Trekking from the town of Bakio to the beautiful hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

We have to check out this place San Juan de  … when I come visit,” my mom eagerly told me butchering the name in her attempt to pronounce a word so foreign, . “I’ve been having fun pinning photos and making a Spain album on pinterest.”  Oh No, I thought. My mom is becoming more social media savvy than me. (See below for her very own version of the story)

The majestic San Juan..

The majestic San Juan..

I had to admit, the pictures were stunning. Out of this world. If it was within Basque Country, we were going to find a way to grace the sight with our presence one way or another. I was glad my mom was researching all the places she wanted to visit and how to do it. I like to check out new places but I’m not one for hours of research. I’m a more spontaneous type of traveler and I was already seeing our personalities and travel styles collide, or rather seeing a balance between us. Plenty of blogs highlighted this amazing place but almost every traveler had arrived by car. Rental car be damned. I wasn’t about to try my manual driving skills in Europe, let alone rainy Basque Country. Before I could mutter the words to my mom, she replied. “Nope, I’m not driving in Spain.”

Well that was that. We were going to find a way to get their by public transport or be damned, which meant we were going to find a way to do it even if it meant threatening hitch hiking to my mother. 

Bilbao

Playing with perspective in Bilbao

Playing with perspective in Bilbao

My mom’s first few days in the country, were spent eating and roaming the old quarter of Bilbao. Her first full day we spent an unexpected almost full day in and around the Guggenheim taking in the architecture, enjoying a delicious lunch from the museum café as we soaked up the sun while a violinist unknowingly serenaded us from below. This is the good life. As we made our way slowly back to our hotel, we happened upon a tourist info office and I impulsively walked in. My experience at tourism offices  in other regions of Spain haven’t always been so helpful but I figured, at least I could walk away with a glossy brochure. Instead I was welcomed with eager Basques employees offering to hand out lots of brochures and magazines and when I inquired about our planned destination without a car they didn’t blink. Why yes, you’ll want to catch this bus from this stop in downtown Bilbao. Buses leave every hour to Bakio except Sundays, which is every 2 hours. There are taxi’s you can call once you arrive to take you to the parking area to begin your trek or you can walk…

We walked out of there re-planning our scheduled day. Tomorrow is Sunday. No sense in having a 2 hour wait around buses.

The lime green bus from Bilbao to Bakio

The lime green bus from Bilbao to Bakio

Monday morning the alarm sounded and I cursed the air wanting a few more minutes of shut eye. No sleep for the wicked or rather for the traveler whose enticed her mom to come visit and we’re going to see and do everything because we can! We slowly got ready and made our way out the door but not more than 10 steps had been taken and my mom was returning for another scarf. We made our way outside and the sunny weather had us questioning if we over dressed or under dressed and when the wind picked up, my mom nearly turned in for a second time for another layer of protection against the elements. We glanced at our watch knowing time wasn’t on our side for a relaxed Basque style breakfast. “Let’s check the bus stop so we know exactly where we need to go.” I chatted with the bus driver who politely told me, your bus is arriving in 25 minutes.

Perfect. We ran back to the nearest café and I ordered 2 café con leches y 2 tortilla de patatas, quickly but calmly inhaled our breakfast and ran back to the bus stop where our bus had just pulled in and passengers were boarding.

Nicely done, I said to my mom.

We were soon on our way to the beach town of Bakio as the rain splattered our windows and with the gloomy sky set to stay for a long while. We were the only passengers to hop of the bus at the end of the line to a sleepy town where more apartments were locked up for the winter than locals seem to live there year round.

I said hello to the beautiful sheep

I said hello to the beautiful sheep

We walked a bit. I had inadvertently left my phone at home thinking I didn’t need it, Who was I going to call? until I realized the lady at the tourism office suggested we call a taxi upon arrival. Oops.

It was clear the direction we needed to go and we set off on the path, ocean on one side, sheep on the other and not a soul in sight. So much for my idea of sticking my thumb out to get to the base of San Juan. We walked and talked, huffed and puffed enjoying the vistas of this side of the world. We saw a few other walkers and a sign alerted us we walking in the right direction. The rain had subsided.

We're going the right way to San Juan

We’re going the right way to San Juan

on the way to San Juan

on the way to San Juan

We reached the base of San Juan about 45 minutes later and I chuckled that the restaurant we had heard of and figured we’d try for lunch was closed. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Why of course. Thank goodness we had already eaten.

