Discover San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an extraordinary place
Although it looks as if it were taken straight from the pages of an adventure storybook, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is in fact in Spain. While there is little doubt that the Basque Country boasts countless idyllic destinations, many will agree that none are quite like this. Situated in the Biosphere Reserve of Urdaibai and surrounded by the Cantabrian Sea and Burgoa mountain, it is the perfect place for hiking and, above all, experiencing something completely out of the ordinary.
How to get there
Located right on the coast of Biscay, its protected status means that it is far away from any urban developments. The closest, some 10 kilometres away, is the municipality of Bakio, although San Juan de Gaztelugatxe actually forms part of the municipality of Bermeo. 35 kilometres separate it from Bilbao, therefore the best way to get there from any of the towns and cities along the coast of Biscay is by car.
In the past one was able to drive down to the bridge, however vehicle access has since been restricted, although there are three car parks alongside the old road.
There is also the option of reaching it by bus. The bus company Bizkaibus provides a regular line between San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and various places in the province. The service runs from Bilbao in summer, but it does not operate in winter. If travelling during winter you must take a bus to Bakio and then a minibus to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
Once there, take the line that departs from the restaurant Eneperi and walk practically down to sea level to reach the stairs that go up to the footbridge, before taking you to the hermitage.
Visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe can be enjoyed in many different ways, the most common being on foot. Set off from the restaurant Eneperi and head down to the start of the stairs before crossing the footbridge while the waves crash against the cliffs. From there, take the stairs up to the hermitage and once finished, stop and enjoy the views of the natural surroundings.
You can also visit the area by boat, which is the perfect option for those with reduced mobility. The company that runs this service is Hegaluze, allowing you to discover a different but equally as spectacular perspective.
The company 4x4ocioaventura also offers four-wheel drive tours of the area’s best spots.
The hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
In honour of Saint John the Baptist a hermitage was built here in the tenth century. The interior of the place of worship is truly spectacular and in spite of its small size it is replete with frescoes and the offerings of the seafarers that survived shipwrecks.
The hermitage has born witness to stories of pirates, covens and legends. According to tradition, the first thing that you must do when arriving is touch the bell three times and make a wish.
The hermitage is defined by its capacity for transformation, having started out as a hermitage before becoming a convent in the twelfth century and then a fort to protect the land of the Lord of Biscay in his fight against King Alfonso XI. Later on, it was a victim of looting, and during the Spanish Inquisition it was used as a prison for women accused of witchcraft. It has suffered fires, destruction and much more, and it wasn’t until 1978 when work began to rebuild it, after which it was opened to the public two years later.
Its appearance in Game of Thrones
When it was announced that several scenes from the series would be filmed in Spain, the country, and above all, fans of the series were undoubtedly excited. In addition to Seville and Guadalajara, Biscay was also chosen as a film location for various scenes.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is the real Dragonstone, the fortress of Daenerys Targaryen and her family’s ancestral home. While visiting, you can delight in the fact that Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Kit Harington (Jon Snow) and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) have all trodden the same ground, and if that’s enough to make your imagination run wild, now imagine the three Daenerys dragons flying over the bridge that leads to the hermitage (although in the series it is replaced by an imposing castle).
Information of interest
The Regional Government of Biscay employs a ticket system to make your experience as pleasant as possible. Entrance is free of charge but in order to avoid overcrowding you must obtain a ticket for visiting between 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM during:
- Weekends and public holidays from April to June
- Every day from June to September
- Weekends and long weekends in October
- The period from 1 to 9 December
Outside of these periods it is not necessary to obtain a ticket.
The hermitage is open in peak season (July and August) and during religious events, and it costs €1 to take photos inside. Its opening hours are as follows:
- Tuesdays to Saturdays: from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
- Sundays: from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
Visits last approximately 1 to 2 hours.