2018 TRAVEL TRENDS
An insider’s look at what’s to come.
Pintxos are not as large as tapas, the small plates of Spanish cuisine that have become ubiquitous across the U.S., and are designed to be just a bite or two, often served on just a napkin, not a plate.
And while visiting a pintxo bar can be a casual outing, there’s a definite style of pintxo dining that locals practice and travelers would be wise to observe, a kind of pintxo pub crawl, if you will.
Here are two pieces of advice-offered by Gabriella Ranalli of Tenedor Tours, which takes tourists on culinary excursions in San Sebastian--that will help you have the best experience and will keep you from being labeled a tourist.
1. Eat only one pintxo at each bar as each has its specialty. Savor it, along with a glass of wine, and move on to the next place.
2. Most pintxos are served on napkins, and the way you dispose of the napkins will mark you either as a local or an outsider. When you are finished, don’t leave the napkin on the bar or look for a garbage container. To demonstrate true Basque style, raise the napkin into the air and throw it to the ground under the bar. Don’t just drop it like a kid feeding vegetables to the dog. True locals fling to the floor with flair, take one last swig of wine, and move on to the next place.
San Sebastian is about 60 miles from Bilbao, the largest city in northern Spain’s Basque Autonomous Community, which is home to the iconic Guggenheim Museum, and where there is no shortage of pintxos. A culinary excursion can easily include both cities with easy
connections via car, bus or train, and enough pintxos to fill your stomach. Ranalli’s Tenedor Tours offers culinary-themed experiences for travelers to the Basque region including cooking classes, market trips and visits to Basque cooking clubs. She’ll even take you on a walking tour of her favorite pintxo bars in San Sebastian. If you prefer to go it on your own, here are some pintxo bars in the city’s old town that are worth a visit:
Borda Berri on Calle Fermin for stewed beef cheeks. Txepetxa on Calle Pescaderia for the best anchovies in town. Bar Nestor on Calle Pescaderia for the best tortilla, a Spanish egg dish, not a Mexican wrap. Casa Urola on Calle Fermin Calbeton for artichoke pinxtos. Al Fuego Negro on Calle 31 de Agosto for the rice, tomato and egg pinxtos. In San Sebastian, you must also stop in at the Hotel Maria Cristina, a grande dame extraordinaire, if not for a stay then at least to savor a gin and tonic, one of the hotel bar’s specialties. An overnight would be a splurge for sure, but it’s extremely luxe and in a great location.
Whenever I’m in Spain, I try to stay at one of the government-run paradores, refurbished historical buildings turned into hotels. About a half hour’s drive from San Sebastian is the Parador de Hondarribia, one of my favorites. It’s a 10th Century castle with an especially nice feel with views of France. Hondarribia is a fishing village, a picturesque town with stone streets, homey restaurants, specialty shops and great water views.
In Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum is a modern art-lover’s dream. But even if that’s not your thing, the museum is engaging and surprising in the way space is used. It’s definitely worth a visit. A good place to stay is the Gran Hotel Silken Domine, which is just across the street from the museum. It’s a luxury spot with a modern art feel and a bit of whimsy in a great location.