We wandered down, admired caterpillars and I stopped every 10 steps to capture some hidden flowers until making it to the base of the steps.

Holy Moly, check out the caterpillars. Don't touch, they're prickly

Holy Moly, check out the caterpillars. Don’t touch, they’re prickly

A little history:

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe ( Gaz- teh-loo-got-che) is a hermitage dating to the 10th century in honors John the Baptist. The amount of stairs you have to trek up are debated but some quote 237 steps. The church has caught fire a few times and has been repaired. It’s occasionally open to the  public but the tradition is when you reach the top, ring the bell three times and make a wish.

Ring the bell 3x and make a wish at San Juan

Ring the bell 3x and make a wish at San Juan

Photo Essay:

Stunning coast at the base of San Juan

Stunning coast at the base of San Juan

Drinking Fountain at San Juan

Drinking Fountain at San Juan

Walking up the numerous steps to San Juan

Walking up the numerous steps to San Juan

Another perspective of walking to San Juan

Another perspective of walking to San Juan

Beautiful view from above San Juan

Beautiful view from above San Juan

Tiles on the ground at San  Juan

Tiles on the ground at San Juan

My mom and I at San Juan

My mom and I at San Juan

My favorite photo at San Juan

My favorite photo at San Juan

We were content to admire the view from above, taking numerous photos, taking refuge briefly in the covered area where hikers were enjoying a picnic and young folks were carrying coolers, sleeping bags and cases of beer. It appeared they would be calling this hermitage home for the evening. After snapping our hearts content in photos we blew kisses to the wind and made our trek down, forgetting to count the amount of stairs, lost in the beauty of this magical place. I focused on just where we were going to eat, knowing the clock was against us and we still had a bit of a hike back to the sleepy town of Bakio.

Walking back to Bakio before the rain came

Walking back to Bakio before the rain came

We were in luck and found a place willing to serve us, despite arriving closer to closing time. We enjoyed the comfort of shelter and delicious food to nourish our bodies as the rain began to fall. We are in Basque Country after all, where gray skies and rain are the norm. 

How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao by bus: Take bus A3518 from Plaza Moyua. This is a central stop for buses and the metro.  Cost is 2.45 euros each way. Make sure when you arrive in Bakio to check bus departures for your return to Bilbao as they’re only every hour. Check  Bizkaibus or here for more bus information.

READ my mom’s account of our trek on her blog:

https://jumpwritein.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/getting-to-san-juan-de-gaztelugatxe-mother-daughter-adventures/

Have you been to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe or want to go? Would you trek, like we did, if you didn’t have a car?

What’s your favorite photo?

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12 thoughts on “Trekking from the town of Bakio to the beautiful hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

  1. I’m from Bilbao but currently living in Indonesia. So glad to read your lines and be able to enjoy a foreign perspective of my dear Basque Country. You have wisely described the magic of this outstanding place. Eskerrik asko for writing about it. Cheers from Jakarta

  2. Great article! This is one of the big things on my list that I never hit in Bilbao! I too prefer public transportation, and had a similar crazy day planned to walk from Bakio, and then continue to Mugarra! But I have an abnormal love for long walks. Glad you and your Mom had such a great experience!

    • Ah thanks Sam! And you were closer than me living in Bilbao but I know how it goes… it’s not always as simple in the moment.
      If it wasn’t for my mom visiting, I’m not sure I would have made it to this beautiful place! I’ll have to write you about your Camino!

    • It’s certainly worth it despite it being a bit of a trek (if you don’t have a car)! When the time is right, you’ll make it there Cat!

  3. YES!! I do it every year. It is always wonderful to hear when someone writes a good review on San Juan. There is still more to the traditions that goes along with this hike. Very brave you took the old road instead of the newer road. Did you hike back up the same way?

    • HI Lucy,
      thanks for stopping by my blog and saying hello. I would love to know more about the traditions of the hike. Is that why you go every year? Yup, we took the same hike back. I thought we may be able to get a ride from other folks who had driven there but no such luck. Plus, walking is always good.

  4. Oh San Juan!!!!!! Your wonderful photos tell the whole story. That was definitely one of my favorite days of our trip. I will always remember what an adventure it was and how beautiful and exotic the vistas were. Thanks again, little missy, if it weren’t for you I would have never seen San Juan. Can’t wait for our next trip.

    • Thanks for the compliment! Thanks to you, I had an opportunity to visit. I’m not sure I would have gone out of my to go, despite it being on my list! I’m excited for our next trip… where will we go next?!

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