San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Connected to the Basque coast by a narrow stone bridge and winding staircase, the small islet of Gaztelugatxe resembles a castle rising out of the sea. The rocky outcrop is home to a small hermitage with a modest monastery and chapel at its peak. Ringing the hermitage bell three times is believed to bring good luck and chase away evil.
This majestic spot is believed to be a former convent of the Knights Templar, as well as a former conquest of Sir Francis Drake. Visitors can navigate the 241 steps to the peak of the island to soak up the views over the stormy Bay of Biscay and its carved cliffs and sea arches.
While San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a popular stop for road trippers along the coast, those without a car can visit on a guided tour of the Basque coast. These itineraries typically depart from Bilbao and stop at the Vizcaya Bridge, the town of Bermeo, and the assembly house (Casa de Juntas) in Gernika.
Things to know before you go
- Admission is free, but travelers must have an access ticket to visit the site during the high season.
- Don’t forget your camera, as this is one of the most photogenic places on the Basque coast.
- Wear sturdy shoes with good tread, as the steps can get slippery when wet.
- Stairs are the only way to access the islet, making it inaccessible to wheelchairs and strollers.
How to get there
Bizkaibus service A-3524 departs from Bakio regularly. The journey is about a half hour. Alternatively, take a taxi from Bakio or join a guided tour of the Basque coast.
When to get there
The best time to visit the island is during the summer, when conditions tend to be drier and visitors can swim from one of the small beaches at the bottom of the steps. Come in spring or autumn to avoid the crowds.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe sits between the Basque towns of Bakio and Bermeo along the northern coast of Spain. The former is home to a lovely rocky beach and a couple of surf schools that offer lessons. The latter is a fishing village and former whaling center with a museum on the lives of Basque fisherfolk and a picturesque marina.
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- Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve (Urdaibai Reserva de la Biosfera)
- Euskadi Biodiversity Centre
- Butrón Castle (Castillo de Butrón)
- Santimamiñe Cave (Cueva de Santimamiñe)
- Guernica (Gernika)
- Sopelana Beach (Playa de Sopelana)
- Oma Forest (Bosque de Oma)
- Artxanda Funicular (Funicular de Artxanda)
- Zubizuri Bridge
- Guggenheim Museum
- Vizcaya Bridge (Puente de Vizcaya)
- San Vicente Martír de Abando Church (Parroquia de San Vicente Martir de Abando)
- Bilbao Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao)