On the opposite bank of the Bidassoa river to Hendaye, in Basque Country (Euskal Herria in Basque, Pais Vasco in Spanish and Pays Basque in French), is Hondarribia (once known as Fuenterrabia).
Hondarribia is one of the most beautiful cities in the Basque Country and a must see if you are visiting Hendaye. Don’t be put off by its “city” status; with a population of little more than 15,000 people it is not that big. It was granted city status in the 17th Century after fighting off the French in a number of battles. In reality it is an old and very colourful Basque fishing town split into two main areas – the Old Town and the La Marina District.
There is a ferry boat service that took us across from Hendaye for the day and it took just minutes and cost only 2 euros each with the dogs travelling free – a nice little trip and a great taste of Spain. There’s no doubt but that we will head into Spain after this, if only for a few days.
The Old Town dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries and it is filled with narrow cobbled streets each lined with ancient stone houses (most of which have ornately carved eaves and balconies) and it is rich in architecture and history. It is identified as the “Old Quarter” which for the most part sits within the original city walls – It is a must see.
The Santa Maria Gate is the primary entrance into the old quarter and it leads via the Calle Mayor to the Plaza de Armas where the cities two most famous buildings stand – The first of these buildings is the Church of Santa Maria de la Ascuncion y del Manzano which was built in the 15th and 16th centuries on top of the ruins of old walls and a Roman Church.
The second main building on the Plaza de Armas is the Charles V Castle (parts of which have been in place since the 10th Century although the original structure was much developed in Medieval times by Charles V). This castle was destroyed by the French towards the end of the 18th century and remained a ruin until 1968 when it was transformed into the Parador Hotel.
The La Marina neighbourhood is famous for its high concentration of pintxos bars and restaurants (including two with Michelin Stars) and is best visited in the evenings (especially on a Thursday which is Pintxos Day in Hodarribia). We ate lunch in a very plain and simple cafe but the food was seriously good (and a lot cheaper than in France – isn’t everything?).
I wish we had stayed longer but it wouldn’t have been fair on our dogs. If we were to do this again I would visit in July when the four day Hodarribia Blues Festival is on. I would make a point too of eating out in the La Marina area on a Thursday and I would try Txakoli – a slightly sparkling very dry white wine which is unique to the Basque Country.
There was just time to pop inside the Iglesia Parroquia de la Marina before we boarded our ferry boat back to Hendaye… I love the simplicity inside that church.