If you have been to Bilbao, Spain and you are looking for alternate places to visit, consider Castro Urdiales. A former 1st century Roman colony, it is a possible destination located a little under 27 miles from Bilbao. This “fishing village” offers up a combination of history, culture and nature. Everything from a castle, cathedral, cliffs, cobbles and a beach are on offer.
I put village in quotations since various guidebooks and internet sites refer to it as such, but my family originated in a little village in Ontario that housed 106 people. I spent my high school years in a town of 14,000 people so Castro Urdiales with its population of 33,000 people in the winter (which can double or even triple in the summer), does not meet my personal definition of a village.
Prior to arriving in Spain, I organized and booked this private shore excursion. Upon arrival at the port of Bilbao, we easily met our driver and started off on our scenic drive to Castro Urdiales, which is located a half hour from Bilbao. We quickly moved from Basque country into the region of Cantabria and I found the land to be quite hilly and the countryside a vivid green. I had chosen Castro Urdiales as a destination since it would allow me to briefly enjoy some of the rural area outside of Bilbao, and the village is known for both an old lighthouse built into a castle, and a famous Gothic cathedral. In 1978, the “old town” of the village was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument.
When we arrived at Castro Urdiales, our driver dropped us off on the grand Avenida de la Constitución which runs along the water and adjacent to the Parque de La Barrera. This is a rather pretty area and we could easily see the cathedral, Castillo y Faro de Santa Ana and the 19th century light house. We walked along the shoreline towards the cathedral and castle following our line of sight as opposed to any directions given by the driver.
We stopped at the base of the town’s medieval bridge (referred to by some as the Roman Bridge), which originates at a rocky outcropping and consists of a single ogival arch. I thought it a marvelous piece of architecture and took loads of photos. The bridge dates from medieval times and it is in good shape although clearly there are portions that have been the subject of repair and refurbishment. The rather steep steps that led up onto the bridge can be a bit intimidating for some people so if you are booking a tour, this is not suitable for mobility challenged people. The steps are also slippery when wet. We were not aware that there was a gentler way of getting up to the cathedral as our driver/guide had merely dropped us off, pointed to the castle and indicated a time for us to meet him back at the vehicle. Lacking any intelligence on how to get up the cliff to the church and castle, we believed the stairs to be our only option. The view from the bridge is excellent as you will see from the various photos in this posting. It is well worth a visit.
From the bridge, we easily walked to the Church of Santa Maria de la Asunción which despite the moniker of church, is indeed a cathedral. This structure dominates the scenery and overlooks the harbour and the village. Building started in the 12th century and it is, as mentioned, of Gothic design with a three chambered basilica. The flying buttresses of the church are dramatic and extraordinary as they seem to rise from the rock base. This structure was built over an extended period of time and was finally finished in the 15th century. All related literature reviewed in advance of the visit, indicated that it is the most important Gothic building in Cantabria and it was declared a Monument of Cultural Interest in 1931.
The cathedral is amazing, and we spend some time in it. Damaged during the wars, you can see areas where it has undergone some restoration. This building alone was well worth the trip to Castro Urdiales.
Following our visit at the cathedral we went to Castillo y Faro de Santa Ana and the 19th century light house. Located very close to the cathedral, the castle and cathedral can easily be toured in conjunction with one another. The castle now houses a little museum which can be quickly toured and there are toilet facilities for public use. The museum is wheelchair accessible. All other areas in the castle are blocked off, other than a courtyard/wall area that overlooks the harbour. Offering lovely views, the little museum and castle exterior are the only highlights of this building.
We left the castle, walked around to the front of the cathedral and followed the cobbled street back to where we were to meet our driver. We stopped at one of the little restaurants to buy some refreshments and I picked up some postcards at one of the small shops. As mentioned, this is a rather pretty area of the village and would be a picturesque spot to stop for a beverage or lunch.
There is a narrow causeway which has a small lighthouse signal at the end. For those who have the time, take the walk out to get a water view of the bay and of the castle and cathedral. May sure it is a calm day or you might just get wet from the waves!
I have read that the sea food in this village is spectacular but unfortunately we were unable to try it and so I must wait another day for my Castro Urdiales prawn feast.