Bilbao/San Sebastian/Getaria city break

Bilbao

An iconic museum, a revitalised, sophisticated cityscape  [Bilboans are justly proud of their city and region and use the Basque version of the names ubiquitously for transport branding] plus a stunning food and drink culture: creative pintxos snacks line every bar counter and the local Txakoli white and Rioja red wine are the drinks to order — making for a great city break. 

San Sebastian 

Donostia [in Basque/Euskera] is equally as intriguing — a seaside city with a chequered past — rebuilt after the British sacked and pillaged the city in the early nineteeth century. It now spreads out behind the justly famous golden 'Playa La Concha', together with the smaller 'Playa Ondarreta' and surfing oriented 'Playa Zurriola' beaches were popularised by various European crowned heads and Spanish nobility with the arrival of rail travel. The city is largely residential with surprisingly few hotels — comprising mainly of nineteenth and twentieth century villas and apartment blocks with ground floor bars, cafes and shops reflecting the wealth of this northern end of the Iberian peninsula. The numerous Michelin starred restaurants in and around the city have inspired a very creative pintxos culture in the bars throughout the city.

Getaria

This charming small fishing port, some 15 kilometres from San Sebastian, has recently benefitted from the establishment of a very contemporary museum devoted to the work of the internationally renowned courturier Christobal Balenciaga, who was born in Getaria and learned his trade in San Sebastian, retaining a link with the city until his retirement in the late 1960's. The bars/cafes, restaurants and shops stocking artisan products together with the small hotels in the town all offer the visitor a complete package of experiences for a very pleasant stop-over.

Getting there

EasyJet fly you from Manchester or Stanstead to the Santiago Calatrava designed airport just outside Bilbao for just over £50.00 return and the BizkaiBus gets you to the city centre for just over £1.00. Bilbao has bus and train links with the rest of Spain and onwards throughout Europe. RENFE standard guage trains to Madrid terminate at Abando station; the narrow guage EskoTren trains to San Sebastian links with the EskoTren tram at Atxuri station. FEVE trains to Santander and beyond [terminating in Ferrol] have their own picturesque La Condordia terminus. If you want to bring your own car, Brittany Ferries route to/from Portsmouth docks downstream from Bilbao at Zierbena near the mouth of the Rio Nervion. Alternatively, small rental cars are reasonably priced in Spain if you intend to travel to other cities or explore the 'pais vasco'.

In San Sebastian the EuskoTren from Bilbao and the line east to Hendaye in France terminate at Amara station just south of the Centro area. The mainline RENFE station fronts De Maria Cristina Zubia bridge   over the Rio Urmea in Gros for trains to Madrid and Irun on the broder with France.

Getting around Bilbao

Central Bilbao comrises three main areas for visitors: the Casco Veijo — the old town sheltering below a hill in a bend of the River Nervion, the Ensanche — the 19th century new town of boulevards on the opposite bank, radiating out from the Plaza Moyua and the Abandoibarra — the new cultural, hotel, park and retail development stretching further along the river bank to the old docks. The city also extends some 15 miles along the river to the mouth of the Nervion to the marinas and new, posh suburbs of Getxo to the east and the port and more commercial areas of Portugalete to the west. 

We tried to save our feet by buying a 3 day BilboCard for central area travel on the BilboBusEuskoTren tram and metrobilbao subway system and then one day creditrans tickets for longer distance travel, that were both excellent value for money. The subway is deep underground in the city centre, but splits to serve the west side of the river valley out to Portugalete and Santurtze — and to the east side marinas and suburbs, terminating at the little coastal town of Plenzia.

Update October 2014 — get a 'barik' card: 3 euros for the card then add credits as required, brilliant value for all Bilbao travel including the Bizkaiko Zubia transporter bridge.

The tram follows the river [more or less ] from the Atxuri rail station in the Casco Viejo, crossing the river to the Abando main-line rail station and onwards to the Guggenheim museum and terminating near the Termibus long-distance bus station. We found it a surprisingly useful link round the city used by city residents all day long.

