Travel in Basque Country – San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: Spain Road Trip

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If you’re in Spain and plan to travel in Basque country, then an afternoon at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a must. The place is so cinematic that it’s no surprise that some of HBO’s Game of Thrones season 7 was filmed here.

Travel in Basque Country - San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: Spain Road Trip

CINEMATIC TRAVEL IN BASQUE COUNTRY

“Waves crash against the cliffs as a stone stairway winds upward before me. The ground is wet, and before we ascend, I stop to wipe a drop of rain from my cheek. Is a storm brewing? Perhaps, but the darkest clouds seem to be lurking near the horizon, leaving only an ominous mist between me and the chapel atop the craggy rocks of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe…”

This is my inner dialog as I walk down the hill. No, I’m not reading a script from Game of Thrones, but San Juan de Gaztelugatxe serves as a backdrop for some of season seven.

I understand why though. The place feels dramatic like that. No travel in Basque country would be complete without a visit.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is about an hour northeast from Bilbao. Travel in the Basque country is best by car and makes this somewhat remote little island in the Atlantic much easier to access.

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Follow the signs to the parking lot at the top of the hill. From here you hike to the bottom (about one kilometer) and then take the 241 steps to the peak of this bizarre and seemingly magical outcropping. That’s a church at the top, but for Game of Thrones, I’m sure that it will be somewhere more foreboding.




TRAVEL IN BASQUE COUNTRY: SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE

The view from the top is impressive, but that’s not what most Basque people go here for. Instead, they’ve come to ring the bell of the church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Aside from an increasing number of Game of Thrones fans, the church bell is the main attraction. Apparently, some Spanish people believe that if you ring it three times then you can make a wish. It seems most people wished for a selfie.

The church is dedicated to John the Baptist, but it has a real nautical theme going on as well, don’t you think? Fishing is the life’s blood of many parts of the Basque country, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that people come here in hopes of calmer seas.

SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE: TRAVEL TIPS

Plan to Walk and/or Hike

When you travel in Basque country, not everything is accessible by car. There are various parts of the year when you can’t park at the bridge near the entrance. Instead, you park at the top of the hill and then walk down a trail to the entrance.

Watch Your Step / No Strollers Work

The trail can be steep and a little slippery in some places when wet. Some parts have steps, some parts don’t. That said, we saw people of all ages walking the trail — most kids and the elderly can handle the path. And it’s a nice walk, with beautiful views of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe along the way as you get closer. Strollers, however, are out of the question.

Down and Back up Again

After a one kilometer hike from the top of the hill to the bridge, you then have to climb the stairs to the church. The path from the stone bridge over the water to the top of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is 241 steps.

Prepare for Rain

Travel in Basque country usually involves rain. Carry an umbrella or a poncho, especially if you have a camera on you. Don’t get stuck in the rain with electronics. I try to always carry a grocery bag (for the camera) and a small ziplock bag (for my phone) any time that I know I’ll be at risk of getting rained on.

Watch Your Hat

Travel in Basque country can also involve strong winds, especially along the coast. If your hat blows off from the stairs of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, there’s a good chance you won’t see it again.

Check out all of our SPAIN WITH KIDS tips.

WHERE TO EAT IN SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE

In this area of the Basque region, we didn’t see a lot of restaurants. Fortunately, we saw two options available here. When we were at the top of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, beer, water, and sausages were on sale next to the chapel. Of course, we were there during high season, so I can’t guarantee they will be there when you visit.

Instead, we chose to eat near the trail back near the parking lot. Our stomachs were growling once we returned to the car, so we walked about 50 meters from where we parked to Eneperi, a Basque-style restaurant. Apparently, there’s more of a fine-dining feel indoors, but like most people, we chose to sit in the outdoor area overlooking the Bay of Biscay.

We ordered a whole chicken and a mixed salad and that was plenty for the four of us (bread was included). Total price: about 18 euros.




GAME OF THRONES & TRAVEL IN BASQUE COUNTRY

I’m glad we were able to see this part of the Basque region during this Spain road trip now. It will only get more crowded. Apparently, Game of Thrones tourism is booming, especially in places like Granada and Seville. I’m sure that San Juan de Gaztelugatxe will soon be added to the list. TV show or not, it is an incredibly cinematic place to visit.

Check out all of our SPAIN WITH KIDS tips.

Travel in Basque Country - San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: Spain Road Trip

Travel in Basque Country - San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: Spain Road Trip

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