Welcome to Castro Urdiales, a beautiful city in the north of Spain that is full of history, rich patrimony, and gorgeous nature - my kind of place! Located only 30 kms away from Bilbao, it has many, many touristic attractions for you to discover belonging to all the epochs... From medieval strongholds to fantasy palaces, mysterious caves full of hidden paintings, unattainable mounts, and long beaches. Whatever it is on your checklist when going on holidays, Castro Urdiales has it. So let us waste no more time and discover Castro Urdiales, history, beach & fun near Bilbao!
A bit of history
Castro Urdiales is located in Cantabria, a land of mountains and sea, historically it was quite independent - it took two centuries to the Romans to conquer them, and the Moors never achieved it! Very proud sailors, over the centuries they have haunted whales and have made great ships to trade over Europe and America, as well as to help kings conquer new regions.
Castro Urdiales has always been attractive for the human being. Many caves were inhabited thousands of years ago by men and women that have left their footprints over 15,000 years ago at its walls in the shape of beautiful paintings. The most imposing ones are the Cuco and the Urdiales Cave.
People never left the area. They had everything they needed to survive: animals to hunt by land and by sea, and great protection offered from the high, stony mounts. Therefore, from pre-Roman times you can visit a Celtic village (Castro Peña Santullán). When the Romans arrived, they recognized the strategic location of Castro Urdiales as a port and developed there a colony. Unfortunately, it cannot be visited, since its remains are exactly under the medieval city centre. Though fret not, as some of the objects retrieved from archaeological excavations can be seen at the Regional Museum of Archaeology and Pre-history of Santander.
So strategic it was, the first Camino went through it, using the Roman paths. And this, along with its sailing activities, made this city grow and become quite important in the area. War ships were made here that were used by the kings to battle the Moors. Kings recognized their help and thus Castro Urdiales received the title of city plus their protection against any abuses they could get from the local nobles. So rich they were, they decided to build a beautiful church, Santa María de la Asunción, next to the Santa Ana castle.
Santa María de la Asunción ChurchC. Sta. María, 39700 Castro-Urdiales, Cantabria, España
Santa Ana Castle and LighthouseP.º Marítimo, 12, 39700 Castro-Urdiales, Cantabria, España
This stronghold ended up acting as a lighthouse, too. They collaborated with King Phillip the II with ships and men for his Invincible Armada, in the 16th century. From then on, they basically dedicated themselves to trading with America. Under Napoleon, most of the city was destroyed, which is why when you visit the city centre you see a lot of palaces from the 19th and the 20th centuries. These were built because of the wealth produced by the local mines.
What to visit
With so many attractions to see, it is difficult to point out only a few! Let me take you on a tour through the main ones. You should never miss, for starters, the Santa María de la Asunción church, located besides the Santa Ana castle, on the top of a very steep cliff. In front of it, a Roman milestone from Nero, the remains of a Romanesque church and a Medieval bridge.
Actually, a great way to admire this ensemble is through this tour from the sea, where you can access places unreachable by land. For example, the Mioño catilever, from where the iron was loaded onto the ships.
Inside the city centre, the most stunning buildings belong to the 19th and 20th centuries. Among those, the Ocharan castle/palace is a complete must! It was built for a ship owner, Luis de Ocharan, who chose this location in order to survey the loading of his vessels. The palace and the castle are a fantasy of eclecticism, combining different styles like mudejar and neogothic, imitating Italian villas and displaying Greek columns. They are inscribed within a wall inspired by mudejar military architecture.
Other exquisite houses are Sotileza, Chelines, Isidra del Cerro, the Royal building, Pedro Velarde, San Martín… I tell you, people were really rich in this city! Many were built on the neo-Montagnais style, but you can really find every architectural wonder here.
Being right by the Cantabrian Sea, Castro Urdiales has many beaches that you can enjoy. The most popular ones are Ostende, Oriñón and Brazomar, long beaches with white sand, but you can go a bit further and find wilder shores. Some have pebbles, true, but the surroundings are just gorgeous! My favourite ones are Ontón-El Berrón and El Pocillo.
This area has countless trails that you can use in order to discover the magnificent landscapes that surround Castro Urdiales. Of course, the main one is the Camino of Saint James, but there are many other routes, well signalised, that you can use. The green paths follow the old railway and mining tracks, so I found them very interesting!
How to get here and where to stay
The best way to get to Castro Urdiales is by car. It is only 30 kilometres away from Bilbao, so you can get there pretty fast if you are in the area. Whether you travel light or travel and work, Castro Urdiales has a wide variety of lodgements to offer, from a very low budget like Albergue de Santullán, to top quality places by the beach like Las Rocas Playa Hotel. So you see, you have great nature and tracks, great monuments and beach... What else could you wish for? Come and discover Castro Urdiales, history, beach & fun near Bilbao!
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Sara Rodriguez Romo
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