For great views over the city take the Artxandako funicular railway to the summit of the nearest big hill overlooking the city. An alternative is the Bilboat cruise along the River Nervion to the old docks area or down river to the Vizcaya transporter bridge.

Getting around San Sebastian

The city centre of San Sebastian is easily walkable, with pedestrianised streets between the main thoroughfares. However if you are staying at the 'Playa Ondarreta' end of town in the 'Antigua' district, then the 5 or 25 bus is very convenient to get you to the 'Boulevard' — the city bus terminus that is also the dividing line between the older and newer parts of the city. The Tourist Office is also located at the Alameda del Boulevard where you can purchase 3 or 5 day 'SANSEBASTIAN' cards, allowing a set number of journeys on the city buses. Also similar to Bibao, is a funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo that punctuates the western end of the city and offers excellent views over the city and a rather tacky small amusement park! EuskoTren terminates at Amara station and the mainline RENFE over the River Nervion.

Bilbao Accommodation
There are lots of options from 5 star contemporary luxury to more humble pensións. On our first trip we chose the Hotel Lopez de Haro that, although not the most highly rated by Tripadvisor members, we found suited our needs: we got 20% discount for staying more than 2 nights, an upgraded room and late checkout. The decor was a bit theatrical and the breakfast offer was expensive: although a cooked-to-order option was available; but the location was excellent: on a quiet street just 5 minutes walk from the airport bus drop-off, 2 minutes from the tram and 5-10 minutes from the Abando metro and rail stations. Second time around we stayed at the Sercotel Coliseo on Alameda de Urquijo, just steps from the El Corte Inglés store on Gran Via Don Diego López de Haro and the new BilbaoTourismo office on the Plaza Circular/Biribila. Very much a business hotel sharing space above a casino, but very conveniently situated with underground car parking. We noted that breakfast for 2 persons at 33 euros was beyond our budget, so bear this in mind if not on expenses!

San Sebastian Accommodation

Driving in from Bibao, our excellent navigator [Lenore] took us directly to the Hotel Codina on Avenida Zumalacárregui, in the Antigua neighbourhood, directly adjacent to the Ondarreta beach. This hotel is rated #11 by TripAdviser respondents, but we booked the superior rooms on the top floor that had balconies with loungers — and we used them too in October! Rooms are contemporary, breakfast OK, friendly staff and reasonably priced parking. The ground floor bar/cafe was popular with locals and the buses into the city centre stopped immediately outside. The Codina is surrounded by residential accommodation: villas and mansion blocks with ground floor retail; we would consider renting an apartment next time — they can beautifully decorated.

Getaria Accommodation

One of 2 hotels on Roke Deuna, the more sophisticated Saiaz Getaria Hotel is housed in mediaeval stone houses overlooking the sea and a grand sweep of beach. The decor is a balance of antiques and contempoary elements featuring large colour prints of details from Balanciaga clothes and embroideries. Rooms are large, some with picture windows and views, sofa and writing desk. Breakfasts are low key, but with excellent ingredients and super fresh orange juice and coffee. Staff were very friendly and helpful offering advice on routes for our onward journey towards Bibao.

Bilbao — The Casco Veijo

The old town is accessed from either the plaza at the Arriaga theatre or the Mercado Ribera tram stops leading to a series of parallel streets [the 7 streets] and to the Plaza Nueva: an arcaded square housing the Basque Language Institute and a number of bars and restaurants including the tiled Café Bar Bilbao and highly decorative Victor Montes. There are lots of other bars and restaurants in the old town: we visited most of the recommended less-expensive options including Berton, that does a  pintxo and drink deal for 2 euros; Los Fueros for grilled prawns and our favorite: Rio Oja for a range of inexpensive stews including beef, lamb or mussels at the bar or a full meal in the restaurant.       

