Gaztelugatxe: small island, striking beauty

If you’re exploring the north of Spain by car, here’s a tip: go to Gaztelugatxe, on the coastal route between San Sebastian and Bilbao. The tiny peninsula will no doubt leave a big impression on you, thanks to the impressive combination of stone steps zigzagging upward and dramatically shaped rocks, silhouetted against the soothing pastel colors of the sky and ocean.

Gaztelugatxe is neatly hidden along the Basque Coast, just offshore the Bay of Biscay. From the road it’s hard to spot the islet and even from the parking area (about 40 minutes walking distance from the islet) there’s too much trees to have a clear view. It’s all the more impressive to finally see it as you start descending the hill and get to the first viewing point. After that, you continue walking down until you come across a stone bridge. From there, 230 steps will lead you to the top of the peninsula.


Gaztelugatxe on the left, Akatxa Irla on the right.
The view from the pathway


Gaztelugatxe is Basque for ‘castle rock’, though the building on top of the islet isn’t a castle, but a small church dedicated to John the Baptist: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Or at least a replica of it, because the church was destroyed and rebuilt several times.


Akatxa Irla

On ‘normal’ days, we were told that a lot of runners go up and down the stairs as a form of exercise, but when we were there the walking path to the islet was closed due to construction works. We went ahead anyway long with a few other Spanish tourists, just to get a closer look and have a clean shot… The stairs are like a miniature version of the Great Wall of China!




Underneath the bridge
Underneath the stone place you’ll see dozens of texts and photos to commemorate lost loved ones.




  • Wow… incredible place!!!

    Looks like straight out of an animation movie.

    You have composed the images beautifully and you rightly said about the miniature version of the great wall of china, even I felt the same 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

  • This is fantastic. Maybe a stupid question, but did you happen to catch what rock it’s made of?

  • Never heard of this place, but it looks amazing!