The town, France's most southwesterly and a popular seaside tourist resort, stands on the right bank of the River Bidassoa – which marks the Franco-Spanish border – at the point where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean in the French Basque Country.
Hendaye has three distinguishable parts: la ville, which stretches from Saint Vincent's church to the area around the SNCF railway station and the industrial zone; la plage, the seaside quarter; and les hauteurs, the villas and camping sites on the hills between and behind the other two areas.
Hendaye acquired its independence from the Urrugne parish in 1598, when Saint Vincent's church was built. In the Franco-Spanish War, the town was briefly occupied by the Spanish, in September 1636.
On the fortified Île des Faisans ("Pheasant Island") in the river, the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed in 1659, ending decades of intermittent war between France and Spain. Authority over the Île changes between France and Spain every six months.
All the same, the village kept being subject to destruction due to cross-border military activity. In the War of the Pyrenees (1793-1795), or less possibly in the run-up to the rise of Napoleon to prominence, the village was levelled to the ground, as described in 1799 by Wilhelm von Humboldt: "The settlement spreads over a rather wide area, and seems to have looked clean and pleasant time ago. Currently all the houses, but for a handful of them, lie destroyed. The empty walls can barely stand, while the ground before inhabited is covered with overgrown bush and hawthorn. Ivy creeps up the walls, out of crumbling windows the desolate ocean can be seen through the room. Shells can still be come across the street here and there, but hardly ever can one bump into a person. Most of the inhabitants either perished in the danger and helplessness of the runaway, or they scattered away to other places."
The abolition of the French provinces, the War of the Pyrenees and the end of home rule in the Spanish Basque districts—customs on the Ebro river moved to the Pyrenees (1841)—broke definitely the fluent cross-border trade and natural coexistence of the Basque speaking communities around the lower Bidassoa and the Bay of Txingudi, divided as of then by a restricted Spanish-French border.
On 22 October 1863, the railway arrived in Hendaye, as the track on the Spanish side also approached the Bidassoa borderline. On 15 August 1864, the first Madrid-Paris train arrived in Hendaye, forever re-shaping the human and urban landscape of the village and prompting rapid development. Hendaye started to stand out as an international hub and a seaside resort for the elites after the model of Biarritz (1854), halfway between Donostia (San Sebastián) and Biarritz.
On 23 October 1940, Ramón Serrano Súñer, Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop met in the Hendaye railway station (then in German-occupied France) to discuss Spain's participation in World War II as part of the Axis. Franco, uneasy about committing his nation to another conflict so soon after the Spanish Civil War, was not convinced, and Hitler decided not to force the issue. Spain was officially neutral during the following five years of the war, though very much a pro-Axis state (see Spain during World War II.)
The town square, where there is a weekly open-air market on Wednesdays, is the location of the famous seventeenth century "Great Cross of Hendaye", a stone cross carved with alchemical symbols that occultists find to contain encrypted information on a future global catastrophe. The church of Saint-Vincent was built in 1598, and largely reconstructed over the centuries following fires and bombardments. Its most recent transformation was finished in 1968. The 13th-century crucifix is the principal treasure.
The ruins of the early seventeenth century fortifications, which were reinforced by Vauban in 1685, and the old cannons facing Hondarribia, are one of the features of the promenade along the Bay of Txingudi waterfront.
The seafront Château of Antoine d'Abbadie, built by the architect and theorist Eugène Viollet-le-Duc is a monument of the Gothic Revival.
The Casino building, of Neo-Moorish style, was built in 1885. It used to be occupied by a casino (hence the name), until it was moved to the quartier de Sokoburu.
The picturesque old fishing port of Caneta has views over the Bay of Txingudi to Hondarribia and the Jaizkibel, and is also the site of Pierre Loti's house and the old customs building.
The Jumeaux rocks (Dunbarriak in Basque, literally 'the bell stones') have become somewhat emblematic to Hendaye. These two high rock stacks, which have been carved out of the cliffs by wave action, are visible from the beach or from the domaine d'Abbadia, a nature park on the edge of the commune related to the Conservatoire du littoral project.
Hendaye doesn't have any specific music venues, but there are many places where bands can play. The covered pelota fronton at Belcenia has a high capacity and the basque folk band Oskorri have played here on more than one occasion. In summer, bigger bands can play in open air at the Hendaye Plage Rugby pitch. Toure Kunda, among others, have played here. Concerts can be organised in the Cinéma les Variétés, which also has a high capacity.
The closed market is a good place for starting-out local bands to stage small concerts. Rather than a pub scene, local bands often play in Hendaye's many campsites in the summer.
The Lanetik Egina music club is the hub of Hendaye's music scene. It has a very good reputation and organises regular concerts. It is also a place where musicians of all ages can meet up and form bands.
Perhaps the most successful band to come from Hendaye is the basque ska-punk band Skunk, who have made many albums.
The Cinéma les Variétés is a large classic theatre and cinema, which is a regular venue for theatre, dancing, and performance arts. There is also a cinema at Sokoburu, near the quartier de la Plage, called the Salle Antoine d'Abbadie, but it is only used on special occasions.
The Théâtre des Chimères, from Biarritz, regularly perform at Hendaye.
The Médiathèque municipale François Mitterrand is a public library offering the rental of books, magazines, films, and CDs. There is also an art gallery, which is the main one for Hendaye.
These a few of the regular festivals in Hendaye:
Most of the town's restaurants are found in the quartier de la Plage and along the Bay of Txingudi waterfront.
Hendaye is locally well known for the quality of its txurros.
The town is an important railway junction, as Spain's mainline trains use a broader gauge than continental Europe, with the French railway network finishing here on the banks of the Bidasoa. There is also a station serving the beach quarter (Hendaye Plage) prior to the terminus, called the Gare des Deux Jumeaux. Basque rapid transit system Metro Donostialdea linking the town to Donostia-San Sebastián gets right to Hendaye, by the SNCF station.
There has been recent controversy concerning the new LGV Sud Europe Atlantique (TGV line), which is planned to pass inland of Hendaye without stopping in or anywhere near the town itself. Most of the local population, along with that of the rest of the Côte Basque, are in favour of the TGV, but against the new line, which would destroy the surrounding countryside, bypassing the town completely. It has therefore been suggested to upgrade the present line to make it suitable for the TGV, with a stop at Hendaye station. It is argued that this would also be much less expensive, and would stimulate the local economy.
The commune of Biriatou to the south is the only other official member of the urban area. However, Béhobie, a quartier of Urrugne, situated between the communes of Hendaye and Biriatou, is generally regarded as a much more significant part of the agglomeration.
Hendaye currently has two twin towns: