Tag Archives: cultural tours

San Sebastian Food – December Newsletter

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Welcome!  Each month we bring you all the latest news from our busy food and wine studio in the heart of San Sebastian’s old town.

This December edition announces our brand new short breaks for 2012. If you’re still stuck for a Christmas present for the foodie in your life, choose from just €270 for a two-day Spa & cooking course weekend.

Or book our featured three-day Gourmet Escape which includes a hands-on cooking class, an amazing three-Michelin star dinner at Arzak and three-night’s accommodation at the luxurious hotel Villa Soro.

The Telegraph’s Coverage of San Sebastian Food

Xanthe Clay says “San Sebastian offers such a range of gastronomic delights, it’s bewildering. Unless, that is you have a guide – and they don’t come better than Jon Warren at San Sebastian Food.  It’s like having a best friend who’s also a foodie local at your side….read more


We’re delighted to introduce Eli Susperregui, our talented and utterly charming new culinary guide! Born in San Sebastian, Eli brings a huge amount of knowledge and experience to the team.  She’s already been busy with three days of guiding a film crew from World Kitchen.


Darina Allen, the energetic and unstoppable chef, author, instructor and owner of the famous Ballymaloe cookery school visited us in November. It was a pleasure to spend time with Darina and her husband Tim as we darted around the old town sampling everything from cheeses to iberico hams and smoked anchovies!

Jenny Siddall, our specialist wine guide is going to be off in early 2012 researching new wine routes.  The dynamic tour will be taking guests on a authentic, behind-the-scenes wine adventure over 5-days sampling, learning and enjoying the best of Portugal & Spain.  Limited to 12 guests, contact us to be added to our waiting list. Tour date estimated Sept/Oct 2012.

Join our facebook page for more news!

Lastly, a big thank you to all our fantastic guests this year!  We have so enjoyed meeting you and we look forward to staying in touch.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas and successful New Year.

From all the team at San Sebastian Food

PS Haven’t written your Trip Advisor review yet? It’s not too late!  Simply click here to add your review.

Want to help us grow!? Join us on Facebook!

For more information please visit

Unique ‘Discover the Basque Country’ tour – 4 events to choose from (6th to 9th July)

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San Fermin - Thursday 7th July

A family prepares for the day's fiesta in the traditional costume of red and white

It is almost July and many are looking forward to the summer fiestas this region is famous for, among which the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona. For those who are looking for something more authentic and intimate, food guide Jon Warren and acclaimed author Paddy Woodworth have put their shoulders under a unique 5-day-tour, the program of which is built around the special San Fermin ceremonies of the picturesque Pyrenean mountain village of Lesaka.

This unique experience will now be broken down into modules, which means that anyone interested will be able to take part, even those who cannot take 5 days off to submerge themselves in Basque culture and culinary enjoyment. Just choose one of the organised events on a day you are free to join us!

Jon Warren, Food guide and founder of the culinary tour company San Sebastian Food

Jon Warren, Food guide and founder of the culinary tour company San Sebastian Food

The San Fermin Fiesta of Lesaka begins on Wednesday 6th July with fireworks at 12.00. Those who join cultural expert Paddy Woodworth and local historian Rafael Eneterreaga that day to discover the beautifully preserved village’s hidden corners and secret narratives, will also have the chance to taste pintxos paired with wines in some of Lesaka’s infamous twenty-two bars.

The best day to fully experience the colourful festive ceremonies of the tiny village is no doubt Thursday 7th July, when the ezpata danza (sword dance) along the narrow stone banks of the Onin stream will take your breath away. You will immediately see why the village’s nickname, ‘Little Venice’, is a perfect one. This day also includes lunch in a local restaurant in between the rolling green Basque hills.

Friday 8th July then is ideal for those who long to travel deep into the ‘Pirineos Atlánticos’ and explore remote, beautiful and historic villages, to discover rich culture and a magnificent winery.  Further details are available by clicking here San Sebastian Food.

If you cannot make it on one of these wonderful trips into the heart of mountainous Basque Country but are keen to learn more about Basque history, culture and politics, don’t miss the engaging talk by Paddy Woodworth on Saturday evening 9th July, complete with wine tasting and pintxos. Woodworth has been writing about the Basque Country since 1978, for publications ranging from the Irish Times to the International Herald Tribune, and for broadcasters including the BBC, and has been asked to give presentations at prestigious universities such as Harvard.

