¡Pinxtome! Voyaging the Pyrenees vis-a-vis Espana del norte, Francia & Andorra.

¡España del norte, y una cita en las montañas de hermoso Andorra!


Javanti eats its heart out, one gorgeous lugar after another. Mmm those Spanish olives.
Amazing meal at
Eric Marty in Andorra’s Old Town.

Jon and I have a few “yep, those are our faves” spots in the world, and San Sebastiàn is easily one.Totally unpretentious, laid back beach vibes, and brimming with culture, northern Spain is a culinary capital of the world. Enough said.

We tacked on nearby Andorra, a tiny country bordering Spain and France, to work in some Pyrenees Mountain hiking. Lucky glimpses of the French countryside (and a stop at a mouth-watering cheese, meat, and wine haven of course) made this an unforgettable adventure. Post-Andorra, we cruised through Zaragoza, Spain and back to Madrid for a final weekend of debauchery before heading home. 

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
-Anita Desai

How to get there.

Enter Chase Ultimate Rewards. A constant for our international travels, we absolutely used (60k) Chase Sapphire Reserve points for each R/T, direct flight. Steal. 

You know from our past posts that if you don’t already have this credit card, it is worth every penny of the annual fee. While $450/year appears hefty, you will easily get $300 back year after year for travel purchases that include flights, hotel, rideshare, and more. Throw in perks like global entry fee ($100/good for 5 years) reimbursement, and it all makes sense. The points accumulate wonderuflly quickly as well. We are lucky to have taken 99 of 100 international flights using these. Yowza!

In and out of MAD on mere 8 hour and change flights run through Iberia, and we were quickly transported to our foodie haven.

Runabout tips

  1. Booking overnight flights out of Chi was key with the 7 hour time change (forward). We arrived at 11am (with a few hour delay), snuck in a decent night’s sleep, and had the entire day before us. 
  2. Booking that evening flight on a Friday was also clutch to avoid disruption to the busy work week, and take full advantage of our fist weekend in España sans emails pouring in.
  3. On the way back to Chi, our noon flight allowed for a gym workout and lounge breakfast (read, full bar) to knock us out. Wala! Back to Chi before 2pm. Love getting those hours back.

How to get around.

With Jon’s MAD (see what I did there? I know, the best jokes are those you have to call out) Jeff Gordon skills, we are very lucky to do road trips all over the world that allow for total flexibility and seeing places off the beaten tourist path. 

We easily rented a car for the week-long stint for a mere $69 USD through RecordGo. How did we find this? The tried, true, and oh so reasonable Skyscanner.com to the rescue. This is our go to for flight and international car rental searches.

Runabout tips: 

  1. Only book cars that you pick up (and return) in-terminal. Trust us as a both time saver and legitimacy check on the rental co. This is a very easy option to filter for.
  2. If you can’t or don’t want to drive stick, choose automatic cars only!  Avoid manual. Same deal on filtering for this option – very simple. If the price seems way too reasonable, triple check that you are not selecting a car with manual transmission. Yes, there’s a story there.
  3. Check the terms & conditions regarding cross-border travel if you’re even thinking of going that route! This is huge, as for ex, the first company I booked (again through Skyscanner obv, but this time the rental was with holidayautos.com) did not allow travel from Spain to France. I happened to take another look at rentals a week or so before we left, and found the gem of a mid-size SUV we ended up with at an insanely good price without the same restrictions. Andorra here we come vis-a-vis Francia! 
  4. The company charged 15 euros/day due to the intended cross-border travel. More than the reso itself but we had no qualms given the flex of where we could cruise to. 
  5. To our fellow hiking lovers, having a rental car is a godsend for hitting those off the beaten path trails, tossing your boots and gear in the car, and taking a load off immediately after. Just try to take the trail back to where you parked. There’s a story there. For. Sure. 
  6. Hotels can be pricey with parking prices! We chose (hotel) location over parking cost, and did pay ~20 euros/night at a few of our hotels simply for the convenience and time save that comes with being in the heart of the action. If you have the time and patience, you can easily find parking garages nearby that should run 10-15 euros/day + night. We wouldn’t recommend messing with street parking in a not-so-familiar place to avoid unforeseen circumstances that can quickly add unnecessary stress.

