in history, modern architecture and wonderful gastronomy. See the famous Guggenheim, the beaches of San Sebastian, the legendary Pamplona, try the pintxos and fall in love with the dramatic landscape, language and famous wines.

See Details

Spanish Adventure Self Drive: Spain, France & Andorra

MODERATE | SELF-DRIVE: Get off the beaten path and discover three countries in 9 days! Starting in Barcelona, enjoy the city at your own pace. Then, drive to Huesca and Jaco, charming medieval cities located close to the French border. In Lourdes, France, visit a famous pilgrimage site before finally heading out to Andorra, located high in the Pyrenees mountains.

See Details