All these four tours, except the last one, offer a whole day of ultimate mix between history and cuisine, and take you back to San Sebastian at the end of the tour. On Friday 8th July a 3-Michelin star dinner can be arranged for you as well at one of the top restaurants of the city, Arzak, now rated 8th in the world rankings.

These Basque Country discovery tours, organised with expert Paddy Woodworth, are a great opportunity for those who have been longing to experience something completely different, to learn about the history of a long independent and very strong community, and at the same time taste the flavours of world famous gastronomy!

For further information, visit San Sebastian Food and request a tour brochure.

Alternatively, you can download their full tour brochure by clicking here.  For those that would like details of their modular tour program, they have been put below.

Cultural expert Paddy Woodworth who will lead the series of tours along with Jon Warren

Cultural expert Paddy Woodworth who will lead the series of tours along with Jon Warren

Event 1: Behind the Scenes at a Basque Fiesta

Date: Wednesday 6th July

Title: Behind the Scenes at a Basque Fiesta

Timing: 08.00 – 14.30

Description: We travel deep into the heart of the Basque Country to the little known Pyrenean mountain village of Lesaka with marvelously preserved architecture dating back to the 14th century. A local historian, Rafael Eneterreaga, will join cultural expert Paddy Woodworth in showing us Lesaka’s hidden corners and secret narratives.

At precisely 12.00, the official start of the San Fermin fiesta will be signaled with multiple fireworks from the balcony of the town hall.  Having taken in the atmosphere, we will meet with the town mayor. After a drink and pintxos (tapas) in some of Lesaka’s infamous twenty-two bars, we will return to San Sebastian.

Includes: Private transport, guided tour of Lesaka with Cultural expert Paddy Woodworth and local historian, Rafael Eneterreaga, Pintxos (tapas) lunch with wines, fiesta scarf, photos from the event, 18% vat.

Meeting point and time: 08.00 sharp, San Sebastian Food offices – Calle Aldamar, 30 (See map for directions)

Price: €185 per person.  Maximum 15 guests.

Event 2: San Fermin Day in Lesaka

Date: Thursday 7th July

Title: San Fermin Day in Lesaka

Timing: 08.00 – 16.00 (full day)

Description: Arriving in Lesaka, we enjoy breakfast in one of the village’s many bars whilst young men dressed in bright red costumes gather in the main plaza. The day is focused around experiencing the very special ceremonies of Lesaka’s San Fermin fiesta.  This includes a breathtaking ezpata danza (sword dance) along the narrow stone banks of the Onin stream, one of the features which have given the village the nickname of ‘Little Venice’.

After the main fiesta is coming to a close, we travel deep into rolling Basque hills for a special lunch at a local restaurant packed with atmosphere.

Includes: San Fermin day in Lesaka, rustic gourmet lunch with wines, fiesta scarf, photos from the event, private transport, 18% vat.

Meeting point and time: 08.00 sharp, San Sebastian Food offices – Calle Aldamar, 30 (See map for directions)

Price: €235 per person.  Maximum 15 guests.

Event 3: Cultural & Culinary tour through Basque valleys

Date: Friday 8th July

Title: Cultural & Culinary tour through Basque valleys

Timing: 08.00 – 17.00 (full day)

Description: We take a very special journey deep into the ‘Pirineos Atlánticos’, the foothills of the Pyrenees and explore remote, beautiful and historic villages including Saint-Etienne-de-Baigorri, Bideray, Itxassou and Ainhoa, uncovering rich culture and a magnificent winery.

Optional: In the evening, invited guests are welcomed for a 3-Michelin star dinner at restaurant Arzak* for their full tasting menu with selected wines.  (*Rated 8th in the world rankings)

Includes: Scenic tour of French Basque villages with cultural commentary and insight, winery visit, lunch with wines, photos from the event, private transport, 18% vat.

Meeting point and time: 08.00 sharp, San Sebastian Food offices – Calle Aldamar, 30 (See map for directions)

Price: €235 per person (€395 per person including 3-Michelin star dinner).  Maximum 15 guests.

