The island of Gaztelugatxe is located in the Spanish Basque Country region, about a 45-minute drive from, Bilbao. It takes its name from the Basque “gaztelu” which means castle and “aitz” which means rock. It is a superb place for a stroll, and to admire a breathtaking panorama on the coast of the Basque Country.
History of the island
The only building in Gaztelugatxe is a small chapel, or hermitage dedicated to Saint John the Baptist (San Juan de Gaztelugatxe), which sits at the top of the island. It was built for the first time in the 9th century, but has experienced several fires and reconstructions over the centuries. In 1978 in particular, it was destroyed by fire.
This hermitage was a strategic place for the resistance led in the 14th century by the lord of Biscay against Alphonse XI, king of Castile.
At the end of the 16th century, Sir Francis Drake came to the island and pillaged the chapel.
More recently, you could see the island of Gaztelugatxe in Game of Thrones where it represents Dragonstone, home of the Targaryens. The chapel was digitally replaced by a huge fortress for the needs of the series.
What is there to see at Gaztelugatxe?
Gaztelugatxe is a wild place with its steep rocks and the raging sea that surrounds the island. You will reach it by climbing the 241 steps of the stone bridge that connects the island to the mainland. Onyour way, you can take several breaks to take photos and admire the view. It is said that after finishing the climb, you must ring the bell at the top and make a wish. You can also picnic on site in front of this superb panorama.
Celebrations are regularly held at Gaztelugatxe:
Saint John on June 24: a pilgrimage to Gaztelugatxe in honor of this saint
The Feasts of Saint Ignatius of Loyola on July 31: a pilgrimage takes place between the village of Arrieta and Gaztelugatxe
The festivals dedicated to San Juan Degollado on August 29: the pilgrimage leaves from Bakio
- Saint John on June 24: a pilgrimage to Gaztelugatxe in honor of this saint
- The Feasts of Saint Ignatius of Loyola on July 31: a pilgrimage takes place between the village of Arrieta and Gaztelugatxe
- The festivals dedicated to San Juan Degollado on August 29: the pilgrimage leaves from Bakio
Local fishermen are also used to go to or around the island so that the saint can bring them luck and success in their activity. The chapel also houses votive offerings, which can take the form of models or paintings of boats offered by sailors to thank Saint John.
What should you know before visiting Gaztelugatxe?
The site is very well known and depending on the season there can be a lot of people. I advise you to go there early enough to avoid the crowds.
Do I have to buy a ticket to visit Gaztelugatxe?
Access to the site is free, but on certain days starting in March and then throughout June, July and August, you will still need to take a ticket to get there.
Before going, remember to make your reservation on the official Gaztelugatxe website. It is possible to take a ticket on site but you will wait less by taking it in advance.
How to get to Gaztelugatxe?
By bus: from Bilbao, Bakio or Bermeo, you can easily go by bus to Gaztelugatxe. To do so, take the A3517 line from Bizkaibus.
By car: From Bilbao, you will follow the BI-631 road first and then the BI-2101 from Mungia. From Bakio, the road to Gaztelugatxe is signposted.