Where to Stay

One million options. How does a girl choose?

Location, location, location. I search blogs (woo!) for the neighborhood(s) or parts of each city best fit our style – walkable, tons of great food and bar options, and for the cherry on top, sights and hikes within the distance.

Once I find the hood, I go on Google Maps and search hotels in the area, filtering out what’s most imp to us. For ex, when I input gym or fitness center, that easily narrows options, and we often look for breakfast included to get us going and out the door in the AM with a few hours of work under our belts. Super easy to filter customer and/or hotel rating, many other amenities, free cancellation, etc., as well as click and sort by price. Of course Google does travel well. 

Once I find a hotel that looks like a good fit, I check out reviews at Tripadvisor.com, and more imp, find the best price by inputting our dates on the (Tripadvisor) site. These honestly often vary by booking website significantly, so it’s worth engaging in this step. 

Wala! You’re set. 

Where we landed:

  1. San Sebastiàn – Catalonia Donosti, $600/3 nights
  2. Andorra – Suites Plaza & Wellness, $325/2 nights, inclusive of a stellar cava breakfast. Don’t judge. 
  3. Zaragoza – NH Gran Zaragoza, $138/(1) night 
  4. Madrid – Hotel Sardinero, $380/2 nights, inclusive of breakfast. No cava, bummer. 

Runabout tips

  1. See above!
  2. Also, depending on our length of stay, absolutely worth taking a peek at Airbnb. We recommend navigating the search by map function the same way, as location is truly make or break not only as a time saver to get to your hot spots but also for a midday reprieve. 

Dinero – what to bring, exchange, and how far does your $ go?

We had euros left over from our trip through the Balkans in July 2022 and of course forgot to bring them with.

Get this. We did not need to exchange a single cent. 

Even in 2023, I’m flabbergasted by this, particularly given the insane food crawling that was each meal. Pintxo here, vino tinto there (and another there), and yet a simple tap of the Chase Reserve, “no gracias, no necesitamos copia,”, and we were rapidamente on our merry way. 

The dollar is cents under the euro in terms of strength as of May 2023, which meant $ conversion was muy muy facil. All in all, I’d say we ate like queens for about 60-70% of the cost of high-quality, mouth-watering bites, and drank at 50% or less of the price with the incredible value and consistently generous pours, particularly for wine, in each of the spots we hit. Heaven, is that you? 

Runabout tips

  1. Select “euros” (not USD) when paying with your credit card that does not carry foreign transaction fees. And be sure to apply for one of these well prior to going on your trip abroad if you don’t already have one. 
  2. I would normally give tips for changing $ – i.e. go to a bank local to the country you’re in rather than a currency exchange – but you need not carry more than small change in euros, if any, for this trip. 
  3. Tipping – honestly, without cash, the option seems nonexistent. As you’ll see when you seek la cuenta (easy way to grab the check particularly in the more local joints with less English being spoken), you’ll ask to pay with tarjeta or simply flash your plastic and a toothy American grin, and the server or bartender will share the terminal for you to tap your card on. The option for tip is not presented, and the transaction is rapid. You can absolutely ask, or offer a few euros as a thank you. I did not observe this being done anywhere, and our go to propina is to offer a shot or drink to the lovely folks working hard to keep our tummies happy. Speaking of tried and true.

What to do

Let’s be real - where to eat and drink.

Lagroño & San Sebastián, España.Precursor to Part I: Lunch in Lagroño upon landing. Say that 3 times fast.At MAD, we scooped our rental and north we went on the 3 hour and change drive [Google Maps]I had read that this spot along the way to San Sebastiàn had even better pintxos. Difficult to believe, but we were up for the food challenge. Overall take: worth the stop, smaller town feel in a lovely way, local, and delicious. 