Event 4: Basque history, culture and politics

Date: Saturday 9th July

Title: Basque history, culture and politics

Timing: 19.00 – 22.30

Description: Engaging talk by Paddy Woodworth based on presentations on Basque history, culture and politics he has given at Harvard and the London School of Economics.

Includes: Presentation by Paddy Woodworth, questions and answer session, wine tasting interval followed by pintxos (tapas) and wines, 18% vat.

Meeting point and time: 18.45 for 19.00, San Sebastian Food offices – Calle Aldamar, 30 (See map for directions)

Price: €95 per person.  Maximum 25 guests.

About San Sebastian Food

Food is a journey. Let us share ours with you.  Feel part of the food culture of San Sebastián, Northern Spain.  Using local knowledge and contacts, we provide an intimate experience of the region’s gastronomy and wine. Our team is made up of food and wine lovers, chefs, wine experts, cultural experts, artisan producers and local shopkeepers.  We are knowledgeable, dedicated and love what we do.

About Paddy Woodworth – Basque cultural expert

Paddy Woodworth has been writing about the Basque Country since 1978, for publications ranging from the Irish Times to the International Herald Tribune and Vanity Fair, and for broadcasters including the BBC, RTE, and National Public Radio in the US. His first book, ‘Dirty War, Clean Hands’, was described by Franco biographer Paul Preston as “one of the most important books ever published about post-Franco Spain.”

For further information or to make a reservation, please contact Jon Warren (jon@sansebastianfood.com) or by phone +34 634 759 503.  All events start and end at our offices in the Old Town of San Sebastián.

First ‘Basque Discovery Tour’ reviewed

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The tour base was the family run 16th century Hotel Arraya in Sare, which also provided the perfect introduction to rural French Basque cuisine.

This summer witnessed our first Discovery Tour with Paddy Woodworth and Jon Warren, and we believe we can consider it a big success. But don’t rely on our opinion, listen to our clients:

After resisting planned tours for 25 years, I have finally found a company that designs a trip exactly the way I like it! I’m definitely returning for a future trip with San Sebastian Food. Tish Hendershot, San Francsico, USA.

For this first tour we had five guests, plus two more for the whole of the most important day. While we had hoped for a few more bookings – we can accommodate up to 15 guests – these numbers worked well and gave us valuable feedback from diverse national backgrounds – US, Australian and Irish.

From our guests’ testimonials, written responses to questionnaires, and their verbal comments, we believe the tour gave them everything they had hoped for, and everything we had intended to deliver.

Above all, they felt that they experienced parts of the Basque Country other tours don’t reach, in a context of comfort, great food, and good humour, with a dash of adventure.

Day 1 – Keynote presentation, gourmet dinner at Hotel Arraya

They were introduced to the culture, history and politics of the Basque Country with a keynote presentation by Basque specialist Paddy Woodworth, at the lovely Arraya hotel in Sara, one of the most beautiful villages in the French Basque region. Then, over a delicious dinner at the same venue, gastronomic expert Jon Warren outlined the characteristics of Basque cuisine – great local ingredients presented to maximise the impact of their specific qualities and flavours.

The boat crossing from San Pedro to San Juan where we take our private cooking with renowned local chef Alex Barcenilla.

Day 2 – Village history tour and Basque cookery class

The following day, we visited the medieval Navarran village of Lesaka, where local historian Rafael Eneterreaga acquainted us with many aspects of its life down the centuries. These ranged from carvings used to ward the evil eye from houses, to a representation of the Trinity denounced as obscene and inappropriate by the Catholic Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, but which still stands defiantly above the old entrance to Lesaka’s magnificent Gothic church today.

At noon, we gathered in the village square (actually a most unusual triangular plaza) for the Chupinazo, the launch of rockets from the town hall balcony which announces the opening of the San Fermín fiestas. Afterwards the mayor, Juan Fermín Mitxelena, invited us for photos in the council chamber and balcony, and then for drinks in a local bar.

