This beautiful island located in Vizcaya is called “rock castle” or “Rocadragón fortress”. The first denomination is due to the real name, translated. In Basque, “gaztelu” means castle and “aitz” means rock. The second name, by which you probably already know this site, is the one that received the place in its appearance in the seventh season of the Game of Thrones series. Today we show you the places of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
It is an island perched on the sea, erected on a rocky complex of large dimensions. It is full of impressive contrasting colours: the green of the moss, the grey of the stones and, of course, the white of the foam of the waves that hit the island. If you want to know what it feels like to be a prince or a princess, if you want to travel back in time to medieval times: join us.
Give us your hand…
Close your eyes and try to feel the sound of the waves breaking against the rocks and then the slight descent from the foam, listen to the seagulls, try to smell the impregnated salt year after year… This is what you are going to feel as soon as you step on the entrance to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. And how could you not feel that you are traveling to another era if this environment envelops you?
When you leave your car, you will have about an hour of travel (to go and back) so we recommend that you relax and enjoy this short experience, but extremely magical. From the mainland, you’ll find a two-arch stone bridge built by man. Behind it, you will immediately see a narrow 241-step corridor that runs in a zigzag direction from one side to the other. You must follow this path to reach the island, where you will see a chapel with a bell in the fronton. Legend has it that if you ring the bell three times and then make a wish, it will be fulfilled.
The church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
This church is not the original because it has had to be rebuilt several times because of battles and fires. The first one was built in the 9th century and three centuries later it became a convent. In the 14th century, the friars who lived there decided to leave the site and take all the valuable objects with them.
Later, in the Middle Ages, it was used for its strategic positioning to protect “El señorío de Vizcaya” by Alfonso XI. When this battle was finally won, many years passed but epic events continued to happen. On the one hand, corsairs and pirates took over the island, throwing the warden of this hermitage into the sea. On the other hand, the Inquisition conducted witch hunts in this area and is said to have locked these women in the caves of Gaztelugatxe.
Finally the church was demolished and rebuilt in 1886, but several fires destroyed it. In 1980 the building we see today was built. Unfortunately, all the valuables that were inside at that time were thrown into the sea. Legend has it that St. John the Baptist visited her and reached her with only three strides. You can see one at the Arco de San Juan in Bermeo and the last one on the steps of the stairs leading to the hermitage.
Other important data of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
One thing to keep in mind is that the visit is completely free, but due to the massiveness of people who come here since the recording of Game of Thrones has established a method. You have to get tickets to do the tour. In addition, if you pass through here we want to recommend another very special stop that we are sure will complement your trip to perfection.
This is Urdabai, a natural area declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984. At its epicentre you will find the river Oka, which has its source on Mount Oiz. With its spectacular marshes of immeasurable beauty you will be fascinated. You can also visit the great variety of birds that live here: osprey, spatula, bittern … For this you can count on visiting the Urdabai Bird Center. In addition, this site has several paradisiacal beaches, viewpoints, islands and outcrops and, of course, monuments. This little village and others like Elatxobe or Mundaka are really places where you should stop to get to know and enjoy.
Characterized by its history of corsairs, pirates, treasures, caves and even cave paintings, magical forests are places where magic absorbs you completely and allows you that journey you are carrying out is a complete clearance. Getting out of reality and immersing oneself in history, allowing oneself to be fascinated are moments of value that the heart never forgets and the mind appreciates. We strongly encourage you to visit these wonderful villages. You can also visit the medieval towns of Gernika and Gerrikaitz, which, in addition to being part of Spanish history and art, is home to many stories of pilgrims on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela.