One of the first stops on the tour of Spain’s coast: Gaztelugatxe, an islet in Basque country. The Basque name translates to castle rock and fits the location perfectly. It is a beautiful combination of man and nature with a man-made bridge connecting the island with its hermitage (Gaztelugatxeko Doniene/ San Juan de Gaztelugatxe), dating from around one thousand years ago. Only used as a convent for two hundred years, it has a very rich history, including use as a defense outpost and possible use during the Spanish Inquisition.
This is one of the few places that when I saw in a photograph thought, “I want to experience this in person.” I was extremely excited to visit and absolutely loved it. The rocky coast surrounding it is stunning with exposed layers jutting out of the ocean in bold stripe patterns. The partially submerged rocks provide habitat for some ocean creatures which, if you’re lucky, may make an appearance.
A very steep one kilometer walk from a parking lot followed by 241 stairs takes you up to the hermitage with views of both the coast and wide open ocean. Although I traveled here by personal vehicle, the area connects to coastal hiking trails. Navigation was a bit challenging with road signs in Basque. It’s located about 35 km east of Bilboa and the drive is rather scenic and pleasant. I was surprised that the site was both free to access and not crowded (on a weekday). According to legend, after climbing and reaching the church you should ring the church bell three times and make a wish. This was fun to do but hearing everyone else ring the bell was a bit much after a while trying to enjoy the view and appreciate the ancient place, so go with that in mind.
The stop is a gorgeous introduction to the dramatic Basque coast which eventually mellows further East. I absolutely recommend visiting if you can.
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