The Town Hall, Bilbao

Alongside the River Nervion the city authorities have now completely rebuilt the Mercado Ribera municipal market hall featuring spectacular stained glass windows and extremely popular stalls for fresh produce. The market is well worth a look to see customers really appreciating the less attractive parts of animals and fish and the dexterity of the traders. If you have a BilboCard travel ticket you can access the nearby Park Etxebarria using the lift in the Casco Viejo metro station or use the Ascensor lift on Calle Esperanza for a view across the city.

The Ensanche

The new town is a grid of 5/6 story buildings: churches, hotels, office buildings, mansion blocks with cafes, restaurants and small shops at street level, the El Corte Inglés department store and the main bus and train termini. Adjacent to the Ponte del Arenal bridge is the small La Concordia station for trains to Santander, possessing an attractive stained glass entrance façade parallel to the river and a discrete restaurant tucked behind the bar/café offering good a good value 'dish of the day'. Nearby on the Plaza Circular is the La Granja bar/café a convenient stop for shoppers and travellers. From here the tree-lined Gran Via Dom Diego Lopez de Haro [named after the 13th century Lord of Biscay] is the main artery of the city, cutting right across the Ensanche and a focus for many bus routes to outlying areas.

Running parallel to part of the Gran Via is the pedestrianised Calle Ledesma, a street of numerous bar/cafés, thronged with customers every evening and heaving at weekends. Our favorites were the basic Taberna and Taberna 2 featuring bullfight memorabilia and the Molinillo offering a contemporary take on pinxto wedged between the two Taberna bars. Just around the corner overlooking Jardines Albia is the wonderful Café Iruna, decorated round the bar with old tiled advertising for liquors, sherries and wines and a take on moorish style divans and woodwork in the restaurant. Check-out the great Moroccan style kebabs available from the charcoal grill in the corner. Bordering the Ensanche and Abandoibarra areas is the Doña Casilda Iturruzar Park a very pleasant early 20th century style park with fountains and a small lake and a kiosk comprising café/bar and ice-cream outlet.

Also overlooking the park is the café/bar of the the Museo de Bellas Artes — an essentially Miesian rectilinear steel and glass edifice attached to the orginal classically styled building. It has a permanent collection and houses temporary exhibitions too.

On Plaza Arriquibar is the latest civic achievement: the AlhóndigaBilbao culture and leisure centre. Previously a wine warehouse in a 'modernista' style by Ricardo Bastida in 1909; the project of refubishment and purposing the building was entrusted to Philippe Starck, the French architect and designer, who masterminded the transformation into a multi-purpose public facility incorporating a cinema, library, gymnasium and swimming pool, exhibition space, cafe and restaurant, 'mediatek' and roof-top open space all within three interior spaces divorced from external structure and resting on 43 columns individually designed by Philippe Starck. It spills out into the plaza with oversize elements in typical Starck style.

Abandoibarra

The centre-piece of this area [previously a tangle ofrailway sidings] is the iconic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This concoction of swirling surfaces, designed by US based architect Frank Gehry, kick-started the revival of the city and is very photogenic [but beware: you're not supposed to take photographs inside the building] and heralds the entrance to the city as you emerge from the tunnel opposite on the airport bus. The bistro cafe has a good value dish of the day deal and inexpensive drinks; you can sit outside on a covered terrace under the entrance signage and view the back of Jeff Koon's 'Puppy' floral sculpture. We enjoyed exploring the building, the central atrium is very impressive, but it has some scary upper walkways not suitable for vertigo suffers. Selections of abstract art from the permanent collection were maybe over-familiar to us to really enjoy. The main show was a juxtaposition of the site specific work of sculptor Richard Serra and his inspirational predecessor: Constantin Brancusi; whose work we considered was very unsympathetically displayed.

Refurbishing Jeff Koons' Puppy sculpture at the entrance to the Guggenheim, Bilbao.

