Route 3: Climbing Ermua via the “Castillito” (fort), going down to Armintza and returning along the GR 280 Trail

Route 3

Route published by Pedro Pablo Uriarte ”24 circular walking routes around Gorliz”

See the route map on Wikiloc

Duration: 3 hours 10 min.
Cumulative elevation gain: 537 m
Distance: 15.5 km
Difficulty: Moderate in terms of distance and cumulative elevation gain.

This is a more demanding route than the previous two. That is because you will climb two small peaks before reaching the lighthouse and then climb up Ermua, which means a greater cumulative elevation gain, and also because you will extend the route by descending to Armintza and returning to Gorliz along a section of the GR 280 Trail, which means walking a much greater distance. Nevertheless, it is not too much for hikers who are relatively used to mountain walks, bearing in mind that the return to Gorliz from Armintza is very quiet with no demanding climbs.

From Ibarreta Plaza, follow route 2 to start with: walk along Itsasbide down to the beach and then along the promenade to Astondo. Here, instead of turning off to the right at the lifeguard station, carry straight on along the beach promenade, passing the famous fossil dunes that you will pass on your right. These petrified dunes are unique on the Basque coast and were formed by superimposed layers of beach sand blown by the wind over thousands of years, which has petrified them.

Shortly afterwards you will also see some rustic stone steps with a wooden handrail on your right that start to climb steeply upwards, taking you into the pine forest (18 min.). This first stepped section is followed by a fairly flat part through the vegetation.

After a few hundred metres you will see another small flight of steps leading off to your right. From here, behind us, there is a spectacular view of the bay of Gorliz with the elegant sanatorium overlooking it.

The stairs climb steeply up to a viewpoint, from where there is an amazing view, with the cliffs of Barrika and the small beach of Muriola in front of you. Incidentally, a few scenes in the third series of Game of Thrones were filmed on this beach and its surroundings, although the most famous shots in the programme are those filmed in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, albeit totally transformed.

The path continues on behind the wooden bench and enters the thick vegetation on a gently ascending path with small sections of flagstones arranged as steps in the steepest parts. Halfway along the path, you will see a path on your left, which leads to an old viewpoint, where the benches have been destroyed and are barely visible, engulfed by the lush vegetation.

You will soon reach the first peak along the Astondo route, located to your left shortly before you reach the highest point of the route. Here you will find a rudimentary, unprotected viewpoint with a holm oak stump as a mailbox inscribed with the words “Mirador de Isaure. Monte Astondo, 127 m (Isaure viewpoint. Mount Astondo). Be careful not to lean out too far over, as the inscription tells you that it is a 127 m drop to the sea.

The path, which is now flat, soon starts to drop down over more rudimentary stone steps to its lowest part, where you jump over a little stream that starts right there and where years ago there was a wonderful fountain that has been abandoned and is now completely covered by weeds.

To your left, further down, you will see the ruins of the Azkorriaga fort (25 min.). There is a sign which announces “Fortín (a 200 m)” (Fort in 200 m). It is now almost completely destroyed and is located on a ledge a few minutes’ walk away.

Azkorriaga Fort, commonly known as “El castillito” (the little castle) or “El castillo roto” (the broken castle), was a fort with a coastal battery of a few cannons built at the end of the 18th century on top of Uztrikoetxe (there are documents that date it to 1795) to protect the bay from possible pirate attacks, especially by the English, who from time to time made incursions by sea into towns along the Basque coast. As can be seen, two military defence structures were built in this area, almost 150 years apart, to protect this strategic coastline from possible English incursions. Interestingly, you can access the few remaining ruins of the fort by going to your left along a path that at some point gets quite close to the cliff edge.

There is a cove below, called “de los contrabandistas” (smugglers’ cove) and a cave of the same name, which today is a frequent destination for Troka Abentura’s kayaks that come from Gorliz and Plentzia. The best access to this cove is always by sea, although it can also be reached by land via a winding, barely visible path that descends very steeply in a zigzagging and quite dangerous way. We strongly recommend that you do not venture onto it unless you have extensive experience in mountaineering and descents on uneven and stony terrain and are wearing suitable footwear.

However, accessing the ruins of the fort is safe if you don’t mess around on any parts of the short access road. The views are wonderful. It should be noted that just before the fort there are remains of the stone walls of what must have been the munitions dump, a few metres away from it.

Let’s get back to the signpost. The path climbs steeply, passing the wire fences of the provincial council’s large livestock farm on your right. The ascent is quite demanding, perhaps the most demanding part of the whole route, and you will reach the top in a few minutes. You are at the highest point of Puntamotz and it is the second peak of this variant of today’s route, which is called Larragan, 148 m high, although it does not have a mailbox. To your left, the cliffs drop almost vertically towards the sea.

Once at the top, the path flattens out, allowing you to catch your breath and then, after a sharp turn to the right next to the fence, it descends again until it meets the road to the lighthouse that climbs up from Astondo. The white lighthouse stands proudly in the distance on the hillside. Usually on this downhill stretch you can see magnificent specimens of Pyrenean or Terreña cattle grazing on your right, and Pottoka ponies on your left. In about five more minutes from the top you are on the road (45 min.).

