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San Sebastián, Pays Basque (Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, St Jean de Luz, Biarritz, Espelette, Hondarrabia) Suggestions

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We are embarking on a 8 day roadtrip beginning in Madrid July 16th and driving straight to San Sebastián for 3 nights, then onto Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle (France) where we will be staying at L'auberge Basque for 3 nights, and then down to Madrid for 2 nights.

Obviously there are endless options when it comes to exceptional pintxos in San Sebastián. On the long list so far is Casa Gandarias, La Cepa, Fuego Negro, La Cuchara de San Telmo, Zeruko, Bodegon Alejandro. Not sure at all if these are tourist driven places, which is what we would like to avoid. Tips on which places are not to miss and which ones to avoid would be great. Please feel free to add more to the list.

Is it worthwhile to stop in Hondarribia on the way to Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle? And if so where would you recommend grabbing a bite?
We will have dinner at the restaurant at L'auberge Basque one of the evenings we are there. We also plan on heading into St-Jean-de-Luz, Biarritz, and Espelette (or other towns you think are worthy of visiting, Sare perhaps?) so any guidance on where to dine in those towns is appreciated.

Thank you for your tips in advance! Will post a follow up once we're back.

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  1. We spent 3 weeks in the Pays Basque in May and loved it. Our favorite town away from the coast on the French side was St. Jean Pied de Port which has the wonderful restaurant Arrambides in the hotel Pyrénées. We also dined at the Auberge Basque outside of St Pee sur Nivelle and rated it #2, just slightly behind Arrambides, of all the back country restaurants we tried. However as an interesting village I didn't find St. Pee on the same level as the lovely St. Jean Pied de Port with its old fortress, ramparts, bridges, etc. and the Auberge is not with in walking distance of St. Pee, but it is quite a lovely place. Our 3rd favorite back country restaurant was the rustic Olhabidea just outside of Sare, definitely worth a detour if you are in the Sare/Ainhoa/Espelette area.

    We were immensely pleased with our week's stay in St. Jean de Luz/ Ciboure; not as glitzy as Biarritz but quite charming. Don't miss the restaurant Chez Mattin in Ciboure, nor the weekly market in either place; they are just across the bridge from each other, no car necessary.

    Biarritz gets most of the press and is indeed quite charming. We enjoyed the views from the old port and had an excellent, casual seafood lunch there at Chez Albert right on the Port des Pecheurs.

    San Sebastian is not to be missed. We spent 4 days there at the Hotel Londres y de Inglaterre in a room with a beach side balcony and were enthralled. We never made it to the Gastronomic restaurants as the multitude of wonderful and affordable tapas bars were so appealing and affordable; the prices are noticeably lower when you cross the border into Spain.

    I hope your trip will be as enjoyable as ours and please do report back.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Laidback

      Agreed, agreed, agreed, agreed.

      "Our favorite town away from the coast on the French side was St. Jean Pied de Port which has the wonderful restaurant Arrambides in the hotel Pyrénées."

      One of our faves too. However when we visited, the town was full of pilgrims. Their oppressive piety obscured the town for us.

      "However as an interesting village I didn't find St. Pee on the same level as the lovely St. Jean Pied de Port with its old fortress, ramparts, bridges, etc. and the Auberge is not with in walking distance of St. Pee, but it is quite a lovely place."

      Agreed.

      "Our 3rd favorite back country restaurant was the rustic Olhabidea just outside of Sare, definitely worth a detour if you are in the Sare/Ainhoa/Espelette area."

      Agreed enough to go back this September.

      "We were immensely pleased with our week's stay in St. Jean de Luz/ Ciboure; not as glitzy as Biarritz but quite charming. Don't miss the restaurant Chez Mattin in Ciboure, nor the weekly market in either place"

      Agreed, agreed and agreed.
      Ciboure is our fave village along the coast. And one can easily walk to St Jean de Luz which is on the other side of the tiny port.
      The St Jean de Luz seafood market is our fave seafood market of France, beating out Collioure (Port-Vendres), beating out Sète, beating out even Cancale.

      "San Sebastian… We never made it to the Gastronomic restaurants as the multitude of wonderful and affordable tapas bars were so appealing and affordable;"

      Agreed totally. Pintxos crawling is like having a tasting menu spread out over the city. It redefiens A Moveable Feast.

      "the prices are noticeably lower when you cross the border into Spain."

      Am sick of saying agreed but oh yah.

      1. re: Laidback

        Thanks for your detailed reply! We chose Auberge Basque mainly because it appears to be be a beautiful property and centrally located so that we can drive to neighboring towns. Booking last week was also a factor due to lack of availability during peak Summer. Will certainly drive into St. Jean Pied de Port. Arrambides and Olhabidea are now on our list.

        Ciboure seems to be where we'll go while in St. Jean de Luz. Not really dead set on going to Biarritz but since we'll be close we might stop in if there's time.

        Hotel Londres y de Inglaterre was sold out for our dates (booked last week) as was Villa Soro and other top picks. We'll be staying at Astoria7. I absolutely agree that with the selection of pintxos bars to hop around at, we won't be lacking in fantastic food. That combined with limited time in the city, we will probably not make it to the gastronomic/michelin restaurants on this trip. "A moveable Feast," that's perfect!

        Thanks again and will surely post a follow up.

      2. Can you squeeze in lunch at Etxebarri in Axpe? Extraordinary grilled dishes including some of the best "beef" (18 year old farm animal) I've ever had. Ask for the window table for magical view.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mangeur

          Feeling more and more pressure to go to Etxebarri as you're the 68957th person who has recommended it. As of yet we're focused on tackling all the pintxos San Sebastian has to offer in the less than 3 days that we'll be there. If the case to try one of the Gastronomic restaurants wins it will certainly be Etxebarri at lunch.

        2. In San Sebastian in July you'd have to go a long way to avoid somewhere with toursists but I wouldn't be overly concerned. Many are Spanish tourists (it seemed to me) and the bustle and crowds of the great pintxos bars are all part of the fun. We barely heard an English voice all weekend.

          Most of your places are in the Parta Vieja and I would definitely add Bar Astelehana to your list which was by some distance our favourite.

          If you head across the bridges into the Gros and Zurriola areas you will find yourself along among locals a little more, particularly at lunchtime. We enjoyed Casa Senra and Bergara I think over there.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ManInTransit

            Thank you for your tips. Bar Astelehana has been coming up and looks fantastic, will definitely check it out. I've also heard that the croquettas at Casa Senra are the best in town. Will definitely be in Gros and will stop in.

            I think I've concluded that we should try as many places as possible and while inevitably there may be some misses, and in that event we'll move on to the next place!

            Thanks again :)

          2. I spent a May weekend in Pays Basque staying in Biarritz. Of course you are already going pintxos tasting in St Sebastian, but if you are still up for more small plates, my family quite enjoyed Cafe Jean, which is the more comfortable pintxos version of Bar Jean. It's right by the Biarritz market which might interest you too.
            On our way from Bayonne to Irouleguy for a wine tasting, we stopped by a restaurant perched on the hilltops called La Ferme Gourmande. It has a Michelin Bib Gourmand label, and the food (slightly modern, quite a bit lighter than traditional Basque cooking), service and setting was excellent, as was the rapport qualité-prix.
            http://lafemmemange.wordpress.com/201...
            Did not eat at Espelette, but had really nasty coffee sitting on the terrace of Pottoka.
            In St Sebastian we ate at Akelarre. The food was overall good with 10-20% misses, but the service and killer views made up for it.