Also in the Abandoibarra area is a small park and cafe, with live jazz at weekends, overlooking a play area and fountains for children and number of other new buildings for the Duesto University; the Palacio Euskalduna Conference and Performing Arts Centre; a big new Melia Hotel and culminating in the Museo Maritimo under the Euskalduna bridge, that also has a café/bar overlooking the old docks and river, frequented by municipal workers when we visited.

Crossing the swooping Zubizuri footbridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava, on the knitted plastic mat that covers the transulcent glass deck for safety reasons, cross into Campo Volante to access the Artxanda Furnicular up to the summit of Monte Artxanda. Hand in your BilboCard at the kiosk to get it svalidated and ride up the hillside through streets of alpine style villas to the park with great view across the city. there is also the popular Restaurant Txakoli for drinks or a full meal overlooking the park or in the more for mal dining room overlooking the city.

Along the River Nervion and beyond

The new developments are linked to the Casco Viejo and Ensanche by the Paseo Campo Volantin and Paseo del Arenal pedestrian and cycle ways on the north side of the River Nervion and the Paseo Uribitarte and Ripa on the south side. Bilboans really do use these as the lungs of the city — particularly on Saturday mornings when cyclists, skaters and walkers throng along the river and over the Zubizuri footbridge.

We took the metrobilbao to Bidezabal in the big estuary suburb of Getxo [buy a €5.00 creditrans day ticket, OK for 2 people] and walked through this modern town towards the river and found the Galea Erripeda a long, very long straight pedestrian and cycle path up to Galea Point and onwards following the cliff path round the Nerugi golf course. Another day we went even further to the end of the line at Plentzia. A charming little town on a low hill in a curve of the river accessed by a bridge from the metro station opposite, it too has a footpath, but along the River Plentzia that was alive with rowers, canoeists and surfers paddling their boards home. The walkway continues round the curve of a beach with the inevitable bar/café towards the end: the Asador Hokdartzape Erretegia, a really unprepossessing building externally — just a basic concrete structure — but it has a contemporary wood panelled interior and was hosting a lively local celebration featuring a display of huge, admittedly bony-looking, fish piled on ice awaiting the grill behind. The roof was a makeshift terrace where we enjoyed a welcome glass of txakoli wine before retracing our steps and having a quick peek at the old town, very quiet at siesta time on a Saturday.

October 2014 Update: Additional Pinxtos locations in Ensanche 

We moved beyond Calle Ledesma and the Casco Viejo this trip to check out pinxtos bars on other streets in the city centre: Licenciado Poza, around Plaza Campuzano and Calle Diputación. Poza leads directly to the football stadium and numerous bars cater for fans. Cork is an attractive exception and considerably more expensive with wines in cooling cupboards and a fancy pouring system. Around Campuzano was La Charcu a new shop and bar specialising in ham, very unpretentious. On Calle Diputación Globo Bar was very friendly [note gate to stop customers falling down staircase to toilets] and La Vińa del Ensanche bar and restaurant [and delicatessen shop] is very much on the tourist trail — with booking for tables.

October 2014 Update: Portugalete and Santurtze 

We crossed the Rio Nervion on the Bizkaiko Zubia transporter bridge [using our 'barik' card] to the two towns on the west side of the river and were very plesantly surprised by the effort that had been put into making these older industrial and fishing towns attractive. Portugalete has a pedestrianised promenade partly retrieved from old railway sidings and the original rail terminus building is now the Tourist Information office, surrounded by cafe/restaurants backed by an ancient fortified tower and church. Walking downstream you pass a municipal swimming pool and sports facility and the marine college and another municipal pool and sports facility created by the Santurtze local authority. Again the town has lovely contemporary landscaping beyond the tracks leading to the container port and fishing harbour. Adjacent to the harbour is a fishermans association restaurant and bar offering good value meals in an unpretentious environment.

