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Ahead of the return of Game of Thrones, we explore the most memorable filming locations in Spain, and explain how to visit them.
Daenerys Targaryen finally returned to the shores of Westeros in season seven – Dragonstone, to be precise – and the real-life location is remarkably easy to visit. That rocky beach seen so frequently in the show is called Itzurun, and it lies beside a Spanish seaside town called Zumaia, in the province of Guipúzcoa. The best way to take in this Basque beauty is to tackle the Flysch Route, a coastal walking trail – but keep an eye on the tides and consider hiring a guide, says the local tourist board.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
And what of that glorious footbridge we see Jon Snow and Daenerys walking along? That’s the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, topped with a hermitage and connected to the mainland by a winding path. It lies to the west of Zumaia, not far from the city of Bilbao, which, despite its charms, gets far fewer tourists than the likes of Barcelona, Seville and Madrid.
That thrilling season seven finale? The tense meeting with Cersei, where a white walker was released, took place inside the amphitheatre at Italica, an ancient Roman city and birthplace of emperors Trajan and Hadrian, just outside Seville. It is tipped to return in season eight.
Seville’s Royal Dockyards have also made an appearance in Game of Thrones, as has its Alcazar, which was the perfect substitute for Sunspear, the capital of Dorne, and its Water Gardens.
Everyone should visit Seville, one of the world’s most seductive cities. “History oozes through its very pores, with ancient Moorish walls, Roman ruins and Baroque churches at every turn,” says our expert Fiona Flores-Watson.
“Follow the locals to hole-in-the-wall bars, sip cañas (small glasses) of beer, and then get lost wandering the tiny streets of Barrio Santa Cruz, dotted with orange-tree-filled plazas, before resting in a quiet, shady corner on a tiled bench.”
Castell de Santa Florentina
Samwell Tarly returned to his palatial ancestral home, Horn Hill, in season six. In reality, this was Castell de Santa Florentina in the town of Canet de Mar, Catalonia.
The castle dates from the 11th century but was built, by Guadimir de Canet, on the foundations of an ancient Roman domus. It was expanded in the 14th century under Ferrer de Canet, a noble knight and advisor to the kings of Aragon. He added fortifications including two towers to protect it from pirates.
It passed into the hands of Felipe Dimas de Montaner, a lawyer from Barcelona, in the 16th century. His ancestors, who still own the castle today, include Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a modernist architect and contemporary of Antoni Gaudí, who further expanded and renovated the property – a sprucing up that encouraged King Alfonso XIII of Spain to stay for a few days in 1908, and which helped see it named among the “most beautiful houses in the world” by Architectural Digest in 1998.
And Castell de Santa Florentina can be visited by the general public. You’ll need to book a guided tour in advance by emailing email@example.com, explaining the number of people in your group and the expected date and time of arrival, or, only if you speak Spanish or Catalan, by calling +34 609 81 33 39. It can also be rented in its entirety for weddings and events and it’s safe to say you’ll get a warmer welcome than Sam and Gilly did from the comically cruel Randyll Tarly.
The castle is located around halfway between Barcelona and Girona, and is less than an hour by car from each city. Barcelona’s attractions need little introduction – see our expert’s guide for advice on flights, hotels and what to see and do. Girona, served by Ryanair, offers much cultural and culinary heritage, as well as one of the world’s best restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca.
Castillo de Zafra
Episode three of season six introduced viewers to the Tower of Joy, outside which a young Ned Stark and his Kingsguard clashed swords with Ser Arthur Dayne and other Targaryen henchmen in one of Bran Stark’s visions. The tower is really the Castle of Zafra, found on a sandstone outcrop at an altitude of 1,400 metres in the Spanish province of Guadalajara.
It is the only building for miles around, and – unlike in the show – has proven itself virtually impregnable.
King Fernando III of Castile unsuccessfully besieged it in the 13thcentury following a conflict with its owner, Don Gonzalo Perez de Lara, and it remained unconquered until the end of the 15th century – when its significance as a defensive fortification ended and it began to fall into disrepair. Its current owners have done much to restore it in recent years and the exterior can be visited (you’ll need permission from the owners, the family of Antonio Sanz Polo of Molina de Aragón, to go inside) – though its isolated location means getting there a bit of a chore.
Lying in the Sierra de Caldereros, it is accessed by a dirt road leading from the village of Hombrados – you’ll need a decent hire car or be ready for a few hours of hiking.
Hombrados itself is around 2 hours 30 mins by car from Madrid, or around 1 hour 40 mins from Zaragoza. Numerous airlines fly from the UK to Madrid; Ryanair flies direct to Zaragoza.
The badlands of Bardenas Reales in the Navarre region appeared in Game of Thrones as the Dothraki Sea, home to wandering hordes of khalasars.
Michael Kerr visited for Telegraph Travel back in 2015. “It may be a Natural Park and a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, but right in the middle of it, fenced off behind warning notices, is the biggest military zone in western Europe,” he explained. “Fighter planes roared in from the left and broke the sound barrier to our right as we walked one of the paths in El Plano, red clay, dampened by a recent shower, sucking at our boots.”
He added: “The Bardenas may be summed up as a badland but it’s far from a desert. Wind muscled through fields of winter wheat. Outside those fields were thyme and rosemary and gorse, and a wild orchid, purple as a bruise, about to burst into flower.”
See the Navarre Tourist Board website (turismo.navarra.es) for more travel tips. Fly direct from the UK to Bilbao with EasyJet or Ryanair.
Best of the rest
The bullring of the Andalusian town of Osuna became the fighting pits of Meereen, while Cordoba’s Roman Bridge became the Long Bridge of Volantis. Others locations include the Alcazaba of Almería, the Tabernas Desert, Peniscola and Girona’s Cathedral of Saint Mary (it served as the exterior of the Sept of Baelor).