Musts, altho you can’t go wrong popping into any one of the many pintxo bars in the several block radius of cobblestone streets. Warms the heart thinking about it: 

  1. Bar Soriano – Grilled mushroom stacks of perfection with a literal prawn on top of this buttery goodness. Better move quickly and get there before they run out by 1 or 2pm. 
  2. Bar Lorenzo – Try a bocadillo de salchicha o chorizo and a pintxo sans bread of the same. Delish. 
  3. Bar Jubera – Wonderful start to the many patatas bravas you will consume on this trip.
  4. Juan y Pinchamé – Melt-in-your-mouth combo of pineapple and shrimp. 
  5. Letras de Laurel – Ahhh, foie to start the trip and end a fabulous lunch in Logroño. Makes mouths happy. 

Part I: Beloved San Sebastiàn, we have returned.

First things first, where to eat and drink. 

Obviously, narrowing this is not easy in the ridic culinary haven that is San Sebastiàn, Spain with its insane amount of Michelin delights and bars brimming with pintxos of every variety. Let’s give it a whirl. 

Pintxo bars

  1. Atari – an absolute must. Carrilleras (beef cheeks) with mashed, panceta, gambas (prawns), many fish dishes
  2. La Cuchara de San Telmo – Oreja de la plancha (pig ear, trust us), foie (giant portion, even when you get a small), goat cheese and pepper dish (similarly rich and large), beef cheeks here were solid but not as good as Atari’s
  3. Gandarias – Foie gras, pimientos de piquillo (roasted red peppers), erizo de mar (sea urchin), brotxeta de txuleta (steak skewer)
  4. Ganbara – Hongos (shrooms with egg yolk), Tartaleta de txangurro (crab tart), spicy hen croquettes 
  5. Bar Ciagboga – No frills joint known for its tortillas, and these come in a variety. We tried the jamon y cebolla (carmelized onion) and were not disappointed by either. Wash these down with local Txakolina to kick the day off right. 
  6. Haizea – Lovely cafe feel and apparently a Bourdain favorite. Musts: bunuelos (fried cod fritters) & baby scallops. 
  7. Casa Urola – I loved the smoked salmon pintxo, super fresh. Vieira (scallop in a super unique sauce), bacalao (cod dish), ham croquetas were good but not the best of the trip.
  8. Bar Sport – Best chorizo of the trip. Always packed and a popular tour spot – peek in to avoid those, and you should be good. Txispis (squid, either grilled or stuffed with crab mmm) 
  9. Mendaur – Awesome chill ambiance, huevo pochada (eggs in a mushroom gravy), panceta (looks like a pork belly steak), and a very easy to follow menu for extrañejeros compared to most joints in SS. La Vina – a necessary last stop of the night for wayy too big a slice of tarta de queso (burnt cheesecake a la Basque). Bomb. 
  10. Bell’s Bar – Closed during our stint. Known for its tortilla (Spanish omellete), bao de costilla (rib bao), stewed pork croquettes. 
  11. Borda Berri – Similarly closed and very well regarded. No bar pintxos, just made to order goodness. False risotto (I love the wonderfully literal language Spanish can be), ravioli, kebab, more beef cheeks.
  12. Bar Nestor – Known for its tortillas and steak, this requires waiting in line for the famous eats. As you can imagine, this took us out of the running but we heard good things.

Honorable mentions – fave restaurants from a local expert:

  • Saltxipi – Traditional, with a lovely garden terrace. Good for stuffed spider crab and its steak.
  • Galerna – You might choose this over the better known Michelin rated joints, and be just as happy while you leave with a heavier wallet.
  • Zelai Txiki – Meat and seafood in a romantic setting.
  • Bernardo Etxea – Bomb seafood, and solid steak.
  • Bodegon Alejandro – Upscale yet cozy ambiance with eats to match.
  • Fortaleza – Hidden in the countryside 20 minutes outside of SS, and great value for either the tasting menu or a la carte. Lamb shoulder and the steak are go tos.
  • Chez Croissant – Alright, this one is mine. A place dedicated to croissants of all varieties? Come on. Delish but I know Miss Melinda’s Makery’s are better 😉

Runabout tips

This trip, we prioritized local pintxo bars over Michelin royalty. For this girl, the delectable street bites beat the fancy science experiments any day, but I also get that it’s all about the experience. Once (at Arzak) was enough for me, and Jon seemed on board with that plan. ¡Pin(txo)ame!

Now, how did we make room for these feasts? What (else) to do. 