San Sebastian

We were reminded of Llandudno on our intial overall view of the Bahía de La Concha, lying between Monte Urgell and Monte Igueldo, a bit like the Great Orme and Little Orme. However the cityscapes are very much late nineteenth/early twentieth century grids of dark stone mansion blocks following the valley geography back from the pedestian promenades echoing the shape of the Bahia de la Concha and the Rio Urumea, that separates the Parte Vieja and Centro districts from the Playa de La Zurriola and Gros district.

Playa de Ondorreta/Antigua/Monte Igeldo

The Playa de Ondorreta has fine golden sand and is popular even in October when we visited, with facilities and gardens behind. Below Monte Igeldo, along the Paseo de Eduardo Chillida is the Tennis Club and Branka a modern bar/cafe/restaurant with outside terrace facing the rusty metal 'Wind Comb' sculptures of Eduardo Chillida, who was born in San Sebastian and largely worked in the city until his death [aged 78] in 2002. Behind the Tennis Club is the Plaza de Funicular and access to the Funicular de Igueldo that takes you up to some excellent viewpoints, a Mercure hotel and the Parque de Atracciones featuring the Casa del Terror! The Antigua district, adjacent to Playa de Ondorreta, has some hotels and offices, but is largely residential: villas and apartments, with an interesting selection of bars/cafes and shops lining the side streets. The Paseo de La Concha goes through a short tunnel to the Bahía de La Concha beach. Above is a small public park surrounding the Miramar Palace, built for the Spanish Royal Family, the plot was bought by the local government in 1972,  and the palace is now the head office of 'Musikene'  the regional music organisation and used for summer courses organised by the Basque Country University.

Playa de la Concha/Isla Santa Clara/Monte Urgull

The main beach is again a big sweep of sand with joggers and cyclists on the pedestrian walkway/cycle path on the busy Paseo de La Concha above and behind. Residential apartments line the subsidiary Paseo de Miraconcha. There are only a few staircases or passages down to the beach and only a few restauarants towards the Centro end of the Paseo. We had the Menu del Dia for lunch at Restauarant de La Concha overlooking the beach and bay and it was very good value for money. Little Isla Santa Clara lies in the centre of the bay protecting the beach and boats at anchor. It can be reached by a small ferry and has paths up to the lighthouse. Also protecting the Bahía de La Concha to the east is Monte Urgull, accessible by paths from the Parte Vieja — some of which were blocked for safety reasons — up to the Castillo de la Mota and the Casa de la Historia, a free museum on the history and development of San Sebastian housed in the Castillo. The British Army don't come out too well in the story, but the displays are well presented with a well made A/V show too.

Branka bar/cafe/restaurant

San Sebastian Parte Vieja and Centro

The La Concha beach terminates at Monte Urgall with the small habour and the Real Cub Nautico de San Sebastian, featuring portholes and a long strip of windows wrapping round a curved 'prow'. Built in 1928-1929 to plans by the architects D. José Manuel Aizpurua and D. Joaquin Labayen. Aizpurua was a member of Club Náutico and won the European Championship 'Star Class' yacht race in 1931. Nearby is the City Hall, built In 1887 as the Grand Casino, looking a bit unloved when we visited. In complete contrast to the broad expanse of La Concha, the Parte Vieja is a warren of streets huddled under the protection of Monte Urgull and home to numerous bar/restaurants offering Pintxos — the Basque take on tapas. San Sebastian is internationally famous for the restauants in and around the city offering a contemporary interpretation of Basque cuisine and earming lots of Michelin stars for their efforts — at Michelin star prices — but some of the pintxos offered in the bars and cafes in San Sebastian are often miniature culinary works of art — and excellent value for money. We only ventured to a few recommended locations, using the 'Todo Pintxos Routes' internet advice. In the Parte Vieja we visited Gandarias and A Fuego Negro on Calle 31 Augusto; La Mejillanera and Porteletas on Calle Puerto; on Fermin Calbeton we dropped in at Txondorra, Goiz Argi, Manto and Borda Berri. After our walk on Monte Urgull we stopped off for revival at the starkly modern bar/cafe of the STM: San Telmo Museum. Created around a 16th century Dominican convent — the original church and cloister has been refurbished and a new building clad in 'pock-marked' alumiumium panels and a new staircase to the paths on Monte Urgell, houses displays on the history of the region.

