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Who would have thought that the tiny island of Gaztelugatxe holds an external spiral staircase believed to have healing powers? The island of Gaztelugatxe is in the centre of this section of coast next to the small Aketze Island (Island of Rabbits) which is a paradise for marine birds. The island is located on the coast of Biscay, in the Spanish Basque County and is connected to the mainland through a man-made bridge composed of stairs. It is the only way to reach the top of the island where lies the hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist hence the name, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe which dates from the tenth century. For years, tourists have visited the church on top of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. According to the legend, those who arrive at the church must ring the bell at the entrance three times and make a wish.
It is believed that the small church originally belonged to the Templar Knights. In 1053, it was donated by Don Iñigo Lopez, Lord of Biscay to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña near Jaca in Huesca. Medieval burials from the 9th and 12th centuries have been found on the esplanade and in the hermitage. In 1593 it was attacked and sacked by Sir Francis Drake, an English sea captain of the Elizabethan era. Among other incidents, it has caught fire several times. The hermitage belongs to the parish of San Pelayo in Bakio.
No one knows for certain how many stairs you must climb. More than 200, the stairs were believed to be 365 for a long time, one step for each day of the year. However, over the years as tourists count, some manage to update which at present lies, between 220 to 235 steps but it seems almost impossible to get the same number from different sources. It is said that once you get to this magical place of Biscay coast, you will forget your accounting duties and get carried away by the enchantment. Nobody coincides in the reasons of this charm. Some people believe that it is because of the sharp crags and the vertiginous falls. Others say that it is because of the loneliness it transmits and the barge linking it to land.
The rugged coast, constantly changing rock edges of the sea, flocks of seabirds and serenity of the island offer a unique experience as you navigate the island. The best place to visit the island is during spring and autumn. Summer months are often crowded with visitors and the church is closed during the winter.
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