The older part of Hendaye is located next to the train station. This train station actually witnessed a historic event at the beginning of World War II when Francisco Franco, the dictator of Spain met with Adolf Hitler to discuss the possibilities for Spain to join the conflict and become a part of the Axis powers. Franco and Hitler met at an armored wagon on the tracks, however, no agreement was reached as Franco’s demands were too high.
As was mentioned earlier, the old town of Hendaye was destroyed by the Spanish in 1793 but it was eventually rebuilt and became the birth place of the neo-basque architectural style. The Place de la Republique is in the center of the town and the atmosphere here is generally cosy and quiet. It is the perfect place to enjoy a drink or a meal on one of the many terraces. On Wednesday mornings there is usually more going on in the square since it is Hendaye’s market day.
Right next to the Place de la Republique stands the Church of Saint Vincent (“Église Saint Vincent” in French) that was built in the 16th century. Its exterior is characterized by white walls, exposed stone in the corners and red shutters, fitting in perfectly with the houses that surround it. Its interior, features a 13th century cross over the chapel and wooden galleries that stretch along the side and back wall. These galleries were originally reserved for men attending mass.
On the side of the old town, in the direction of the beach, you will find the fronton of Hendaye, called “Gaztelu Zahar.” This fronton was built in 1899 and it was named after the fortress built by Vauban that previously stood in the same location but was destroyed after numerous battles between France and Spain. The fronton is used for playing traditional Basque sports such as cesta punta and pelota mano as well as for celebration other events in Hendaye.
Across the street from the fronton, there is a pretty walking path known as the “Bay Path” ("Chemin de la Baie" in French). This path goes along the the water, where you can enjoy the beautiful views of the Bay of Txingudi and the town of Hondarribia, just on the other side of the river. Along the path, you will also find some ruins of the walls built by Vauban and several cannons still pointing in the direction of Hondarribia.
The Bay Path spans a distance of 14 km, starting at the eastern end of Hendaye’s beach and continuing by the waterside up until the bridge to cross to Irun. The path also goes further in the other direction into Spain, crossing the town of Hondarribia.
One of the Hendaye’s main attractions is the 3 km fine sandy beach, called Ondarraitz. This beach is popular among families and surfers alike, since there is plenty of space for everyone and some nice waves to surf. Even on the most crowded of days, it is possible to venture further down the beach and find your own relatively secluded spot. Although be aware that the further east you get, the more likely you are to be among nudists.
Lined along Ondarraitz beach, there are also many big beautiful houses with a style similar to that of traditional Basque houses but with a little more modern twist. The style is called neo-basque and most of these houses were built by the local architect Edmond Durandeau at the beginning of the 20th century.
Ondarraitz Beach also has a long promenade next to it which is known as the “Boulevard de la Mer.” About halfway down the promenade there is the “Old Croisière Casino,” a building that stands out, not just because it is the only building located on the beach itself but also because it has its own particular style. Built in 1884, this is the only building in Hendaye that has an arabic architectural style. For over 70 years, until 1980, the Old Croisière Casino was used as a casino, which is where its name comes from. Today, it is a luxury residence and also a shopping mall.
Along the Boulevard de la Mer and the the Av. des Mimosas there are lot of shops, bars and restaurants
At the end of the beach, stands another symbol of Hendaye, the two rocks just off the coast called “the twin rocks” (“les deux jumeaux” in French). The legend around these rocks says that one day a Basajaun (a bigfoot like creature from Basque mythology) was in the Basque mountains and he tried to throw a rock to destroy the town of Bayonne. However, in doing so, he tripped and the rock fell out of his hand, broke in two and landed in the water of the beach of Hendaye.
The Château Abbadia is an eccentric mansion built for an even more eccentric individual, Antoine d’Abaddie. It was constructed between 1864 and 1879 by the architect Viollet le Duc in a neo-gothic style and has an exterior that was clearly inspired by castles from the middle ages. The exterior is strongly contrasted by the interior which shows off a range of different styles such as Art Nouveau and various other oriental inspirations. What makes the building so special is its ability to mix all the interests and likes of Antoine d’Abbadie and somehow come up with something that is completely unique and that flows together.
Antoine d’Abbadie was born in 1810 in Ireland, from an Irish mother and a Basque father. He belonged to one of the 200 richest families of France, however, instead of just living from his family’s wealth, he made the best of the opportunities given to him and became a renaissance man in the truest sense. Abbadie was an explorer, passionate for geography, astrology and various cultures of the world. He is best known for his work in Ethiopia, where he created the first cartographic map of the country. In addition, he also published a dictionary of Amharic, a Semitic language found in Ethiopia.
Abbadie was also a big proponent of the the Basque language and culture and published many academic works on the topic. For his contributions, he is often referred to as Euskaldenaita, meaning “the father of the Basques.”
Evidence of Abbadie’s interests and influences from his travels can be found all over the Chateau. The most notable are the paintings on the walls in the entrance that depict customs from Ethiopia. In addition there is an arabic smoking room, chapel, library, as well as an astronomical observatory which contains a meridian telescope that operated until 1979.
Shortly before his dead in 1897, Antoine d’Abbadie donated the chateau to the Academy of Science under one condition: they had to produce a catalogue of half-a-million stars in fifty years. The Academy of Science is still the owner today.
Chateau Abbadia is located less than 2 km away from the beach of Hendaye and is open to the public for visits. We highly recommend a visit if you are interested in architecture and art. It is a truly unique place.
* There is a free parking area right outside of the chateau. However, the space is quite small and it can get pretty crowded during the high season (July, August).
* During the guided visits, the castle is closed for visits without guide. Check the opening times in the French version of the website for more detailed information about the times of the guided visits.
Domaine d’Abbadia (Abbadia Natural Park)
The Domaine d’Abbadia is a protected natural park that comprises 64 hectares surrounding the Chateau d’Abbadia. Within the Domaine d’Abbadia there are some hiking paths that primarily run along the coast and offer some superb ocean views. There are the “twin rocks” of Hendaye as well as some great views of the rock formations known as flysch. These formations are found in various parts along the Basque coast. The flysch in the Domaine d’Abbadia is really beautiful and easily accessible.
The main hike along the water takes about 2 hours. The section in the Domain d’Abbadia is actually a small portion of the longer “Coastal Path,” which goes from Sokoburu (Hendaye) to Erretegia and is 25km long.
Be aware that the Domaine d’Abbadia has a different owner than the chateau itself and actually belongs to the Coastal Protection Agency. The two properties are divided and it is not possible to cross from one to the other. This means that after visiting the castle, you have to jump back in the car, and drive for about 5 minutes to one of the three entrances of the Domaine d’Abbadia.
Once you have arrived at the Domaine’s parking, you will find informative panels and a map at the start of the trail. You will also find a couple of renovated farm houses (“baserri” in Basque) that function now as information points along the path itself.