Vanya made it clear that she would like us to head for the coast and she had set her mind on Hendaye – a sprawling town of more than 15,000 people located at the most southwestern tip of France on the border with Spain. She wanted to rest up on the coast and swim and who was I to argue? Hendaye is only 50 miles away from Saint Jean Pied de Port and with Labastide-Marnac not proving to be the chill event we had hoped for, it made sense.
Everywhere we have travelled in France has taken almost twice as long as the predicted Google Map journey time. This is more a reflection as to the amount of time we spend in the Leclerc, Lidl and Carrefour stores than my driving speeds but, the journey to Hendaye was no different. No matter, we arrived early afternoon and there was still enough time left in the day to walk down into the town, along the beach and back – an 8 kms round trip.
Hendaye is really about it’s beach and water sports. It’s a stunning long sandy beach; 3 kms between the River Bidassoa at one end and Les Deux Jumeaux (Two Twins) at the other. Sheltered from the wind and big swells (the waves are on average half the size of the more exposed spots just to the north) the area has become a training area for surfing so much so that swimmers are precluded from certain parts of the beach. So what, the beach is big enough for all. Having checked out the town centre we were content for the most part to sit at a beach cafe and just chill. There’d be time later for further exploration.
In this area it is the River Bidassoa that forms the border between France and Spain. Hendaye in France and Hondarribia in Spain sit opposite each other on the river. The two towns are quite different. Hondarribia has an old quarter which reflects its quaint medieval Basque heritage while Hendaye, having been completely destroyed by the Spanish way back in 1793,has been totally rebuilt and is comparatively modern. They actually complement each other quite well inasmuch that Hendaye has the beach, water sports and nightlife while Hondarribia has a sleepier feel and all the historical interest you could want. We stayed in the area for the best part of 3 days and took time to explore both towns.
One place well worth visiting in Hendaye is the Chateau d’Abbadia. It is set in extensive grounds on a promontory to the north of the town and it has fine views all around. It was built in the 1870’s at the behest of Antoine d’Abbadie, a Dublin born eccentric scholar, linguist, astrologer, anthropologist, explorer and cartographer (he was the first to map Ethiopia) who travelled the world with his wife Virginie.
The Chateau, with its novel and extravagant architecture very much reflects the extraordinary personality of it’s owner. Instead of the usual gargoyles that tend to adorn such structures there is a menagerie – crocodiles, snakes, snails, frogs and elephants to name but a few…
The inside of the building is as unpredictable as the outside…
Given the remarkable personality of Antoine d’Abbadie it comes as no surprise to learn that upon his death he left the chateau to the Academie des Sciences and it became and still remains an astronomy observatory.
The area around the Chateau is beautiful cliff walking country and after my visit I did just that. The views were spectacular…
One final thing before we visit Hondarribia. Hendaye also has some historical significance. It was at Hendaye’s Railway Station that Hitler and Franco met on 23 October 1940 discuss Spain joining the war against what remained of the British Empire…Not many people know that.