In Centro we visited lively Meson Martin on Calle Elcano and Oquendo on Calle Oquendo: featuring a multitude of photographs of famous film people taken during the San Sebastian Film Festival. Oquendo offers a lunchtime deal of 3 cold pintxos and 2 hot pintxos plus a drink for 9.50€!

Zurriola/Gros Area

On Pena y Goni is the bright and busy Bodega Donostiarra and on Paseo Cristobal Colon is the Garbola cocktail bar and the friendly, bright yellow Hidalgo 56, owned by Juan Mari Hidalgo Humada whose kitchen has 'an explosion of knowledge'! We also had an excellent lunch at the NiNeu bar/cafe/restaurant of the contemporary Kursaal conference and exhibition venue on Zurriola beach and overlooking Rio Urmea. The offer we chose comprised 3 courses and a glass of wine for about €28.00. The creative cooking and presentation was beyond our expectations, with charming waiting staff, all in contemporary, sophisticated ambience.

Getaria

We visited this small port town, just 30 kilometers along the coast, specifically to visit the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum and also enjoy the fish and seafood on offer. Very briefly, he was born in 1895 to a seamstress mother and learned dressmaking and tailoring in San Sebastian where he opened his own establishment in 1917 followed by a presence in both Barcelona and Madrid. He moved to Paris in 1936 and was internationally famous post WW2 for his bold, dramatic shapes and colours. Retiring in 1968, he died in 1972. The collection is housed in a dramatic black building attached to the Palacio Aldamar on the hill overlooking Getaria — there are open-air escalators to help you up the hill. The galleries are suspended enclosed volumes accessed by lifts, stairs or more escalators. The presentation of the collection is very restrained but not daunting; on our visit a temporary photographic exhibition showed Balenciaga clothes worn in both European and Hollywood films. 

Getaria is perched on a rocky outcrop with the port to one side and a curve of sandy beach on the other. The few streets are lined with old houses leading down to the port with numerous bar/cafe/restaurant options featring grilled fish and seafood. The church is famous both for it's angled floor and it's historical connections with Gipuzkoa province. We visited the good value Politena for pintxos and had chose Restaurant Boga Boga, overlooking the port for an evening meal. On our walk round the port the Asador Astillero, above the artisanal fish products and wine shop, sounded very lively late afternoon.

Gernika

On April 26, 1937 Gernika was bombed indiscriminately by German and Italian forces. Pablo Picasso's Guernica painting reflects the full barbarity of the bombing. The bombing was on a Monday, which was market day. 

We happened upon this town between San Sebastian and Bilbao early on a Saturday afternoon and were lucky to get a parking space. The the town was full of people of all ages dressed in traditional costume and celebrating 'everything Basque' on our enquiry at the Tourist Office. There were groups of singers, parades of young children playing drums and pipes, people dressed as monsters [see phoptographs] and Basque sports including log chopping, weight lifting, sack carrying, tug of war and hitting a metal plate above your head — and much cider drinking! Apparently there's a festival every first Saturday of the month from June to December in Gernika! We caught the October Sukalki fair — beef stew! Even more famous is the regional produce competition on the first Monday in October.

October 2014 Update: Hondarribia, Hendaye, St Jean de Luz and Bayonne

We rented a car for two days while staying in San Sebastian to venture to Hondarribia and over the border to France. The main GI-636 road and E5 motorway are both busy with international traffic but easy to negotiate unless you get stuck in the port area of PasaiaHondarribia has a smart promenanade along the river frontage with a few bar/cafes and the main streets are brightly painted older style properties with oriel windows in the Basque style. Lots of dining and drinking opportunities on the pedestrianised Santiago Kalea and an old town area up the hill leading to the castle and Parador de Hondarribia hotel. You can catch a ferry across the river to the marina at Hendaye in France for some good views of the old buildings. Onwards to St Jean de Luz: a very tourist oriented town, really pushing the Basque connection but quite tastefully done, saved by a lovely sweep of sand round an almost circular bay — and easy parking behind the beach. Our furthest inroad into France was Bayonne, famous for ham and chocolate — apparently. We were charmed by this old riverside town: streets lined with old and elegant buildings on a hill between ancient walls and riverside boulevards lined with restaurants, a refurbished market hall and cute free bus — La Navette de Bayonne — nosing it's way round the city.

