Written by Sr. Sylvia Jopillo,r.a.
A road trip along the Biscay coastline offers unexpected wonders. Starting from San Sebastian by car and moving along AP-8 in the direction of Bilbao, the capital city of Biscay, the day promises adventure and discoveries despite the overcast sky.
Beyond Bilbao, the car veered into the narrow, provincial road, and the sky opened up to meet the sea! As the vehicle climbed the cliff sides, unbelievable views of pristine beaches greeted me below.
The fresh mountain air and the cool shade of the trees made the winding road agreeable, with occasional stretches of gentle slopes through towns and hamlets. Everything is verdant green
After the steep climb, at the mark of 142 kilometers from San Sebastian, an incredible vista reveals the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (from Basque, gaztelu means castle and aitz, rock.)
It is a rocky promontory of sparse vegetation crowned with what used to be a 9th-century monastery and is now a tiny Ermita or chapel in honor of St. John the Baptist. It looks so magical, rearing up from the sea!
Walking down a steep hill, passing through a man-made stone bridge that connects the islet to the mainland, and a hike up the steps to reach the church rewards the intrepid with magnificent views of the island, the coast, and the sea.
The pounding waves and rushing wind bring images of boats emerging from the mist or even creatures from the deep.
Pilgrimages of local fishermen during the fishing season bring many locals to the church with their offerings and to light votive candles for safe journeys.
There are two viewing decks facing the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe for those who prefer not to walk to the islet.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has a storied past. It featured a strategic point during the medieval naval wars fought between the Basque nobles and the Spanish crown.
English corsairs attacked it in the 16th century. And because of its raw beauty, the islet became the film set of the “Dragonstone fortress” in the television series, The Game of Thrones. Indeed, looking at the promontory from the view deck, I could see a rock dragon!
Located close to the coast is an uninhabited rocky crag with protected environmental status. Araitz is home to thousands of migratory marine birds and other species. But unlike the San Juan Gaztelugatxe, it has thick foliage, bushes, and trees. But visits are not allowed, nor is there a pier to allow boats to dock.
It is a must to visit the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe for its natural beauty. There are tickets for guided trips, and a museum near the view decks offers exciting stories about the islet and its coastal environment.
A hostel, rural rentals, and a restaurant with ample parking space are also available. Bermeo, the town center, is very accessible and Bakio, another town only 6 kilometers away.
A day trip of magical experiences is worthwhile even if you are not a fan of the television series, The Game of Thrones.
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