SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE : A MYTHICAL CHAPEL

A visit to the Basque Country in Spain is not complete without a visit to the mythical San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a chapel dedicated to San Juan,   is a small chapel nestled on top of a rocky island between the villages of Bakio and Bermeo and was dated as early as 9th century. Its location and the views it offers make it spectacular as well as mythical. The chapel could be reached by climbing winding footpath made up of 231 stone-covered steps and then ringing the bell 3 times to chase evil spirits.

We were here already last year during our first great winter escape to the south. But unfortunately, the bridge that connects the rocky island to the shore was being constructed. We could then go as far as the Mirador or viewpoint to take some pictures. But then , we have promised to come back here if we take an identical route the next time. And yes, we did come back!

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Guide found at the beginning of the hike

STOPOVER IN LEKEITIO

Saturday, November 7, 2015…after staying five wonderful days in one of our favourite Spanish villages, Zumaia, we drove in the direction of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. We were first doubting what road to take, as the most logical way is to follow the route along the coast. But based on experience, it was a long and winding road, driving through cliffs and mountains. The other alternative was to drive to the highway which is longer but faster and also tooway. In the end, we decided to take the coastal route. We made a short stop to a fishing village called Lekeitio with an intention of drinking some coffee. Lekeitio has a special designated parking areas for RVs but when we came there, it was really full and looked like the Rvs were parked on top of each other. There was almost no room to move or maneouver. The parking for normal cars was half-empty so we decided to park there. At that time there were 2 other RVs parked where we parked. We had some coffee, afterwards walked on to the village. The village was charming and the tourist personnel was very enthusiast in providing information about the place that we thought we could stay here for a couple of days. We did a long stroll around the village, walking to the long pier and having a wonderful view of the beach and the small island which faces the harbour. We even walked up to the lighthouse.

However, we were strongly disappointed and even pissed off, when upon returning to the RV, we found a note with a fine of 80 euros for us! Reason : we parked in a place where vehicles longer than 5 meters are not allowed to park! And we saw that te other Rvs had also the same fine on their vehicle windows. We found that the local police should have been more tolerant in the situation considering that the area for RVs was full! Where would we park then? Along the street? Or better yet, just drive away? Now, because of this happening, we decided to just leave that very moment and continue our trip to San Juan. We arrived in San Juan at about 17.30 in the afternoon and the big parking area was still full. We were able to find a suitable parking for D’Traveller on the second level of the parking area. Because it was already late, we decided to climb to the  the chapel the next day.

CLIMBING THE MYTHICAL SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE

It was cloudy and the wind was a bit hard the following morning when we awoke. It looked like a storm was coming. But after a while, the sun slowly showed its radiance and the wind has been pacified. Time to do the climb. It was 9.30 when we started the climb. From the parking area is just about 30 meters for the starting point of the hike. It is 1.3 kilometers long which would take at least 30 minutes. The first part of the path was concrete, until at 200 meters, there is choice to go to the viewpoint (100 meters) or to the chapel (1.1 km). From here, we had to climb down on dirt road with wooden railings. It was fortunately dry, otherwise the path could be muddy. The path was now a bit winding, every time we had the view of the island near to the chapel, the island of Aketxe. After about 200 meters descent, we caught sight of San Juan.

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Our first complete sight of San Juan

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Fellow hikers going up to the chapel

The road which is concrete is new. From there, we walked up to the start of the long winding footpath to the top. It was quite long before we reached the first of the 231 steps. The path is quite narrow; it was a good thing we started early, then it was still not busy. We could climb at our own tempo, stop whenever we like and take pictures undisturbed. There were 14 metal cross images found at selected points of the long footpath. It was quite tiring to reach the top; although there are some railings where you can every now and then hold on to, the path was quite steep.

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Hans, treading the 231 steps

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Arriving at the chapel

Anyway, the last step was made, and we finally arrived at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Hans and I rang the chapel bell. I was too enthusiast, I rang it 13 times instead of 3 times! Ha ha the evil spirits would not dare to come near me again! The chapel is modest but durable. It was recently renovate after it was destroyed in 1978. Unfortunately, it was closed when we were up there. We could however take a peep at one of the glass windows. The view from the top was amazing! From afar we could see the nearby village of Bakio. The island Aketxe is also good to be seen. And of course, the wide unending Cantabrian Sea. No wonder it is one of Basque Coast’s most photographed spots!

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Going down is a lot easier…

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Our customary picture together, at the Mirador

It was becoming busy with other climbers by the time we were getting down. We went to the viewpoint to admire the place one more time and absorb its natural beauty, wondering when we will see this again. Happy that we have fulfilled our promise to come back; satisfied of what we have seen and experienced; but at the same time sad that we had to leave so soon…after our one and a half climbing experience to san Juan de Gaztelugatxe, we said goodbye. It was time to hit the road again.

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