  1. Stroll. San Sebastiàn is a beautiful (and easy) walking city. Explore Old Town [Google Maps], its newer counterpart, La Concha beach[Google Maps], its boardwalk, you name it. Obv, you’ll need to walk pintxo bar to pintxo bar as well. Yes, time goes far too quickly in this lovely land. 
  2. Hike! Up Monte Urgull to see Jesus, whose statue was perfectly visible in the far distance from our hotel room. 
  3. Other hikes that we absolutely would have embarked upon if not for preferential food treatment: 

HOTEL REVIEW – Catalonia Donosti

$600/3 nights


  • Location. Not only super central, but get this. Secret passageway from the hotel to the heart of town. Oolala!
  • Beautiful and well kept.
  • Strong customer service.
  • Breakfast looked fresh and substantial (we didn’t opt for it in pintxoland).


  • Room was pretty tiny. Price to pay when staying centrally.
  • Another price to pay – parking. At 22 euros/day, added up to the week’s cost of the car itself.. Par for the course.
  • Gym was wanting, altho spacious. Turn the air on, guys.
  • Sauna facilities ran an extra 22 euro/day charge despite not advertising this anywhere while booking. Not a huge price, but I would’ve appreciated the heads up.

All in all, I would very likely shop around before staying here again. A lovely couple we met loooved the Lasala Plaza hotel Check it out!

Part II: Pyrnees.

First things first, where to eat and drink. 

Seriously guys, again? Yep, first Javanti loves of vacation (& life): eating and drinking. Enter the wonderful surprise that is Andorra. 

We anticipated mountainous beauty in the heart of the Pyrenees, but had zero expectations as far as culture, food, or anything at all about the vibe. Picture this. 100% surrounded by sprawling giant green rock structures, fairly mild temps (altho ever changing throughout the day), a seemingly active population, interesting mix of French, Spanish, Catalan and what appeared to be dialects I had never heard, and to top it off, very much a Spanish siesta culture complete with restaurants opening at 8 and 8:30pm on weekdays. Say what?!

Did we get lost on a hike and hitchhike back with the kindest old British couple living in Andorra for decades? Oh yes. Bring on the awesome history lesson and uber friendly folks. See what I did there?

If you’re not already getting this feeling, we loved Andorra. Highlight of the trip, and so glad we worked it in.

But first, a glimpse of the French countryside we were lucky to enjoy along the way. Did I force a cheese, meat, wine stop? Absolutely. Did Jon have to pry me out of France? Yes, mam. Did I take that stinky cheese all the way back to Spain? You bet. And booyyyy was it stinky. 

Eat, Do, and Hike

  1. Hike: There are more hikes that you will discover or have nearly enough time for in this mountain haven. You might try L’aldosa de Massana to start, keeping a fairly close eye on the trail, particularly on the way back. 
  2. Few other awesome ones. Both rated difficult and ~4 hours.
    1. Ordino 
    2. Canillo
  3. Grub, in order of faves:
    • Izai – What a perfect start to Andorra’s culinary delights. Best steak of the trip, a very bold statement indeed. Croquettes were also up there – ham and mushroom. The clams were fresh and tasty, and the rioja a perfect pairing. Stellar meal (#1) of the night. 
    • La Casa – An absolutely lovely Russian couple moved to Andorra and opened this stunning, homey, scrumptious joint along with the escape room not too far away. Clearly very hard working, and proud of their labors of love. We can all take a page. Ribs – fell off the bone, and the burrata was good too. Very innovative, almost too much so for my taste, but we will visit over and over to support this awesome duo. 
    • Eric Marty – Steak tartare to die for, the folks here are incredibly proud of their art, and oh so reasonable at 50 euros for 2 outstanding dishes and plentiful red wine. 
    • La Tapeta – No frills, dive bar feel with solid eats and a friendly, local ambiance. We tried the patatas bravas and tortilla. Neither the best we’d had, but both plentiful and we were bordering food coma. Go for the drinks and new friends. 
    • Mac Jou – Gambas al ajillo (prawns in a garlic butter sauce) were some of the best we’ve had.

HOTEL REVIEWAndorra Suites Plaza & Wellness 

$325/2 nights, inclusive of a stellar cava breakfast. 


