This post is also available in: French
I’ve wanted to visit the Basque Country (South-West of France) for years, but living on the East side of France, I never got the opportunity. Last year, I finally made it during an extended weekend. We chose Bayonne as a hotel base and explored the French Basque Country but also the Spanish side.
When I say Basque Country, many people will think of Bayonne or Biarritz for France and San Sebastian or Bilbao for Spain. Well, today I’m taking you off the beaten path, to a lesser known destination of Basque Country: Hendaye, the best day of our stay.
Hendaye is located on the French side but right on the border with Spain. Just by walking on Hendaye beach, you can go from France to Spain in the blink of an eye.
Appart from its beach, the main attraction here is the Abbadia Observatory Castle (1864-1879). This castle is like no other. It was home to Antoine d’Abbadie, an explorer, astronomist, scientist. Therefore, his castle reflects his personality. That explains the blending of styles we can witness on the castle’s architecture as well as in the room decoration.
Start your visit by walking around the castle, from the outside. It was built on a hill above the town, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It is surrounded by a tree-filled park. The ideal spot to escape from the beach crowds and chill for a pic-nic in the shades.
Built mainly in a neo-gothic style, we see a series of princess donjons, church stained-glass windows, crenelated medieval towers and animal sculptures of very different species crawling on the castle’s facades. Take your time to walk around the castle, there are a lot of elements to observe on the facades.
Then comes the visit of the castle. It is forbidden to take photos inside, it costs 6.60€ per person and it is a self-guided visit. There are no explanatory signs in the castle but you can read all about the history and the details in the binder you are given (to be handed back on your way out).
The Observatory is the most interesting room of the castle. A huge telescope is in position in front of the window as well as other scientific instruments and old books. It was the working place of Antoine d’Abbadie, his research centre. Still nowadays, this castle’s Observatory keeps recording seismographic data.
The hallway is also interesting and really like no other. It is filled with details, you won’t know where to start: paintings representing Africa, animals, portraits, quotations and motto written on the walls, exposed beams and wooden moldings of bright colors on the ceiling, wooden imposing staircase and bronze statues…A very eclectic mix but that’s why this castle is awesome to visit. This place is extraordinary.
The other rooms are the library, the beautiful circular lounge, the Chapel and bedrooms. I think you must really see it to believe it and imagine it. It’s quite difficult to write about it here, you really need to immerse yourself in Antoine d’Abbadie’s universe. He was an original man and had very filled and various lives. All the facets of his personality are reflected here in his castle.
Source for the three indoor photos : official website of Abbadia Castle
After the visit of the castle, head down to Hendaye beach. Like I said earlier, you will meet as many French as Spaniards here. Hendaye beach is well known for the Rochers des Deux-Jumeaux (the twin rocks), at the north end of the beach. It gives a charm to the landscape.
By the way, you know you are on the Basque Coastline when you see huge rocks gushing from the Ocean, a rugged terrain with steep and sharp cliffs and very cold water (a lot colder than the Mediterranean sea).
For the rest of the town, Hendaye is very much like any other seaside towns with its typical boutiques and restaurants. The whole charm of the town comes from its one of a kind castle. You should also appreciate walking up the coast along the coastal paths.
Are you ready to immerse yourself in Antoine d’Abbadie’s universe ? Do you know any other awesome Basque Country small towns that are underrated and deserve to be discovered ?