A couple weeks ago I managed to get away from this English “summer” , and run off to the beaches of sunny Basque Country (which, as many posters will inform you, is NEITHER SPAIN NOR FRANCE!!!) to stay with my friend M and her lovely Auntie in San Sebastian/Donostia and Zarautz.

It was sunny and 30 degrees every day. And I’ve got the sunburn to prove it.

We spent most of the day lounging around on the beach and eating delicious food. The national dish in Basque country is Pintxos (pronounced peen-chohs or, if you are my other friend M, Pinchlaghghghg). They are loosely based on open-faced sandwiches, meaning that they have to involve bread or crackers, somewhere. Usually. We had some in the main square in San Sebastian:

That’s deep-fried, breaded shrimp (basically European tempura. Yum!), and smoked salmon and crab salad on a slice of baguette. We shared them with a beer for M, and a Sangria for me.

Pintxos are bar food, and every bar you go into in Basque country has counters covered in platters of different kinds of Pintxos. Traditionally you start in one place, get a couple Pintxos and a drink, and then move on to another bar, eat some more of them and get another drink, etc. Locals can help themselves to whatever sandwiches they want, and then tell the barman how many they ate, while Tourists get a plate to load up.

After the breaded shrimp place we went over to a more gourmet bar (basically the Basque equivalent of a Gastropub). I was too busy eating to take pictures, but they had truly amazing and creative ones, like a giant slab of brie on Melba toast, with half a slice of liver pate on top. Delicious. On a later night we went back to this place and had a baguette slice with a sphere of something soft and cream-cheese-like sprinkled with cinnamon. We never did figure out what it was, but it was delicious, if slightly too rich and creamy to handle.

We spent the second and third days lying on the beach in Zarautz, and made our own lunch: Spanish cheese, baguette (purchased at a bakery around the corner), olives, and chorizo. So good, and perfect for the hot weather.

The entire beach front in this town is lined with restaurants, which serve their food on an outdoor patio. These are aimed at tourists, so the food was not great, but super cheap. For 10 € we got a three course meal, a pint (or the local equivalent) of beer for M, and a giant (about 2.5 pints) bottle of Basque cider for me. Basque cider is closest to cloudy cider here, and is traditionally poured into the glass from a great height. Not my favourite, and needless to say I did /not/ finish the whole bottle.

The food also came with a stunning view, and a random performance by a Basque rock band.

Being here you could really see (and taste) the distinctiveness of Basque culture. Of course, calls for Basque independence were everywhere, especially on the last night when we stumbled into a Basque celebration (read: massive street party) in honour of the Virgin Mary, called Karmengo Jaiak.