The tour remains one of the standout memories of my entire month in Europe. I haven’t stopped raving about it to anyone who stands still long enough to listen.  The partnership of Paddy and Jon and the itinerary they developed is something quite unique. Never have I had such a close personal encounter with people involved in a fiesta and learned so much about the culture and the food and the people. Naomi Bickley, Australia

Children excitedly wait with their drums for the start of the San Fermín fiesta in Lesaka

We drove through the steep green pastures and forests of the Cinco Villas region to its most remote destination, Arantza, a village whose huge stone houses seem to grow directly out of the earth. There we had a long table which was heaped with local produce, simply prepared and delicious including local tomato salads, wild mushroom pies, carpaccio of Duck, all carefully selected for us by Jon and the Aterpe restaurant. After a short walk in the village, including a visit to the pelota court and town hall, we returned to our hotel for a rest.

That evening we drove to the port of Paisajes San Pedro, where we took a ferry across the harbour mouth to the sister village of Paisajes San Juan. There we entered the kitchen of Ziaboga restaurant and met Alex Barcenilla. He  has over 20 years’ experience as a chef including 3 years at Akelarre, one of San Sebastian’s famous 3 Michelin star restaurants. Alex showed us how to prepare a whole line-caught bonito tuna fished from local waters and prepare it in a variety of classic and modern styles. These ranged from marmitako, the fisherman’s stew very popular in local fiestas during the tuna season to marinated tuna (using lemons), and an escabeche where it is preserved using olive oil, white wine and vinegar. Guests participated enthusiastically in every aspect of the cooking lesson, from filleting the fish (a rather bloody task gamely undertaken by our youngest traveller) to chopping peppers and preparing sauces.

Marmitako, a delicious tuna stew which everyone learnt to make during the class

We then ate all seven dishes we had prepared, on the quayside of the lovely harbour, sipping the locally produced Txakoli as well as red wine from the restaurant owners’ vineyards in Penedes north of Barcelona. There was a complication returning home, as Jon navigated the very narrow medieval street that is the town’s sole exit, and found that our van was, on at least one occasion, marginally wider than the street. Such moments, one guest assured us, were often the most memorable of any trip.

To enjoy the beautiful Basque countryside while gaining understanding of the culture, cuisine and complicated history of its people, we highly recommend the guidance of Jon Warren and Paddy Woodworth. They not only arrange delightful accomodations and all in-country transportation, they also provide insider access to community leaders, magnificent meals in authentic Basque restaurants and cooking classes with Basque chefs. It is an intellectual and sensual experience not to be missed. Siobhán & George Nicolau, Ireland.

Day 3 – San Fermín fiesta, tasting menu dinner in San Sebastián

On Wednesday, the feast-day of San Fermín, we returned to Lesaka and encountered the danzaris (dancers) who give the patron saint’s fiesta its unique quality. They were breakfasting on red wine and tortilla de patatas in the Kasino bar and restaurant. They discussed details of their extraordinary costumes with us (scapulars of saints, tiny bells) before leading the town council to a sung Mass at the church. The singing by the local choir, in Latin and Basque, entranced our guests.

Councillor 'dances' Lesaka's banner outside the church in honour of the sanit
A town councillor ‘dances’ Lesaka’s banner outside the church in honour of the saint

After a councillor ‘danced’ the town’s banner outside the church in honour of the saint, we followed the dancers back to village centre. A very kind citizen, José Ignacio Goya, invited us to join his family on their balcony overlooking the Onin stream, on whose stone banks the dancers gave one of their most spectacular performances, the  Zubigainekoa. This vantage point gave our guests an exceptionally privileged view, as only a handful of other balconies overlook the spot, and most people have to watch from street level.

Exhilarated by the morning’s spectacles, we retired to the Asador Basque in neighbouring Etxalar where we feasted on classic dishes such as Alubias, Txistorra and local lamb which had been specially chosen. After a brief visit to the unique collection of solar headstones, whose structure may be pre-Christian, beside the church, we drove to the pass of Palomeras. This is the one point in the Pyrenees where migrating pigeons are still hunted by an ancient technique involving nets and a kind of boomerang, which the birds think are attacking falcons.

Perhaps because of the volume of lunch consumed, some of us stretched out beneath the shade of an oak-tree – we enjoyed superb sunshine throughout the trip — while others climbed a nearby hill for slightly hazy views of the French Basque coast, and the start of the Cantabrian range on the Spanish side of the border. A griffon vulture and a black kite put in dramatic close-up appearances as they rode the thermals. Closer to earth, the air was rich with the scent of the flowering wild thyme – curiously rarely used in Basque cuisine – that we had crushed beneath our feet as we strolled.

