Usually, when we think about breathtaking landscapes, we tend to consider faraway places. Nevertheless, we can enjoy wonderful places closer than we actually think. In our case, we feel lucky for belonging to this beautiful northern land, the Basque Country.
When we are asked about one amazing place to visit here, we always have doubts… It´s so difficult to pick just one! But we have to confess that San Juan de Gaztelugatxe comes to our minds every time. Besides, this can be one of the best places to eat surrounded by nature.
It is said that Juan de Gaztelugatxe (“castle in the rock”) that was a monastery, then a fortress stormed by pirates and finally, a hermitage, the appearance that shows currently. That imposing silhouette, that rock, is the most photographed sites around the area. On the other hand, it´s true that it´s unavoidably becoming a well-known tourist spot but if you choose the correct time to visit it, it will welcome you with arms wide open, as if you were the only soul on earth.
Our walk begins in the car park of this natural and architectonic sight halfway between Bermeo and Bakio, where we have arrived by car. There is another access (first gravel, then soil path) next to the superb Eneperi restaurant where you can park and start your walk. But we choose the asphalt road because it´s less busy. It´s 8:15 a.m, still dark, and the temperature is unusually mild. Against all odds, it´s been a warn winter so we´ve decided to make the most of it.
We descend for over 20 minutes until we reach the base of the rock. In our way down, we enjoy the views almost at every step we take: the colors of the winter, the different silhouettes of the site… When we finish going down, we start climbing the stairs. Although traditionally, it has been said that there are as many as days in the year, 365, the truth is that nowadays it is said to be 241, which is no small thing. It is quite tough at times but – oh god – it is worth more than enough.
Once up there, we feel breathless but blessed for having the place and the views for the two of us, we fall in love with it again. It is tradition to ring the bell three times as a sign of the effort made. According to other accounts, after ringing the bell you have to make a wish or to ask the bad spirits to chase away.
At last, the sun baths the hermitage completely and, as every time we go, we close our eyes, feel the breeze and listen to the sea. That’s when you understand why San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has been designated one (in fact, the winner) of the “Spain´s 7 wonders of the natural world”. As if being there wasn´t enough, the views are astonishing. On the one side, we can pinpoint the village of Bakio and them the rest of the coast. On the other side, the beautiful and proud Aketxe crag, another landmark in this wonderful natural site.
We unpack. As the temperature is very pleasant we don´t need to use the little shelter next to the hermitage. Pablo makes an early Forestia meal while María glance over a book.
In the return ascent, we get our breath back just to be out of it again because of the magnificent views. Luckily, we find some benches all along the slope to rest a bit.
After lots of visits to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, we have reached the conclusion that a winter sunrise is the best time to visit it if you don´t want to find another visitor in your way, despite dusk is one very outstanding moment to be there. So you can extend your visit until the sun goes down if you want to witness a magical twilight, if the northern clouds let you, of course.