Hondarribia – Fuenterrabía

The most contested stronghold

A coastal town on the border between Spain and France, the impressive solid stone blocks of its walls have for years preserved one of the most interesting historical centres of Gipuzkoa. This, along with its nightlife atmosphere, has made it a high quality summer destination.

Plan your stay in Hondarribia – Fuenterrabía

The beautiful local old town can be visited in one day. Other attractions to see in Hondarribia are its beach, its marina or the festive atmosphere of its bars. It attracts hundreds of people from other regions and France every year. Also within its municipal boundaries is the sanctuary of Guadalupe, a magnificent area for hiking and the passage of the Northern Way, or the Peñas de Aya Natural Park.

To make the trip longer, you can go to Irún, while the narrow coastal road leads to Pasajes de San Juan. The capital of the province, Donosti, is also waiting nearby. To find out more about its hotels and restaurants check out our pages on sleeping and eating in Hondarribia.

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Roman times in Hondarribia

Hondarribia means in Basque “the sand ford”. This is a very appropriate name, as the village is located in a passage of the Bidasoa River. The Romans colonised the Bidasoa region, settling in neighbouring Irún and founding Hondarribia. The remains found and the existence of the Asturiaga anchorage under the lighthouse are proof of this. However, tradition has it that the town was started by the Visigoth Recaredo in the 6th century AD.

Town Charter

In 1180, Fuenterrabía was already mentioned in the charter that Sancho the Wise of Navarre granted to San Sebastián. It was the only way out of the kingdom of Navarre to the sea south of the Pyrenees. Its location as a strategic enclave and its proximity to France would mark the history of Hondarribia.

During 1200, Alfonso VIII of Castile occupied all of Gipuzkoa. Three years later he officially founded the town of Fuenterrabía by granting it a Town Charter. Its privileges were the same as those granted by the San Sebastian Charter. At 1280, it first repelled a French attack.

The French

Again, in 1476, a huge French army besieged Fuenterrabia. To prevent the towers from collapsing under French artillery and causing injuries, the defenders dismantled the highest ones. They also dug trenches and reinforced the thickness of the bastions. After two months the Gauls withdrew.

Around 1521, troops from Navarre under the command of Henry II of Albret, supported by the French, conquered the town. They stayed there for two years, until they gave up through negotiation. Charles I then ordered the construction of the fortifications that can be seen today. The Emperor came in person, in 1539, to see the result of the works. The town witnessed the exchange of King Francis I of France for his two sons.

fotografia antigua Kale Nagusia o Calle Mayor de Hondarribia
Calle Mayor in Hondarribia

Hondarribia in ruins

In 1638, it was severely attacked for two months, remaining undefeated but in ruins. Among its defenders were a hundred Navarrese people. It is said that on September 7, when the fighting reached its zenith, the Virgin of Puy appeared to them. Such intercession made it possible for all of them to survive. This site is remembered every year by a spectacular Parade on September 8.

From the middle of the 18th century it began to suffer a slow and progressive decline due to the preponderance of Irún and San Sebastián. However, its ruin occurred in July 1794, during the Convention War. After a short siege, the French revolutionaries sacked it. With regard to the defence, there were official accusations of incompetence and treason.

It would know again the battle thunder in the First Carlist War. It was initially taken by the rebels. Later it suffered a siege and assault by the government army, commanded by General Espartero.

Beginning to prosper

During the 19th century, it survived thanks to cattle raising and fishing. At the end of the century, however, it was revived thanks to the buoyant prospects of the new tourism.  A wave that was beginning to develop then and that continues more alive than ever today.

In 1900 the Fort of Guadalupe was inaugurated on the summit of Mount Jaizkibel. At the beginning of the civil war in 1936, dozens of right-wing vacationers were imprisoned and killed there. Among them were writers and politicians like Victor Pradera and Honorio Maura.

It should be noted that in 1973 its streets served as a location for the film Papillon, with Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen. Finally, in 1980 the town council added the name Hondarribia to the Spanish of Fuenterrabía. The latter was to be removed in 1989.

What to see in Hondarribia is divided into two districts: the Marina and the Casco Viejo. The first is the fishermen’s quarter, an old outlying suburb known as “la Magdalena”. There are traditional white-walled houses with wooden balconies painted in colours and decorated with flowers. Its numerous taverns are concentrated in San Pedro Street.

Casco Viejo in Hondarribia

On the other hand, the Casco Viejo in Hondarribia has been declared a Monumental Site. This is the walled enclosure of the town, ordered to be built by Charles V (1524). A large part of its walls and bastions have been preserved, as well as the doors of Santa María and San Nicolás. It has paved roads and narrow houses with stone ground floors and brick tops.

The Puerta de Santa María preserves a coat of arms of the town and an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe (1638). From here you can take the Kale Nagusia, which houses many of the remarkable buildings to be seen in Hondarribia. For example, the town hall (1735), which displays two coats of arms of the city on its façade.

Almost opposite stands the Casadevante Palace, also in baroque style. Following the Kale Nagusia you reach the Casa de los Guevara (18th century) and the Church of La Asunción y del Manzano (15th century). Such a temple, Gothic, has a Latin cross plan and three naves. It also has an impressive baroque tower. The complex was raised on part of the wall and has an exterior walkway.

Carlos V Tower

In the Plaza de las Armas, the square shaped Castle of Carlos V stands out. It was turned into a Parador in 1968. Other buildings of interest are the Zuloaga Palace (18th century), the Casa Mugaretenea, (16th century) or the Eguiluz Manor House. This last dwelling is an emblazoned palace from the 17th century. It was built on top of a previous building where Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad are said to have stayed on their return from Flanders. Likewise, the beach and the Paseo del Espolón make up an invaluable ensemble.

Mount Jaizkibel and the Hermitage of Guadalupe (18th century) look like cosy garden areas where you can have a picnic. Climbing the 547 meters of the Pico de San Enrique allows you to enjoy an essential panoramic view of the Bay of Txingudi. Finally, Cape Higuer marks the eastern end of the Pyrenees, entering the Cantabrian Sea.

Finally, once you have done the tour of what to see in Hondarribia, discover more plans for the province of Gipuzkoa, as well as its active tourism.

Must see

Higuer Lighthouse
Main entrance of Hondarribia

Practical data


43° 22′ 0″ N, 1° 48′ 0″ W


Donostia-San Sebastián 20 km, Bilbao 119 km, Madrid 472 km.


Antigua Venta de Pescado, in La Marina quarter.


24 m.


16 795 (2013).

The main celebrations to see in Hondarribia are: Procession of Silence (Good Friday), Fiesta del Arca (July 25, feast of Santiago) and Festivals of the Virgin of Guadalupe (7-11 September, the 8th is celebrated El Alarde).

Another notable occasion to see in Hondarribia is the Traineras Bandera de Fuenterrabía regatta.

Products fished and manufactured by the Brotherhood of Hondarribia in Don Pedro Hirutza Winery (visitable).

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