  • Location. Easy walk to Old Town and steps away from my fave restaurant, Izai. 
  • Room was spacious, suite style.
  • Through interactions with several locals, we learned that this hotel is very well regarded. While this may not be the doing of the (oh yes, cava) breakfast spread, it’s my #1 pro for sure. Make it easy to spend a few hours working each day we were here.
  • The gym was pretty tiny but did the trick and had character.
  • Super nice and sprawling lobby with plenty of nooks to chill or work in.
  • Great customer service, with a small parting present to boot.


  • Sauna facilities could have been better kept. I didn’t even venture in for this reason, which is saying a lot.
  • Fair amt of construction and general projects around the interior. 
  • 20 euros/day for parking, but it was nicely convenient and obv central. Easy in and out, which is imp when hiking around.
  • All in all, we would probably stay again if nothing else for the breakfast (and workable gym) alone. I’d take a peek around to consider switching things up tho.

Part III: Back to España: Madrid by way of Zaragoza.

We embarked upon a fun filled weekend in bustling Madrid with a quick stint in Zaragoza along the way. 

Where the heck is Zaragoza? Approx three hours northeast of Madrid, enter round deux of being in a place we’d hardly heard of let alone gotten any recs for. 

Admittedly, I expressed to Jon that I hoped this “adventure” wasn’t a couple of poor American saps thinking it’d be cool to spend the night in Downers Grove (no offense, DGers) on the way to the big city of Chicago without knowing any better. Second round, anyone?

Rest assured, Zaragoza held its own, boasting historical landmarks, a reverence for the arts, and low and behold, a bustling area of pintxo bars, absolutely with its own flare and delicacies of this Aragon region. 

Eat Drink & Stroll

Fun fact:  Rich in history, the city has Roman and Muslim influence and is one of the few to have two cathedrals within it. The Romans had dubbed the city Ceasaraugusta, founded by Augustus himself.

We checked out these sights on foot before indulging in one of our famous dinner crawls. All super walkable, and we caught a (peaceful) protest on the way. 

  • Plaza Pilar 
  • Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar 
  • San Felipe Plaza 
  • Museo de Goya
  • Mercado Central 
  • El Tubo [Google Maps]enter our indulgence for the evening. This area conveniently within Old Town is bustling with pintxo bars, one after another. We ate our lil hearts out at:
  • La Clandestina – Bomb egg and steak dishes, each recommended by the joint as their best. Lovely ambiance and bit pricier than other spots in the area, likely due to that.
  • La Flor de Lis – Solid gin and tonics, and the croquetas didn’t disappoint. We were a bit early (at 8pm) and stuck mainly to libations in this super cute spot. 
  • Taberna Doña Casta – Known for its croquetas, there are many varieties. Don’t skip the oxtail. One of our best dishes.
  • El Hormiguero Azul – Jon loved the pulpo (octopus), and the calamari was perfectly sauteed but unfortunately lacked any flavor or sauce to accompany it. Awesome local and fishy (in a good way, I promise) feel.
  • La Xarmientos – You might try this spot for an intimate dinner or stop along the way.

HOTEL REVIEW – NH Gran Zaragoza

$138/(1) night 


  • Location. Again, very central. There’s a theme here.
  • Beautiful and well kept. 
  • Strong customer service.
  • We didn’t indulge in breakfast before hitting the road,, but they sure pushed it as a hard sell (16 euros/pp).
  • Pretty decent sauna. Small gym but did the trick.


  • Room was pretty tiny. 
  • Valet was 24/euros a day, but we easily found a garage nearby and paid 12 euros/day + night. Bit easier to do on a wknd when we’re not balancing work + indulgence.
  • All in all, we might stay here again, similarly after taking a peek around.

Bring on… date weekend in Madrid! 

We were thrilled to have our final stint be a weekend in Madrid. In part due to our love of San Sebastiàn, we hadn’t spent much time in the city together before heading north. 

What we didn’t expect: the culinary paradise of spots we stumbled into by happenstance. For several reasons, we hadn’t done any research or snagged any recs for our weekend aventura. Worked out beautifully for lucky Javanti.


