Saturday, 15 October 2016

A little touch of Bavaria in the Basque Country

On the way to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, something on the side of the road caught our attention. Something was definitely sticking out from the forest. Over the treetops. Something that could have been a castle. It looked amazing and got us intrigued. We knew we were going to stop there on the way back.

We found it quite easily, though there were no signs, no directions given. It was strange. Such an amazing building. Definitely looking historic. And no signs? No name? Nothing?

We could get to the entrance door, but not inside. There was just a small sign saying that it's a private property. We were kind of disappointed. We had a walk around the castle, took a gazillion of pictures and drove back to our campsite.

When we already got back home from our #Eurotrip2016, I just couldn't stop thinking about this castle. It looked like somebody was taking care of it, renovating it, yet the building wasn't used for anything. No one was living there, it wasn't a hotel or a restaurant. It was deserted. Just standing there, in the beautiful surroundings. And it seemed strange. We may like it or hate it, but usually historic buildings in good shape are either turned into a museum, a hotel, a restaurant or something else. And this one - nothing.

That's why it got me search for further information. And no guide book gave any. Uncle google (with his maps, yet again) usually come in handy in such cases, though.

The castle is named Castillo de Butrón. It is one of the most interesting and original castles in Spain. Unlike majority of Spanish castles, its history is in no way related to the Reconquista i.e. the medieval battles between Christians and Muslims. It is also not as functional as castles in Castille. Architecturally, it's much closer related to the Bavarian fairy tale castles. Also, as I've already mentioned, it's a private property.

Located in Gatica, in the Basque province of Vizcaya, Castillo de Butrón was originally built as a defensive tower. During 300 years since its erection in 14th century, it was used to defend the Butrón family's properties during the fights of Basque nobelty. Since 16th century the tower was becoming more and more devastated.

What we can see today was actually built in 19th century. The modernisation of the castle at the end of the 19th century made it more similar to the Bavarian castles. That was when cylindric towers and tiny bastilles were added to the tower. Its today's role is purely decorative, not residential or defensive.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The unpronouncable name of San Juan de... what??

When we were organising our #Eurotrip2016, we had nothing planned for sure. We didn't know where and when exactly we were going to get. We didn't book any campsites (which caused a little bit of trouble sometimes), we bought no entrance tickets. In the general idea of our trip, we had a few places we wanted to see and around them I drew a draft plan of our trip. We had just a few places we wanted to see on our way (like six or seven), a few more that would be nice to visit if we manage to, so out of three weeks on the road, is wasn't much. And the one I'll describe in a moment, definitely was one of the few.

I came across it totally by accident. I can't even remember where I read about it first, but it was like a year ago. And I sure knew I wanted to see it. Obviously, I totally forgot its unpronouncable name (and forgot to jot it down, too). When we finally decided to head to Spain, I started searching for it again. I knew it was somewhere on the northern coast of Spain. I kind of associated it with Bilbao, but wasn't sure. I had a picture of it in mind, but there's no search engine (yet) that can read my mind. Or anybody else's. Or is there...? Imagine this (and no, it's not a joke): I spent two hours scanning google maps (I was really desperate!) and searching with any keywords that got to my mind. Finally, I found it (yay for Earth view on google maps). I immediately wrote down the name (yup, still unpronouncable) and, to make sure I have it somewhere, I also e-mailed it to my husband. His reaction? "Please tell me we're going there". My reaction to his reaction? "No, honey, I'm just that bored to spend two hours searching for a place for the sake of searching...". Curtain.

Fast forward, and we're back on our campsite right off Bilbao.

In the morning, I went to the reception to ask for directions. I said (and I quote): "Could you tell me, please, how we can get to... I'm sorry, I can't pronounce it... San Juan de...". That was it. The lady behind the counter immediately knew what I was talking about and said the full name. In no way did it resemble the spelling of the word. Not to me, at least. And I still can't say it. I couldn't repeat it. I can spell it now, though ;)

She said we should drive to Bakio. There, we'd surely find further directions. We got to Bakio and found no further directions. We stopped for a minute right off the beach and simply asked for directions (the views were worth the stop!). It was no big deal, but we had to drive a few kilometres further. We finally got to the car park at the beginning of the trail.

It was much easier to find the car park than to find a free spo. Though we were lucky, again. Somebody was driving out right before us, so we took the freshly emptied spot. The car park was free of charge and totally full. We no longer had to worry about that, though.

We were soon on the trail to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. A small chapel on a tiny islandish rock sticking out of water, with a narrow strip of rocky path leading to it. The trails starts in a forest, so it's mostly shadowed at the beginning. It goes down and is realitevely steep and slippery at places. It's safer to leave flip flops and put on more adequate footwear.

Once you get out of the forest, it still leads down, but it's a bit flatter. Finally, you follow a road for a bit. It takes you to that rocky strip joining the islandish rock with the land. And then to the stairs taking you all the way up to the chapel. There's a toilet (horrible, dirty and stinky) both at the bottom of the stairs, as well as next to the chapel on top. There's also a place to fill up your water bottle. Remember to take a look both to your left and to your right, cause it is definitely worth it.

Once you feel you're ready to climb up the stairs in broad sunlight, you can set off. It's exhausting, especially on a hot, sunny day. The stairs are narrow, so passing by others isn't too comfortable. The climb is worth the effort, though. At least I didn't regret doing it.

The chapel itself is nothing spectacular. You can pull the string to ring the bell, if you like. And... that's basically it. (Oh, you can also smell that there's a toilet next to the chapel. To avoid it, remain on the other side of the chapel, away from its entrance).

But the views of the sea and the coast are amazing. And once there, simply focus on them.

We were just thrilled (some of us in particular ;)) when we realised that we have to get all the way back to the car. And from the chapel we could see what was awaiting us. Some of us especially couldn't wait to get back ;)

It wasn't as bad as it seemed, though. This time, the way up was partly shadowed, which made it a little bit easier to get to the top. And we already had some plans for the rest of the day that helped us keep going, too. It's all about motivation ;)

On the way back to the campsite, we stopped at one of the viewpoints. Why? Cause, well, it was a viewpoint ;) And we could take a picture of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from a distance. You can clearly see the islandish rock sticking out of water with the chapel on top. And the rocky strip of land connecting the island with the land. It's really there and it looks amazing.

Have you ever been to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe? 
How did you like it?

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