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San Sebastian and Bilbao, a foodie paradise

For the past 23 years I’ve been going away on an annual adventure with my two best friends from school. For our most recent trip – to celebrate our 40th birthdays – we chose San Sebastian and Bilbao, a foodie paradise with loads to see and do.

This was our first holiday together since before the pandemic, and much of it was spent reminiscing about past trips, from Bangkok and Macau to Stockholm and Porto, as well as sampling piles of pintxos and sipping glasses of Txakolí wine.

Currensea Blog - food in San Sebastian 2
Currensea Blog - food in San Sebastian 1
Currensea Blog - food in San Sebastian

But there was another topic of conversation that kept popping up: what’s the best way to pay for things on holiday? (If you’ve ever been away with friends, you’ll know that who pays for what and how to divide all those restaurant bills and taxi fares can get confusing).

My friends thought they were being savvy by packing their Revolut and Monzo cards for our Spanish holiday. But then I pulled out my Currensea card.

I explained the drill: Currensea connects to your current account but reduces the foreign transaction fees to practically zero. I don’t need to “load” the card, it just pulls the money straight out of my account. If I’d packed my usual debit card instead, I would have had to pay 2.75% when buying things abroad, or 4.75% for ATM withdrawals. Ouch.

My friends hadn’t heard of this before, and to be honest it was new to me too. In years gone by, I was the proud owner of FairFX and Caxton cards, both prepaid travel cards, which I thought were pretty neat, because again, they were much cheaper to use abroad than your usual debit card from a high street bank or building society.

But it was a faff having to preload the money all the time. In fact, I recently logged into my FairFX account and discovered £40 sitting on the card. Who knows how long that had been there! On family holidays with my husband and kids, my husband often takes care of our “holiday spending” (obviously I pay him back). But as Bilbao and San Sebastian was a trip with friends, I had to think about the cheapest and most convenient payment option for myself.

Currensea was super straightforward. It’s quick and easy to connect it to your main current account. You get sent a card in the post, and you download the app on your phone. The app lets you check your balance, and any transactions, in real time. You can also check your Pin and freeze your card. Whenever I used the card, I received an email immediately (sometimes I’d barely walked out of the shop or restaurant, and “ding!” went the notification on my phone) showing the amount in euros and the amount in pounds. It was really handy seeing exactly how much things cost, for example a souvenir for my daughter, or a coffee at the Guggenheim. It also told me how much I’d saved versus the average high-street bank rate: £4.22 on a £120 dinner bill (at the Michelin-starred Kokotxa in San Sebastian, I highly recommend!), £1.11 buying an overpriced lunch in Bilbao airport before our flight home, and 47p buying funicular tickets.

The card works in all 180 currencies, so I can use it for any destination in future. (I’m hoping Malaysia might be on the cards soon – no pun intended – to visit my husband’s relatives.) And how do the costs compare to Monzo and Revolut, or the prepaid cards I used to use? According to Currensea, total charges for the free Currensea “essential” plan for a trip abroad come to 0.5%.

This compares to 2.25% for Caxton and 2.27% for FairFX. You can opt for the “premium” plan with Currensea, which costs £25 a year and shrinks your fees to 0%. It depends how much you’re planning to travel overseas (and how much you’re going to spend) as to whether it’s worth plumping for premium rather than essential.

Back to the comparison. What about my friends’ challenger cards, Monzo and Revolut? Currensea reckons Monzo’s fees come in at 0.61% while Revolut charges 1.65%. (You can see how Currensea worked this out here).

So, Currensea is clearly cheaper than those other cards, and the vast majority of debit and credit cards too. My friends were so impressed they are planning to sign up for the Currensea card too.

Back in the Basque region, when we weren’t discussing money matters, we were busy researching delicious destinations to get our foodie fix. Here are a few of our favourites:


Kokotxa – wonderful Michelin-starred restaurant, friendly (not stuffy) service, get the 10-course market menu for 98 euros.

Gandarias – traditional restaurant with extensive menu including salads, meat, fish, pintxos and gluten-free options.

La Vina – for the best Basque cheesecake.


La Gavilla Bilbao – cosy and relaxed restaurant with amazing Spanish fusion food. Great service too.

Café Bilbao - a local institution since 1911, grab a table outside in the Plaza Nueva and indulge in some people-watching.

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