We left aside hiking and purpose altogether to truly enjoy some QT in a city that was new to us. 

Wary of sky high parking prices and the utter lack of need to stray from foot and solid public transport, we returned our rental on Friday and spent the weekend sans car. Awesome, awesome decision, particularly with MAD a mere 20 minute Metro ride away. 

Runabout tips:

    • Ditch your rental as described above, and snag a 1 or 2 day Metro pass for unlimited rides during your stay. 
    • You might try a single day (~8 euros/pp) and see how much you use it, as it’s super easy and awesome to hit the city’s various neighborhoods on foot, particularly if you’re staying centrally. Based on how we purchased the pass, I don’t see going back in for a second (one day) pass being a problem.
    • Don’t skip Retiro Park [Google Maps], and if a super nice day, you might spend time strolling and people watching picnic style. Gigantic and lovely, with (giant) Disney characters, Sonic, and Donkey Kong to boot. Quite the variedad. 
    • Ooooo Mercado de San Miguel [Google Maps]. Holy. smokes. Run, eat, drink, repeat. We will be back. 
    • Keep your eyes peeled for pop up markets. I found some stellar hand made goods at Mercado Del Encanto.
    • Either on foot or by Metro, check out the various hoods Madrid has to offer. How? We think best done through your senses, shocker. Eat and drink your heart out! Faves:
    • La Cucurucho del Mar – Amazing scallops and best grilled squid I’ve had. Period. The seafood is to die for, ambiance old timey, and value insanely reasonable. Wow wow wow.
    • Alimentacion Quiroga – What a lucky find. Jam packed, likely at all hours, and melt in your mouth wine, cheese, meats. I had absolutely died and gone to queso heaven.
    • Barrutia el 9 – Stop #3 of evening somehow complemented (even topped, gasp.) the first two. Simply divine pork and pasta dishes, heightened by insane flavor bursts. To top it all off, one the best desserts we’ve ever tasted. Each dish was recommended as the best, and we left full, happy, and shot buddies with Myra. Love.
    • [I promise we’ve now moved on to the following day. We are beasts, I know.]
    • Four – We shared a grilled cheese and some natural white vino. Fun brunch spot with a cute outdoor area and fresh ingredients. If you’re spending some time in the city, great coffee shop to work at. 
    • Casa Macareno – highly, highly recommend. Try not to eat everything that lands in front of you. I failed. Miserably. Must try: gambas (over a bed of crispy fries and nestled in a runny fried egg. Yes please), croquetas. Of course, the bartender had to slide us a dish on the house in our pain. The carmelized onion tortilla did not disappoint. 
    • Cuatro de ocho – Solid cocktails to start (or end) the evening, at a large bar/restaurant with cute decor. 
    • Check out the indoor, no frills Barcelo Mercado. We did for dinner and understand it’s jam packed for lunch. Would recommend doing lunch at a non-insane hour to get the full experience but avoid throwing bows.
    • Yolauri Gastrobar – awesome, hardworking folks running this joint. Snag a shot of pisco for us & tell them Jon & Avanti say hello! We did libations only but bet this Peruvian food is bomb. 
    • Dumpling House – talk about bomb. The 5 star reviews don’t lie, and another hardworking immigrant (from China, as you may have guessed) has made this labor of love a success. 
    • Mama Uma – constantly packed Korean joint with a cozy bar if you can snag a spot.

HOTEL REVIEW – Hotel Sardinero

$380/2 nights, inclusive of breakfast. No cava, bummer.


  • Location. Perfectly perched for metro hopping, food crawling, and neighborhood bopping.
  • Beautiful, majestic feeling, and yet cozy.
  • Strong customer service.


  • Breakfast was… not good.
  • Gym was… not great, with solo machines out of service. Not cool, guys.

El Fin.

Another one for the books. A week of feeling lucky (and at times, hung over), wondering why our suitcase was brimming with shorts and tees, and gracing la gente with my ever-worsening Español.  We continue to learn more about each other and the world, hopefully show a greater understanding of and for each, and somehow, always look forward to date night(day/weekend/you name it) to make the difficult things seem (much) smaller. 

Sometimes I simply think “¡Pìn(txo)me! Is this real?”


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