Evening sky on Zurriola Beach, San Sebastian with surfers hoping for a few waves before dark.

San Sebastian Update October 2015

Who said it always rains in Northern Spain? We have been so lucky on previous visits and this October 2015 trip was no exception. Most days and into the evenings were in the mid 20 degrees C — only a few hours of mist and rain during a full 7 days. Thus visits to cultural institutions etc. were put on hold — again, and more time was spent on the beach! We did however follow up a few recommends for drinking and eating and made a few discoveries for ourselves too. Here are some of the places we visited:

Young and old residents enjoying the evening at Bar KOK.

Bar KOK

Bar KOK was only a short distance from our hotel in the Antigua district of San Sebastian — it was a real find offering small plates — raciones — with a good range of salads. The environment is very contemporary with lots of graphics on the window and on a long interior wall featuring typographic interpretations of regional food and drink. Mixed age group obviously appreciated the offer.

Avenida Zarautz 2, San Sebastian

The mural opposite the counter at Bar KOK.

Bernardina Vinoteca

Another location in the Antigua district of San Sebastian, near the Ondaretta beach. We stopped in on a wet Tuesday evening and the place was buzzing, mainly with [we presume] local residents greeted by the glamorous owner. The style is contemporary with Ddanish Poul Henningsen style lighting and Harry Bertoia dining chairs round a table at the rear. There is a more formal dining area for full meals. Very good pintxos featuring Jamon Jabulo and and an extensive wine list. 

Calle De Vitoria-Gasteiz 6, San Sebastian

Lively conversation at lunchtime outside the Taberna Giroa, Getaria.

The Mayflower

We had a day out to visit the Wednesday farmer’s market at Ordizia, the mediaeval hill town of Segura and university town of Oňati and returning via Getaria. We wanted an evening meal and although initially wary of the 'al fresco' offer overlooking the harbour as a bit of a tourist trap, the interior and menu at the Mayflower exceeded expectations. The main courses: Langoustines 'a la plancha' and Merluza Parrilla were excellent; particularly the Merluza, presented as a steak of Hake neck on the bone, lightly cooked on the grill in oil and garlic, rather than the usual fillet. We complemented this with a Lagar de Besada: an Albarino that was very fragrant, a deep colour and hint of lemon. Service was pretty quick and efficient and the atmosphere friendly. Very good price for very high quality, unpretentious food.

Katrapona 4, Getaria

Looking into the Bar Bergara on Calle Bermingham

Capricho Bar Restaurante

We visited the recommended Bergara Bar on Calle Bermingham in Gros and marvelled at the pintxos display, but for a sit-down lunch the sun was shining on the nearby unpretentious Capricho Bar Restaurante — lots of happy eaters under the awnings just two streets back from the Zurriola beach. The three course menu included wine or water and only €11.50! We splashed out a €8.00 supplement for a very good Albarino wine and no charge was made for the mineral water. The waiter helped us through some of the trickier aspects of the menu and although there was only one dessert available, the fact that the place was full on a Monday was testimony to the quality of the offer — not quite haute cuisine, but very generous portions.

C/ Zabaleta 55, San Sebastian

We also discovered there is a lovely view back across the bay from the terrace of the Aquarium bar and restaurant, although the fine dining option on the two lunchtimes we were there was not very popular; perhaps due to the ongoing refurbishment work of the cladding panels to the exterior of the building.