It’s a rare experience to be in Spain, surrounded by the lively and upbeat atmosphere that you can come across in any Spanish town, yet to be able to simultaneously watch the calmer and quieter world go by in France just across the river. For the locals of Hondrribia it’s the norm. That’s because Hondarribia rests on the banks of the Bidasoa, the river that acts as a border between France and Spain. And although both sides of the river share a Basque culture and identity, the differences between the two nations stand out here more than anywhere, in spite of the geographical proximity.
In Hondarribia, you’ll have a clear view of France from anywhere along the river. But for me, the place from which I perhaps enjoyed this rarity most was Pub Uxoa, and the time was at night. Located right beside the Paseo Butrón riverside promenade, Uxoa is a great place for night owls as its doors stay open till later than anywhere else in town. The vibe is always bubbly, especially when they have live bands performing. But it’s from the pub’s outdoor terrace, facing the river, where I was able to enjoy some cold beers among Spaniards whilst watching the lights of France shine across the water.
It was a couple of guys at Uxoa, both fans of Athletic Bilbao, who told me how to make the short trip to France. “Come back to this exact spot tomorrow and just outside the pub, there’s a small pier where the local boats arrive. Here you can catch a boat across the river and go to drink some French wine.” I did exactly as they had suggested and arrived at Paseo Butrón the next morning for the Hondarribia-Hendaye boat. The boat was a small one and the journey was only about 6 or 7 minutes long with views of the sea on one side and the mountains on the other. At a price of only €1.90 it’s safe to say that’s the cheapest I’ve ever paid to travel from one country to another.
After a stroll around the small French town of Hendaye, trying out the French cuisine and wine, visiting Hendaye beach – the longest beach in the Basque Country – and being around a different language, the cultural difference between the two countries is obvious. For a start, Spain is a lot louder and there are more people outdoors. Or as a friend of mine put it “Spain has a certain magic in the air”. And that magic became even more apparent as I hopped off the boat and took a stroll through Hondarribia’s Barrio Marino, the colourful Calle San Pedro and in particular the old town within the medieval walls where the streets and plazas are full of colour, charm and an eagerness to enjoy life.
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