San Sebastián: A Michelin Level Food Emporium
While many people will say the best places to visit when first coming to Spain are Madrid or Barcelona, I am one of the few people who would say otherwise. While Madrid and Barcelona are beautiful cities with rich cultures, I instead would use the time for visiting a whole region of Spain instead of one city.
The regions of Spain I would first start off with are the greenest, most beautiful, and most culturally diverse in Spain, the northern regions. While these may not hold the best castles in Spain nor hold much of Spain’s Castilian and Muslim culture, it instead contains sheer blissful natural beauty and its own unique co-culture with its many extinct and official languages. The north is the last areas that the Castilian army touched as it tried to retake the south from Muslim invaders and then combine with northern kingdoms during the Medieval times. Many of these regions hold onto its past history, specifically its languages, to the point that some regions have co-official language along side Castilian-Spanish.
The Basque country is an area of Spain with lush mountains covered in evergreen trees, thick Basque culture and history, a unique language who origins are unknown, amazing food, and a city called San Sebastian. San Sebastian connects all these wonderful characteristics of the basque country into one walkable city.
San Sebastian, according to the late Anthony Bourdain, a chef and travel/food tv host among many things, has the highest density of Michelin star restaurants in the world. To Bourdain this was his favorite city, a place he could eat magnificent food, bask in the Basque culture, or just relax in its chill atmosphere. Its a place you need to “experience” to really understand.
My first steps into the city of San Sebastian began a year ago where me and my significant other toured the northern part of Spain. We understood San Sebastian had a large Michelin starred restaurant scene, but we weren't there to spend money like that. This was just a city tour, like others cities we visited that trip, to walk around and have dinner. Little did I know how much love I would gain from this impeccable city.
That day we made our way through the city area where we saw the cathedral with its many pointed steeples. A very beautiful cathedral and worth seeing.
Next we made our way to the historic area. The streets were quaint and calm unlike that of a bustling city like Madrid. In the older part of the city, the streets presented like an old village that has seen itself flourish. We walked calmly through these streets smelling the wonderful food being cooked by the many restaurants as we made our way to the church at the base of the hill.
Once we gazed at the church in aw and sidestepped the many people listening to a quite large street concert, we made our way up the mountain to see the castle that laid at the peak. The hike up the hill was beautiful and surrounded by nature. On the castle there were many cannons and a view that can see out into the ocean, the city of San Sebastian, and the outlying costs that were adjacent to the city.
After the enjoyable hike and sightseeing we made our way back down the mountain, now with a hunger. Since we had no reservations nor a urge to go into one of the many Michelin rated restaurants, we just walked into one that looked nice. This restaurant had an elaborate ordering system that took us a few minutes to understand. In this system you pick a small tapa and you are then charged by the toothpick, stick, or spoon that came with your tapa. No need to order food from a waiter. Odd restaurant waiting system but ok.
The first bite blew me away. It was an elaborate looking shrimp dish that packed a delicious and perfectly balanced flavor. Me and my girlfriend went back for more. Four more tapas split between the two of us to be exact. At the end of it all we spend 7 euros each including drinks. We were blown away by the price, and especially the quality. The food was so good that we didn't want to stop eating so at random we entered another restaurant, this one had a similar style of ordering. Again, the food was top level and ever tapa was so unique. We ended up eating another 5 tapas. There is no doubt in my mind that if I were to walk into most of the restaurants in this area I would be equally satisfied.
At the end of this experience my mind, soul, and body was catered to. My mind got to experience this magnificent city with its incredible landmarks and unique culture. My soul got to walk through the gorgeous nature around the mountain as I made my way up to the castle experiencing all the little nuances the area had to offer. Lastly, my body was satisfied with delicious food at a reasonable price.
So, if you were to ask me where to go in Spain for a first time visit I would quickly say the Basque country. With its unique cities, rich culture, breathtaking landscape, and San Sebastian, the basque country is not to be missed.