At this point you can simply follow the route discussed in Route 2, which is the most popular one. As we mentioned earlier, you go as far as the lighthouse and then turn right and, after a relatively demanding climb, you reach the top of this section, from where you can enjoy an amazing view of the coastal scenery. Carry straight on and, in a few minutes, you will reach the pastures of Fano. Crossing the field which slopes gently upwards and after passing a wire fence and then climbing over another one, you will reach the ridge of Ermua Mendi and get to the summit about 10 minutes later (1 hour 15 min.).

As you can see, if you follow this route, you can reach the summit of Ermua in an hour and a quarter from Gorliz. But now you need to get back to where you started.

You can do this by following the downhill routes already mentioned in routes 1 and 2. However, a relatively frequent alternative (as this is a circular route and is shown on the map below) is to extend your walk and go as far as Armintza, the fishing district of Lemoiz, and then return to Gorliz along a section of the GR 280 Trail (Gran Ruta de Uribe Kosta – The Uribe Kosta Trail). It’s easy. From the summit of Ermua and following the same path that you climbed, in a few minutes you will reach the signposted crossroads that we described on the ascent to Ermua on Route 1. This junction is located at a place called Sanjuanagiri.

Follow the direction towards Armintza as indicated on the signpost. It is flat at first, with a wire fence on the right and a somewhat sparse eucalyptus grove. The path then starts to descend gently over clayey soil, with a stretch of path that is clear of trees. To your left you will see a wide wooded valley that extends to the highest part of the cliffs that drop sharply towards the sea, culminating in the charming summit of Etzandarri. We will describe this area on another route.

Not long after, you will go back into the eucalyptus forest, which will stay with you until you get to the track that goes straight to Armintza.

Some parts of the path are muddy even in summer and you can avoid muddy spots by stepping round the sides to avoid getting stuck in the mud. It is a gentle descent where you can breathe particularly well, helped by the scent of the eucalyptus trees.

After about 20 minutes of gentle and comfortable descent under the trees, the slope steepens downwards in a rocky, awkward section that leads to a gravel track. In all fairness, we must say that since August 2020 they have used machinery on the track to make it much wider and removed some of the stones. From there, you will be able to enjoy a marvellous panoramic view of Armintza and its charming port below you. I say this now, because the eucalyptus forest that was blocking our view was cut down in the summer of 2019 and replanted again. We will have these beautiful views until the trees grow back in the near future.

Go straight on as you descend and then climb over a metal fence, going past the back wall of the Arresi hotel and, once you have skirted it, you will soon reach the roundabout at the entrance to Armintza where there is a car park (1 hour 50 min.).

As we mentioned earlier, to return to Gorliz you can take an even longer, more circuitous route, although those who wish to do so can take a Bizkaibus bus back to Gorliz. The bus stop is located next to a shelter in front of the car park, at the entrance to Armintza’s main street that leads down to the port. There are buses every half hour.

However, as we have said, the aim is to walk back to Gorliz and complete the circular route on foot. It will take the total time to just over three hours at a brisk pace without stops. With stops and at a slower pace, it can take up to four hours. Although this Armintza-Gorliz section of today’s route will be repeated on other routes, it is worth detailing it so that nobody has any doubts about the route.

To do this, just cross the roundabout at the entrance to Armintza and walk to the right. You will see an electricity pylon and next to it, at the side of the stream under the trees, there is a beautiful little bridge with the unmistakable red and white markings of the GR 280 Trail.

Cross it, and, on your right, you will see a pretty path between vegetable gardens and orchards, with a hedge on one side, which leads to a road. Continue along it, going past some beautiful farmhouses. This will take you through pastures and with the stream on your right almost to the main Armintza-Lemoiz road, but right there, next to it, you will take a path that starts on your left. The well-kept path crosses two charming wooden bridges and enters a forest with some splendid oak trees. In a short while you will come to another road that ends just where the GR 280 path ends. After a kilometre or so, the road, which runs between meadows and farmhouses, turns right at a crossroads and heads towards the town of Urizar, passing the Urizar washing area under some spectacular oak trees.

After a steep ascent, you will re-join the main road mentioned above in the middle of the town and then continue straight ahead, between the walls of two farmhouses, taking a country road that will take you to the Berreaga neighbourhood after about a kilometre and a half. It is an easy walk, and you will see that the road passes in front of a chicken breeding plant at the beginning of a slight ascent.

This will take you to Berreaga, at another junction where you turn left, passing the Larrakoetxea country house and restaurant. Just beyond the metal fence surrounding it, you will come to a very interesting little path, which will be used on several routes, both in the outward and return direction. This path, which is shady and cramped among the vegetation, stony in some sections and muddy in others, will take you straight to the upper part of Saratxaga. When you get almost to the end of the path, it turns sharply to the left, and you will see another path on your right that leads to the upper part of Gorliz. This path will be used on another route.

The path that we follow leaves us after a few hundred metres and we land on a wide track that goes down to the Saratxaga bar/restaurant. Turn right there onto another beautiful tree-lined path with a wire fence on your left, which will take you to the upper part of Calle Ageo in Gorliz in just a few minutes. Follow it down to Tribiñu Kalea and turn left until you reach the roundabout with the little boat and Plaza Ibarreta.

This will bring you to the end of this long circular route, walking almost fifteen and a half kilometres in about three hours. You will be tired. It is time to recharge your batteries and sit down to rehydrate or eat in one of the many restaurants in Gorliz.

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