Tag Archives: visit spain

Spain:Gaztelugatxe (Road Trip Part 1)

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.

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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.

Jagged exposed layers along the coast

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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Spain: Castilla-La Mancha, a Road Trip

After spending a week in Spain with a friend and driving through Castilla-La Mancha on the way from Cuenca to Valencia, I’m so excited to share the beautiful journey. This trip was the first time I drove outside of the U.S. and although I found the cities nightmarish to navigate, the empty mountain roads were an absolute pleasure to drive!

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View of old Cuenca

After two great nights and far too much wine in old Cuenca, it was time to head for Valencia, starting along highway 2105 in a flamboyant orange Captur. The clear day offered amazing views from the winding road which looks down on the Rio Júcar gorge. The first stop, about a twenty minutes into the drive, was Ventano del Diablo. From this perch one is able to see the jewel colored river and impressive rocks that make up the river gorge. We missed all this during our extremely foggy and cloudy hike the day before. Between Villalba and Uña are several breathtaking views of the river and covering this route definitely set the tone for the day.

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Ventano del Diablo

The next break, not much further along, was Embalse de la Toba. Here you can get a closer view of the water while hiking on the rocky banks. It was a pity to visit the area in November, as it would have been a perfect location for dipping toes into the water to cool off on a hot day. The white, read and brown shades in the sides of the gorge contrasted beautifully with the cerulean blue water and green trees, and eagles soaring high above.

After the short break we continued through Serrania de Cuenca, a nature preserve that includes several towns. The road had many bends and steep grades do it needed to be followed slowly. As we went we were treated to views of dense pine forests, dramatic cliffs and rock formations, cute little farms, old villages and snow capped mountains in the distance. There was one magical moment when, with sun shining full, light snow fell down onto the road. We did not encounter anyone else during our stops. This made the experience feel more intimate, as if the landscape was a special place of our own for exploring at a leisurely pace.

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Rio Jucar

All the opportunities for exploration in the area could be enough to keep a visitor busy for a week and would be heaven for a backpacker or cyclist. Over the course of the trip I had been moved by the beauty of the mountains and forests we encountered but this day was even more special. I don’t believe I have ever experienced such dramatic change in flora, fauna and weather than the wonderful way between Cuenca and Valencia. I am so thankful for the experience. Each time I visit Spain I learn more about then nature and culture. Even now i know some day I will be back and find something even more amazing.

Thanks for reading!