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  • Writer's pictureMaex Ament

Castles 🏰 and Cliffs 🌊 around Bilbao

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

It's only a ~4-hour drive from Madrid to the coast of the Basque Country, so I made a short trip up North. I stayed in Plentzia, 20 minutes outside of Bilbao. I read about the Cliffs of Barrika and the Game of Thrones-style castle of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, so those were my plans for the two days of running.

Not the worst view from my hotel...

From my home base, I decided the first run should be the one where I didn't have to drive but could start and end right from my hotel.

The run started with a gentle and flat loop around the river mouth, crossing the pedestrian bridge and making my way to the climb along the road, up to the village of Barrika. The good news is, there is always a sidewalk, so no need to share the road with cars, the bad news is, well, it is pretty steep. Up in Barrika, I took the first occasion to the right and made my way down to the beach or coast. It is pretty self-explaining, I just followed my gut and arrived at Muriola. The waves were pretty high and strong, and the rocks and stairs down to the water pretty slippery, so after a few pictures, I decided to get to higher and safer ground. That meant taking the somewhat muddy trail along the coast up the cliffs. After an initial painful ascend, the trail stays somewhat flat, until I reached the viewpoint for the Barrika cliffs. I decided to make my way down the stairs, and while the view at the bottom is wild and impressive, I paid the price on the way up. Still, it was worth it. The last part of the stairs misses some steps, and the rock and wood are especially slippery, so extra care was needed.

After succeeding with the stairs, further up the hill crossing the parking lot, I turned left for an easy run back to the road that would bring me back down to Plentzia.

One of the empty beaches

I extended the run by making a larger loop around the river by crossing the car bridge instead of the pedestrian one. There is always a trail or a paved sidewalk, meaning again, never having to share the road with cars. Since I had still a bit of energy left and needed to explore downtown, I continued my run along the marina and 3 separate beaches, until I hit a dead end, where I turned around.

Overall, I was very happy with the run. The beginning was a bit too muddy around the cliffs and again, some creeks decided to use the trail, but the flat end made up for the hassle.


For the next run, I needed to drive about 30 minutes from Plentzia to the East, along the coast. I parked the car on the side of the main road of Bakia. Along the beach east, the sand was firm enough to run on for a while. At the end of the beach, about 200 meters after the roundabout, the road splits into two. To the right, the regular road goes up the hill, to the left a less busy, but still paved road. Signs indicate the hiker and runner-friendly choice.

The next ~2 km are brutal - a pretty steep climb, but with beautiful views of the coast, and eventually the Game of Thrones-style castle on a small island.

A first glimpse of what to come..

Once at the parking lot of Gaztelugatxeko Doniene and the information center (I was alone), there is only one way: downhill. The path goes steep down, passes a ticket booth (which was closed, so no fee, but likely a good idea to carry some cash...later more on that), and then, medieval-style cobblestone takes over, which makes it a bitch for running. Well.

Finally, I reach the bridge, which I have to say is an amazing view. The run-up to the small castle is tough, but 100% worth the climb. If I could change one thing, I would have started my run slightly later in the day, because the sun was just rising behind the mountains, and the views were just much better once the caste and the rock were in full sunlight.

After I headed back down the trail and across the bridge, a steep constant climb followed along the coast. After around 7.5 km, the path joins a pretty heavily trafficked road. The good news is, there is a small trail next to the road, so again, no need to run with the cars. I decided against an additional detour and skipped the trail down to the lighthouse. Instead, I chose the steep trail on the opposite side, which led me to a small water reservoir. The climb is VERY steep, and thorny plants left and right, but the views to both sides are amazing. At the water reservoir, the trail hits a small paved road that I followed for a few hundred meters, until a trail opens to the right, into the forest. Over a few logs and through a few puddles, the path hits another trail that I follow to the right, up the hill to the telecom tower. Once there, the trail becomes a paved one that eventually hits the main road. Only downhill from here, until I reach the roundabout at the end of the beach. If I have one (well, a second one!) regret, it is that that the last 2 km's were on the main road. I am not sure if there is another option, but this is something to improve on..

I finished my run with a coffee at the end of the beach, and in case you wonder why there is some back and forth on the Strava map along the beach, well, always have some cash with you is the lesson if you want a coffee, or you gotta find a bank ATM....

Update January 2021 - I am adding one of those cool 1-minute videos that Relive creates. I really dig them!

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