Paddy and Jon made an excellent team of tour leaders, and their knowledge, interest and points of view complemented the other’s very well. Paddy’s local contacts and knowledge of the area got us access to some amazing places – and we got to speak to some very insightful and articulate Basques. Jon’s familiarity with the cuisine of the region – and access to some cracking chefs and their kitchens  – meant that we always ate extremely well, and always learned about what we were eating.

Our French hotel was perfect: quaint, a bit quirky, very French, lovely little rooms with ample rural charm. And being part of the Lesaka festival (and meeting the mayor beforehand, and getting to know Rafael, and having those spectacular coveted views of the whole procession) was reason enough to come on the trip. Dinner on the last night was a perfect ending to a very memorable trip.  Roger Norum, writer and photographer for Cara Magazine.

For our final evening we drove to the Basque gastronomic capital, San Sebastián (Donostia in the Basque language, Euskera). After a sunset walk on the Paseo Nuevo around the base of Mount Urgull, we sat down to dinner outside the Bokado Restaurant for our last supper. Sitting around a perfectly laid table with sparking wine glasses, we enjoyed an 8-course tasting menu paired with 2 magnums of Grand Reserva Rioja wines. As we drank the final toasts, we felt more like old friends than new acquaintances, tour guides and clients, as stories were swapped in an atmosphere of unforced intimacy.

Dinner on the last night overlooking La Concha Bay

Day 4 – Farewells and Departure

We had breakfast the next morning outside the Arraya, enjoying the hotel’s crisp homemade cherry jams and tart marmalades, before some of us parted for a visit to the Guggenheim museum en route to the airport, while others took a final stroll around the village before parting for other destinations.

Our guests questionnaire responses show that they give the tour top marks in all the categories we listed.

Above all, they feel that they got behind the scenes, both at the fiestas, and at the kitchens of the restaurants where we ate, and had a unique and intimate experience of the multiple aspects of the Basque Country, which was for us the main target of the tour.

However, they also gave us some useful feedback, which we hope will guide us towards making the next tour even more enjoyable. Several of them thought we had tried to pack too much into too short a schedule, though we had trimmed it back radically just beforehand. Two-three great experiences, including dinner, are probably all most people can absorb in 24 hours. So we are considering expanding the tour to four nights and three full days, to give people more time to rest, or simply wander around on their own, between events.

From the charming B+B to the drives through the Basque region to Lesaka, the afternoon “hike” and the San Sebastian dinner, it was all blessedly free from tourists, tourist traps, mass produced anything, kitsch, tacky souvenirs, or anything that smacked of the inauthentic. It was a day I will treasure. Michelle Sharon, USA

Our 2011/12 Adventure Tours

Jon Warren and Paddy Woodworth believed passionately in this project when we planned the first event, but with this experience, and the testimonials from our guests, we now know how well it works. With more long-term marketing, we are confident that we will fill our full quotas in future. We really hope you will feel moved to join us.  Visit our website for more information: www.sansebastianfood.com

Forthcoming Discovery Tours

San Sebastian Food and Paddy Woodworth will be offering at least four more cultural adventures in 2011. Bookings are already being taken for an expanded version of the Lesaka festival trip, including an extended tour of Pyrenean villages, in part following the fabled French Basque cheese and wine routes: 5 – 9 July. Adventures still in preparation at the time of writing include: a visit to the carnival in Lantz from 7 — 11 March, featuring spectacular traditional performances including the ritual hunting and burning of the mythical figure Miel Otxin; a May adventure focussing on light hiking through coastal and mountain spring flowers meadows, but also including a village fiesta and the company’s signature fine dining, rustic dining and cooking classes; and, from 6- 10 September, a visit to the colourful and historic but controversial Alarde in Hondarribia.

For details, updates, bookings, and to sign up to the San Sebastian Food mailing list, please email discovery@sansebastianfood.com or call Jon Warren on +34 634 759 503.  Alternatively, if calling from USA: +1 917 675 4894, Ireland +353 (0) 1 442 8435 or UK +44 203 286 7777

Visit our website: www.sansebastianfood.com

Photo Credit: Roger Norum