I’ve spent a bit of time around boys and I’ve worked out they like to talk about sex – a lot. So when the guys in my hostel room in San Sebastian couldn’t shut up about the “duck” I assumed they were talking code for something slightly more sinful than the literal meaning.

When they suggested I also needed to try the duck, I was most intrigued. After all, this duck talk had gone on for a few days and I was sick of hearing about it.

So off we went, weaving through San Sebastian’s narrow streets to a hidden tapas bar that was so packed with people I was certain we’d never squeeze through the door, let alone get served.

The Basque region (north-west Spain and south-west France) is renowned for food, and nowhere more so than San Sebastian (Donostia in the Basque dialect), where tapas, known locally as pintxos (pronounced pinchos), are a way of life.

Rock up to one of the many bars lining the labyrinth of streets in the old town and you’ll be able to indulge your taste buds in delights from land and sea.

Fortunately, we stumbled across La Cuchara de San Telmo, which has received rave reviews in guidebooks and from travellers all over the world.

We pushed our way past the rowdy Spaniards to the bar and began randomly choosing food from the menu – sadly the much-praised duck wasn’t available that night, maybe everyone else had heard about it too.

The disappointment quickly passed when I bit into the most mouthwatering beef I have ever eaten. I think I could have sliced it with my finger it was so tender, and the taste was exceptional. Surely the duck could not have beaten that.

After the beef we continued with our random selection of dishes. Fortunately, the woman behind the bar realised we were novices. “Are you sure you want pig’s ears?” she said. Hmm, maybe not. “Are you sure you want the insides?” she asked, referring to an offal dish. Um, that’s a definite no.

“Do you like seafood?” she asked and ordered us a seafood rice dish. It was not quite risotto and not quite paella, but it certainly was delicious. In fact, we didn’t eat anything there that wasn’t delicious and even better was the fact everything was about €3-€4 – certainly not a budget-breaker.

I was so overjoyed at having found this gem of a place that I returned for lunch the next day. This time the duck was back on the menu. Whoah! Taste sensation. It was amazing, even better than the beef. I didn’t believe it could be possible.

I would have left La Cuchara de San Telmo with a spring in my step, except I’d eaten so much I could barely move. I needed to justify the indulgence and set off for a wander around town and a snooze on the beach.

The perfect antidote for an overdose of San Sebastian pintxos is a walk up Monte Urgull, a hill topped by a towering statue of Jesus, who actually looks like he’s giving the finger. While it’s almost worth the trek up the hill to get pics of Jesus flipping the bird, you’ll find the views over the main beach – Playa de la Concha – and the town are a bigger reward and just think of the calories you’ll burn.

I should have walked up and down that hill about six times a day to counteract the copious amounts of food I scoffed during my few days in San Sebastian. I’m sure I left carrying a few extra pounds. Still, at least I’ll have a lasting reminder of my time in the gastronomic capital of Spain.

» Amanda Tomlinson travelled to San Sebastian with Busabout (020-7950 1661; www.busabout.com). A hop-on hop-off Flexipass, with six stops, around Europe is £259.


If you’re into good food you can’t beat San Sebastian. It has more Michelin-starred restaurants per inhabitant than any other city in the world, but Michelin meals don’t come cheap. Here are a few if you want to splurge.

+34 94331 1209
With stunning views and five minutes from the city centre, the Akelare also tops the fussy food list. It has three Michelin stars.


273 Avenida Alcalde
José Elosegui
This gem continues to be voted one of the top restaurants
in the world, and with three Michelin stars it’s easy to see why. The chef specialises in Basque cuisine with his own special touch.


4 Calle Loidi, Lasarte-Oria
+34 94336 6471
www.martinberasategui.com With three Michelin stars, this restaurant offers fabulous food from land and sea with views of the rolling green hills.

+34 94349 1228
About 11km from San Sebastian, this restaurant has three stars in the Michelin guide. The cuisine is traditional Basque and the speciality is seafood.