After two and a half days of mountain peaks and lush, green surroundings, it was time to leave Picos de Europa and all its beauty behind us and head north to the coast.
The next part of our roadtrip through the north of Spain would be focusing on the coastline of Biscay and Basque Country. From big cities such as Bilbao and San Sebastian – which I will give their own post – to lesser known names like San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Bonus points for those that can pronounce this!) and Ondarroa. It promised to be quite a varied program but with the main theme of the sea!
I know Santander is technically still in the province of Cantabria, but it’s often added to the itinerary of Biscay – just like we did – so I didn’t want to leave this city out of my overview. Not that there is much to say about this place. It is the capital of Cantabria and quite a big city, but it didn’t really appeal to me. That may be due to the bad weather we had while visiting, but still there aren’t that many sights to scratch off the bucket list. Bummer.
Santander seems mostly known for its beaches, but as mentioned before we didn’t really have beach-type weather at the time of our visit nor are we really beach-type people. We did stroll along the large boulevard to the harbor which was pretty nice, even under a cover of clouds. We returned through the center, admiring some buildings and churches, but nothing that really managed to capture our attention. It was a quick visit, I’m glad we stopped, but I probably won’t visit this city again. Sorry, Santander!
After an evening and morning in Bilbao (more on that soon), we set sail again along the coast and stopped in Armintza for lunch. This small fishing village was the perfect place for it. It’s a really small village, but with a lovely harbor and amazing cliffs to admire. The sun even made an effort to show herself as we were watching the waves crash against the quay. Peace and bliss!
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
One of the places I was most excited about was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. A mouthfull and a bitch to spell, but mostly a very interesting place. It’s a church on an islet on the coast which you can only reach by a small man-made bridge.
Gaztelugatxe became a popular destination ever since it served as a location for Game of Thrones’ ‘Dragonstone’ in Season 7. Because of its rise in fame, only a limited amount of people are allowed to cross the bridge each day. Unfortunately we were too late to book our tickets, so that meant no visit for us. With our unplanned itinerary not all that bad as that also meant we didn’t have to be there at a certain day and time. But we figured we could still go and check out the view on the island.
When we arrived however, the gates on top were wide open and no tickets were being checked. So we cautiously descended the many stairs towards the coastline in hopes of maybe still being able to cross the bridge. Low season perhaps? But no, only a few hundred meters from the bridge we were met by a big fence. The end. There had been a major rock slide which prevented people from visiting this place of worship. Bummer!
But the view from there was already really nice. I’m even guessing that we, ticketless people, were lucky to get closer to the site thanks to the rock slide than we would have been if the site was open for visitors. So I can’t find it in myself to complain.
Next up; Bermeo! The most important fishing port in Basque Country. With that info we figured it might be worth a stop.
We found a parking spot close to the port of this town and were immediately greeted with the beautiful, colorful houses of the old port just around the bend. An amazing view that sort of reminded me of the villages of Cinque Terre or even Saint-Tropez. And again the sun had perfect timing and showed herself the minute we got out of the car. A small miracle!
We didn’t venture much into the town itself as we figured there wouldn’t be much new about it. And all roads into town seemed pretty steep. Too steep for our lazy asses. Oops. Also we still wanted to cover a bit of road that day and were already pleased with the views we’d gotten in the harbor.
A hotel on the cliff next to the beach for next to no money? Sign us up! And that’s why we spent the night in the town of Ondarroa. As we were walking down the stairs towards the center, it looked like such a promising place, but once down it sort of disappointed a bit. There weren’t that many restaurants and there didn’t seem to be much going on.
We wandered a bit around, did find a pretty amazing church situated on top of a big rock and then eventually ended up having a simple but tasty meal in Taberna Alai. So in the end, all was well. And in the morning, right before departure, we got a gorgeous sunrise on the beach to start the day. Yeah, all was well.
Our last minor stop along the coast of Basque Country was the Jaizkibel. A mountain range that is included in the Clasica San Sebastian each year, twice even. Even though we had our bikes in the trunk of the car, we made the smart decision to leave them there and go to the top by car. About halfway up the road, it became really narrow so we left the car off the road next to some campers and hiked the rest of the way.
At the top, you have an a-ma-zing view on San Sebastian on one side and the Spanish/French border in Hondarribia on the other side. If it wasn’t for the name ringing a bell because we’re both cycling lovers, we wouldn’t have added this to our itinerary and missed out on it. So if you have some extra time, make sure to visit this place!
And that was it for our coastal stops in beautiful Biscay and Basque Country. It was time to drive inland again, towards the Pyrenees! But not before I’ve also given you some information on our biggest stops along the coast; Bilbao en San Sebastian. More to look forward to, then!