San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a bit of a mouthful! That’s the Spanish version. Strangely though, the Basque version, Gaztelugatxeko Doniene, is no more difficult on the tongue. Gaztelugatxe is a small islet off the Basque coast, not far from Bilbao, and despite its unpronouncability, it is one of my favourite spots in that part of Spain.
A short and fairly easy walk from the road linking the towns of Bermeo and Bakio will take you to the start of the climb up to the hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist. You can drive all the way down to the base of the steps, but then you will miss the amazing views of the rugged coast with the hermitage-topped island. You’ll also miss the sight of the steps you will be climbing. They are a daunting vision but take your time and you’ll be ok. It’s worth the effort, believe me.
The hermitage itself dates back to the 10th Century. Don’t go there expecting to find an ancient ruin though. It has been damaged, destroyed and rebuilt several times in its history. Most recently, a fire in 1978 was particularly destructive and the present incarnation was opened in 1980. Inside is an interesting collection of offerings from survivors of shipwrecks and those not wishing to suffer a similar fate. As you might imagine, the vast majority are of a nautical theme.
From the top you can enjoy the views out to sea or along the dramatic Basque coast. On a sunny spring (or winter) day it is a perfect day out. In the summer, that climb might just feel a little bit harder!