San Sebastián – Spain’s home of the traditional pinchos – lies in the mysterious Basque country, a land with its own language (the origins of which remain unknown). Its name comes from the Christian saint and martyr Saint Sebastian, who died in 288.
Besides being home to rugged, undulating scenery, the place has convivial charm, taking its food, drink and celebrations rather seriously. It’s also recently been voted by consumer group Which? as the best place for foodies in the world.
I was there during one of the city’s annual festivals, La Tamborrada, which formed as a result of the many sieges that befell the city until the 2nd Carlist War in 1813. Here locals allegedly mock the soldiers once stationed in the city by battering on drums and parading about the town until all hours.
Held during the winter in late January, La Tamborrada was a rainy affair, as was my whole week in San Sebastián. And while a fair slice of the town’s scenery was shrouded in mist, it was more than made up for by the celebrations that continued until sunrise – and of course the pinchos.
San Sebastián’s pinchos (pintxos) are a great way to socialise. A relative of tapas, they are skewered portions of food often served on bread. I distinctly remember the mackerel and cod pinchos I had with peppers, patatas and some wine. Who needed sunshine?
After gorging myself considerably, I headed to one of the many bars in town. Here I struck up a conversation with a jolly rotund Frenchman turned local who bought me a pint of Guinness. Soon after, I managed to tag along with a couple of Spanish ladies who I danced with until 5am.
Getting home at sunrise, I lay in bed listening to the marchers, with their trumpets, clarinets and saxophones parade through town in rollicking fashion. So alive was the place that I often think about the San Sebastián I experienced – a drizzly, yet remarkable town that created its own sunshine.