A Day Trip to the Real Dragonstone: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Attention, Game of Thrones fans! This off the beaten path destination in the Basque Country in Northern Spain should be on your list of must-see places in Europe.
Our friends from Watchers on the Wall have reportedly seen Daenerys, Jon Snow, Varys, and Missandei together in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a stunning place off the Basque coast that served as the Game of Thrones film set for Season 7.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (literally castle on the rock from Euskera's gaztelu, castle, and -aitz, rock), is a beautiful islet surrounded by magnificent cliffs, flysch formations, deep blue waters, crashing waves, and a rock stairway that connects it to the mainland. It's no wonder why it has been chosen as one of the film sets for Game of Thrones. Rumor has it that it San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is Westeros's Dragonstone.
Beyond Game of Thrones, this charming place historically served as an important fortress in battles and against pirate attacks. The community of local tuna fishermen also highly regard this place, seeking out St. John's (San Juan) blessing for good weather and protection before setting out to sea.
The San Juan de Gaztelugatxe route starts in one of two points. If you're going by bus from Bilbao, take the green A3518 Bizkaibus from Plaza Moyua (in front of Barclays Bank) or from San Pio X Plaza near the University of Deusto. It leaves every hour from 6:30 AM to 9:30 PM on weekdays and Saturdays, and runs every two hours from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM on Sundays and holidays.
Get off at the last bus stop in the town of Bakio. Head towards the direction of the coast and you'll soon see a marked path leading you to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
If you're going by car, take the BI-631 motorway and park close to the main road. It takes approximately 45 minutes from Bilbao and 2 hours from San Sebastian. You'll see this sign on a street close to the parking, where the route starts.
*2019 update: Due to the influx of tourists, they have since opened an alternate path that can be accessed close to this spot. You can either follow the throngs of people headed there or simply ask around.
It took us 1 1/2 hours to reach the top from the town of Bakio, but we took our sweet time and stopped frequently for a water break. I'd say that the hike's difficulty moderate, going through steep upward and downward slopes. However, seasoned walkers might find it fairly easy.
If you're coming by car and manage to park near the main road, walking the whole way up will take you less than half of the time. Some meters after passing by the sign pictured above, you'll be lead to a 1-km dirt road that goes downhill. Throughout this part of the route, you'll be able to enjoy stunning open sea views.
When you reach the foot of the path, you'll soon have to cross the rock stairway leading up to the hermitage. It takes exactly 241 steps to reach the top. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and adequate traction - a good pair of trainers should do just fine. Bring water and snacks so you can stop and have a bite at the top while enjoying San Juan de Gaztelugatxe's amazing views. If you're up for it, ring the church's bell three times for good luck!
The church's closed to the public for the most part of the year, but they do hold masses on the 24th of June (when the biggest pilgrimage takes place to celebrate the feast of San Juan, or St. John), 31st of July (feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who's from the Basque Country himself), 29th of August (feast of San Juan Degollado), and 30th of December.
To go back to Bilbao, take the same Bizkaibus (A3518) from where you got off, which runs every hour from 6:25AM to 9:25PM on weekdays and Saturdays and every 2 hours between 9:10AM and 9:10PM on Sundays and holidays.
Where to Stay: Bilbao Accommodations
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe can be a great day trip while you spend some days in Bilbao, the capital of the province of Bizkaia. I highly recommend staying at Casco Viejo, or the Old Quarter, to really savour the local flair. Here are our top picks for accommodations:
Iturrienea Ostatua. This charming pension house will surely catch your attention with its beautiful white and blue palette. It is located in a historic building in the very heart of the city and will surely make for an unforgettable and comfortable stay. Reviews | Book here
Old Town by Bilbao Living. This charming three-bedroom apartment is perfect for families and bigger groups. For guests with private vehicles, you can also arrange for paid parking nearby. Book here
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. For more information, check out my Affiliate Disclosure.
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