An Anthony Bourdain-Inspired Trip to San Sebastian, in 5 Steps

Even if you can’t claim to consider Juan Mari Arzak a father figure in your own life, you can still explore San Sebastian Anthony Bourdain-style.

The late chef, author and travel documentarian visited the Basque Country and San Sebastian many times over the years. A couple of times, he also brought cameras along.

In his series “Parts Unknown” he states:

“There is no better place to eat in Europe than the city of San Sebastian.”

Anthony Bourdain, “Parts Unknown,” May 2017

Want to see what he’s talking about? We gathered up a list of things to explore if you want to experience San Sebastian like Anthony Bourdain did.

Want to experience San Sebastian like Anthony Bourdain did? Here are five ways to replicate his "Parts Unknown" episode on your next trip.
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1. Experience New Basque Cuisine

Bourdain was lucky enough to be good friends with some of the most famous Basque chefs. 

The first person to introduce the secrets of Basque cuisine to him was no less than Luis Irizar, one of the 12 Basque chefs who pioneered the revolutionary New Basque Cuisine movement in the 70s. 

Bourdain had also a special relationship with Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena, the owner and the head chef of the three-Michelin-starred Arzak

Even if you probably won’t get to dine with the master himself like Anthony did, Arzak’s eponymous restaurant is without a doubt the place to go if you want to experience New Basque Cuisine. 

Arzak, one of the restaurants that hosted Anthony Bourdain in San Sebastian.
Arzak has made a name for itself as one of the most iconic restaurants in San Sebastian. Photo credit: Krista

Go out for pintxos

No San Sebastian experience is complete without going out for pintxos—even Arzak and Bourdain themselves enjoyed this humble foodie tradition. Pintxos, the Basque answer to tapas, are small and delicious bites, normally washed down with a small glass of wine or beer. 

Bourdain took part in the famous Basque bar hop, or what we here in San Sebastian call txikiteo. (This is also what you get to practice on our tours!) 

Bourdain’s favorite pintxo place was Ganbara, one of the cornerstones of the Old Town’s culinary scene. On  “Parts Unknown,” he, like most of the customers in the bar, orders their specialty—seared mushrooms with foie gras and a raw egg yolk on top of everything—and loves it. 

Wild mushroom and egg yolk pintxo at Ganbara in San Sebastian
Ganbara’s signature pintxo is the stuff dreams are made of. Photo credit: WordRidden

Eat grilled turbot in Getaria

Bourdain also explored the surrounding areas of San Sebastian, namely Getaria, an attractive seaside village just 20 minutes away.

His destination: Elkano—the town’s Michelin star restaurant—and on his plate was none other than the most famous dish in Getaria: charcoal-grilled turbot. 

Eating at Elkano is not something you do on a whim—normally there’s a waiting list several months long. But no worries—there are plenty of other great restaurants in Getaria, and you’ll normally find the famous turbot and other local specialties on their menus, too! 

RELATED: Top Day Trips from San Sebastian

Seaside village of Getaria, Basque Country, Spain
Getaria is the perfect little town for an escape. Photo credit: Felipe Gabaldón

Hop across the border

When exploring different cultures and their gastronomy, Bourdain was always thorough. So when traveling in the Basque Country, he didn’t forget the French side! 

San Sebastian is located right next to the border, so a day trip to the French Basque Country is a must-do if staying for multiple days. Anthony’s explorations took him to the stunning village of Ahetze and to the restaurant La Ferme Ostalapia, where he tried tuna belly with tomato carpaccio and roasted pigeon served with its paté. 

No need to say more, right? 

Step into a gastronomic society

Thanks to his great connections in town, Bourdain got taken into one of the many members-only gastronomic societies of San Sebastian.

To fulfil this step on your to-do list is a bit more challenging—you have to make friends with local people first, and then get an invitation. 

Bourdain sat down with a local cuadrilla of friends, one of whom cooked for the entire group, and had a friendly and relaxed conversation. This is what the societies are all about: spending time and socializing with other people—both the ones you’ve known since you were 5 years old, and the newcomers. 

And we can’t forget the amazing food—that’s always a must wherever San Sebastian is concerned.

Why is San Sebastian’s food so good, anyway?

In “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain asks a Basque woman a question that puzzles many of us: “Why the food is so good in the Basque Country?” The woman answers: “Because we like eating.”

Simple as that. 

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