To celebrate the end of school and our wedding anniversary and just because we can: we flew up to Basque Country for 11 days. After our Ireland trip we learned we hate big cities so we worked for a while to make sure we could see smaller cities and just do things we want to do – rather than doing a checklist of big ticket “Must-Sees.” We had made our own fun on our road trip through Andalucia – refusing to see big cities and we had a perfect time. So we recreated that with this trip.
On our map you can follow along with rainbow colors. We flew into Bilbao, then saw the coast between Bakio and Bermeo, trained back to Bilbao, down to Durango, then followed the coast and up to France. On the last day we took a train all the way back to Bilbao (only a few hours) and flew back home.
The flight from Palma to Bilbao was only one hour and twenty five minutes. This is only a bit more than you would need to fly from Durango to Denver if that puts anything into perspective. The turbulence was much worse than anything I’ve ever experienced over the Rocky Mountains, however. When we had planned the trip we knew we were outside of the Pyrenees and had assumed that when people said “mountains” they meant “hills.” Because this is often the case when we travel. Nope. They’re mountains. Big ones. This was immediately exciting to us, having not seen a mountain close up in 2 years.
We immediately took a bus to a small town, Bakio, an hour and a half away. The scenery was gorgeous. The views from the bus alone were prettier than anything we had seen in Ireland. Ireland was beautiful and green and we had been blessed with nearly perfect weather. This, though, this was rustic and wild; foggy and mysterious. Deep dark-green pine trees ran over huge mountains which dipped right into the sea with almost Mediterranean blues at time. The hills around were bright green meadows puffed with green hedges outlining property lines. Stereotypical Europe. It looked like something out of Germany or Switzerland.
Our first thoughts were what is this place? How is it there are campers and mountain bikers to my left and surfers to my right. Our second thought was can we move here next year? We moved to an island to have fun in the water but our hearts are in the mountains. This place seemed like the perfect blend of everything we could ever want.
We had booked an apartment style hotel so we headed to a grocery store to pick up fixings to make dinner and lunch. I’ll tell you right now, the best dish you can make to ensure that you don’t buy too many is spaghetti carbonara. Pasta, eggs, bacon. We even thought ahead and brought salt, pepper, and onion powder. Plus, those carbs and proteins are good fuel for hiking.
The apartment we had book was 30 minutes or so out of town, in the deep dark mountains, which was super exciting actually. And when we got there we enjoyed our carbonara and a bottle of wine with some pretty dramatic views from our hotel window.
Day 1: Hike to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (8 miles)
This mouthful is a pilgrimage site for some and a Game of Thrones location for others. Our plan was to hike from Bakio to Gaztelugatxe then down to Bermeo where we would spend the night. This meant we would have all of our clothes and everything on our backs. We woke up, of course, to torrential rain.
We waited it out for an hour, and made more carbonara, but it only seemed to get worse than before. So we repacked everything into trash bags (we brought them to Ireland for this very purpose but never used them) then sealed them inside of the bags. Our phones were put into a ziplock and that was that. Rain jackets? Never touch the stuff – you just get all sweaty inside it and then you’re just as wet as if you hadn’t put it on. Plus we’re connoisseurs of hiking in the rain, some of our best hikes ended with us soaked to the bone. It’s, like, our thing.
We started out strong, thinking maybe we had been overcautious. The rain had let up but once we got to a more exposed place it just started pouring. Within minutes we were soaked. When we arrived at the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe we were downright sodden. When it stopped for a moment we chanced getting a phone out of the bag to take the pictures but you can see the wall of water coming up behind Chris. Rain t-shirt contest. I win.
So we keep throwing this huge Gaztelugatxe word around it. What is it?
It’s a hermitage/church up on top of a tiny peninsula jutting out into the sea. It’s quite dramatic with multiple shades of blues and greens then this jarring staircase going up it. You climb 240 some-odd steps up to it. In Game of Thrones they digitally added a huge castle with some dragons flying around it. You can see it here.
This was the best part of the hike, and then the rain became a downright deluge. A sideways one. The wind picked up, the waves started churning and crashing more, and then it started raining sideways. The wind was the kind of wind that picks your leg up with it when you take a step. The stairs up are protected by large railing and walls so it made more sense to go up to the shelter of the hermitage than to stay or go back. We scampered up the 241 steps in record time.
This was the last picture we took before the deluge arrived.
We waited for nearly an hour up top. Now we were quite cold from the extreme winds and sideways rain. How convenient that we had all of our clothes in our backpacks. I lied earlier, we of course, have a (single) rain jacket. It’s a “wow this rain is serious-rain jacket” and to this point we hadn’t thought the rain was that serious. Wet, sure, but not serious. Sideways, pelting and cold rain is serious. So I decided to take my shirt off and put the rain jacket on over my skin because that sounded comfy. Of course wet skin versus pull-over rain jacket equals getting completely stuck. I had found a nice quiet place away from the other rain refugees but of course the second I pulled the rain jacket on it resisted my wet skin and I was stuck with my head in, arms up, and bra completely out. I could shimmy neither in nor out of it and was stuck with my nearly exposed breasts out and waggling around desperately. The people who had thought to join us in our little quiet corner realized they had just walked in on … something and gave us our space. With Chris’ help I finally got in the jacket, and we ate our snack in peace.
We finally decided there was nothing we could do about the rain. We had hiked up in torrential rain we could hike down in it. Now that we had a rain jacket and dry clothes we would be quite happy. So it stopped raining. Completely.
By the time we were down the skies cleared, birds sang and it was done for the day.
This was well and good because we still had 11 km (6 miles) to hike to get to Bermeo.
We had to hike up and over headlands. This would be the general theme of hikes this trip. Up one headland, down into the beach then up again over another headland. This was the view as we did our final descent into Bermeo.
And with that final picture – what do you think? Did you ever think Spain could look like this?