Eat "Pinxos"… Drank Wine and Repeat in Bilbao and San Sebastian

crawling pinxos bars is a highlight of a trip to spain
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"Pinxos"... are the Basque region’s version of tapas (appetizers), but most of all it is a social hour, a gathering of friends, neighbors, and colleagues on the streets of northern Spain as they munch and drink. On a recent trip to this region of Spain, I had no idea this may well become one of my favorite spots to visit. 

 
Excited to arrive in the city of Bilbao in the evening, and revitalized by the energy of the city, we decided to head out as soon as we settled into our hotel. Hearing loud conversations in the streets made us wonder what was going on in the neighborhood. As we approached, the voices grew louder and we came upon crowds of people gathered in front of cafes that lined the alley-like streets. Locals were laughing, talking, drinking and eating "pinxos."  We snuck into one of the cafes, wanting to be part of this great atmosphere. We followed local protocol the locals were using… order wine or beer and point to the mini appetizers, called "pinxos," and the servers would prep the order so we could begin our Basque "happy hour" culinary experience. 
Talking to locals and feeling a warm welcome we knew we had made the perfect choice! 
 
We stayed in Bilbao for a few days, visiting areas such as San Juan de Gastalixate, a beautiful church on a cliff beachside, which required an hour's hike each way. The coastline was beautiful and we made stops along the way to take pictures or have lunch in restaurants serving freshly caught fish.  Although we were tired from our explorations each day as we headed back to our hotel, the call of the "pinxos" was loud and clear to us each evening!
 
Sadly, we departed Bilbao and headed to San Sebastián, not knowing this next spot would also steal a bit of our hearts.
 
The coastal city of San Sebastián is mesmerizing with its beautiful calm bay and boardwalks with its cafes, historic sites, and locals on a stroll throughout the day and night.  We accomplished a quick check-in to the hotel and headed out to the boardwalk for a stroll to get into the “pinxo” scene once more.
 
In San Sebastián the pinxos scene is a bit different. Locals seemed to have an agenda and a game plan. There is actually a map the concierge gave us to follow as to who serves what and when. There are even Michelin Star-rated Pinxos that are followed by foodies from around the world. 
 
We didn't come ill-prepared: we also had our own notes to follow from the research we had done on the famous places to eat pinxos in San Sebastián. We tried the famous shrimp (buttered and fried with a special sauce), the famous beef with a sunny side up quail egg on top), the famous mushrooms (special varieties sautéed that melted in your mouth, served with a sunny side up egg on top).
 
Taking sips of the delicious house wine they served in each restaurant, we did the “Pinxos Crawl,” as our evening walk through the cobblestoned streets among hundreds of locals and visitors, experiencing good laughs and making friends along the way.
 
During the day we toured the beautiful coastline taking walks and enjoying the views. It was truly amazing to see the elderly Spaniards being so active.Tthey walked and jogged, swam in the cold waters of the bay as a daily routine, and nothing seemed to stop them, rain or shine! Throughout the day we saw them sipping wine with friends and sharing good conversation.
 
We made a mental note: “Must live like the Spaniards when we age.” Obviously they are doing something right by keeping active and social and not spending their days parked indoors with a TV!
 
My favorite part of the experience in San Sebastián was the hotel room we chose. It had perfect views of the bay from the large terrace. The view was perfect every minute of the day ...sunrise was spectacular and at night twinkling lights and the shadow of the moon on the bay was a WOW moment.
 
If you love to travel and are a foodie, consider a trip to Spain and to San Sebastián is a must!  Go with good friends and savor the Basque region, and remember to “eat ..drink and repeat!”

Maral Nazarian