What to see in Hondarribia, one of the quaintest towns in the Basque Country
Hondarribia (formerly Fuenterrabía) is one of the prettiest towns in the Basque Country. The old quarter, the seafaring spirit and the succulent cuisine make it a destination that you simply cannot miss when you spend a few days in Gipuzkoa. So take yourself off to this beautiful town which was awarded city status in the 17th century after fighting off the French in a number of battles. In actual fact, this ‘city’ has only got just over 15,000 inhabitants!
Hondarribia is located on the left bank of the mouth of the Bidasoa River and it makes for a perfect ensemble of sea and mountains, medieval city and fishing town. But it’s the fact that it is a border town that makes Hondarribia particularly special. Visitors and tourists alike are also drawn to Hondarribia by its restaurants which are extremely well rated, and deservedly so. A meal in Hondarribia is a must. Choose from several excellent places to eat as you stroll through the town. There is so much to see and do that Hondarribia is perfect for a two-day getaway.
What to do in Hondarribia
Wander through the old quarter
This is the first thing you need to do when you arrive in Hondarribia. It’s the best way to get a feel for this historical, walled, medieval city – the only one of its kind in Gipuzkoa. You will find unique and well-kept homes, wooden balconies and delightful Baroque dwellings. The town is a jumble of charming cobbled, narrow streets. The medieval quarter is in the top part of the town and Calle Mayor (Kale Nagusia) and Plaza de Armas are at the very centre of it.
Puerta de Santa María, the main gate through the wall, is one of the best places to begin exploring the old quarter. There is a coat of arms informing you that you are entering ‘most noble, most loyal, most valiant and always loyal Fuenterrabía.’ Kale Nagusia is just a few steps away and this is where you will find some of the most striking homes of all. You will spot the 18th-century Baroque City Hall; casa de Zuloaga, (currently a library and municipal record office); 17th-century Baroque Casadevante Palace (formerly a hotel); casa Torre Alta with its masonry façade; and casa Ladrón de Guevara, famous for its glazed brick façade.
Take a break in Plaza de Armas
This really is a must on your route. For centuries, this square has been the go-to venue for celebrations, receptions, proclamations and other important events. You will find Carlos V castle here. Nowadays, it is a Parador de Turismo hotel and visitors can go inside and take a look. Since it looks out over the Bidasoa River, Txingudi bay and Hendaye, it was perfect for defence purposes. Indeed, it is a former barracks and Governor’s House.
Members of the Spanish royal family resided in the castle in 1660 whilst the finer details of Maria Theresa of Spain’s wedding to the future King of France, Louis XIV, in Saint Jean de Luz were deliberated. The marriage brought the long-lived conflict between France and Spain to an end. However, many years later, in the late 18th century, French troops attacked the castle and left it practically in ruins. It was converted into a Parador de Turismo hotel in 1968.
In Plaza de Armas, you will also find a Gothic church – Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y del Manzano – built between the 15th and 16th centuries on the ruins of a Roman temple. From there, if you head towards Calle San Nicolás, you will notice that the architecture starts to change, turning into a neighbourhood of the more popular Basque town houses. This is particularly apparent in Plaza de Gipuzkoa with its porticos and antiques shops.
Enjoy La Marina fishing neighbourhood
This is the most vibrant part of Hondarribia. Head towards Calle San Pedro, a pedestrianised street, to find the best bars and restaurants in town. The buildings used to be old fish markets and fishermen’s huts. From the marine walk, you can also marvel at the view of the mouth of the River Bidasoa and neighbouring Hendaye.
Remember to take in the buildings on Calle de San Pedro, not just the bars! They are fine examples of Basque marine architecture and their colourful façades and balconies decorated with flowers are the typical postcard picture of Hondarribia. There is also a fishermen’s guild, Santa María Magdalena church and a small fishing port in this part of the town. Paseo Butrón, the marine walk, starts here and takes you to the breakwater from which you can access the beach.
Calle San Pedro and Calle Santiago are good places to get some lunch since there are a number of bars and restaurants with affordable set-menu options.
Take a dip on Hondarribia beach
Hondarribia beach is one of the top tourist attractions in the area. It has 800 metres of sandy beach and the sea is calm, making it particularly popular with families who go there to enjoy a relaxing dip. There are, of course, lifeguards, toilets, showers and changing rooms, as well as a number of activities to keep children entertained. There are also some nautical tourist attractions.
Follow the road that runs parallel to the beach and ends in the new port until you reach Cabo Higuer. San Telmo castle is not too far away (2.5 kilometres). According to local legend, it was inhabited by pirates and Templars. The route is dotted with vantage points and ends at Higuer lighthouse where there is a picnic area and a breathtaking cliff that drops down to tranquil coves and Frailes beach.
Top restaurants in Hondarribia
Hondarribia is known for some of the best restaurants and tapas bars in Gipuzkoa so get ready to enjoy delicious and succulent cuisine. Here are four of the top restaurants, but there are many more to choose from. None of them will disappoint!
- Arroka Berri (Higer Bidea, 6). The price-quality ratio in this restaurant is excellent and, when the sun is shining, they set up a spectacular terraced area in the garden. Bass and brill fish dishes are their speciality. The caramelised torrija served with rice pudding ice cream is also to die for.
- Alameda (Mirasoroeta Kalea 1). Enjoy a true banquet in this restaurant and tavern. It has had a Michelin star for 20 years but the prices are very affordable. The menu is quite impressive.
- Abarka (Baserritar Hiribidea, 36). This restaurant is located in a traditional Basque farmhouse with a very welcoming atmosphere. The menu is comprehensive and varied so even picky eaters will find something they like. The chefs are proud to cook excellent dishes using seasonal produce.
- Sebastián (Calle Mayor, 11). Cosy nooks around every corner make this restaurant a perfect place for dinner for two. The interior is decorated with antique furniture and the signature dishes are a delight to eat.
Information of interest
- By bus. Hondarribia is only 20 kilometres from San Sebastián. Buses leave Plaza Gipuzkoa in San Sebastián and arrive in Hondarribia in under 30 minutes.
- By car. If you’re planning on driving, there are a number of free parking spaces in Hondarribia. There are areas with ample parking spots next to Plaza de San Juan de Dios and along Paseo de Bidasoa.