REAL-LIFE FAN­TASY SITES

Even if you don’t recog­nise them from Game of Thrones, th­ese ex­otic places will en­tice you to visit

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - WISH LIST GAME OF THRONES - MELINDA BROWN­ING

SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE SPAIN

The scene: No spoil­ers, but it’s ex­pected to ap­pear in sea­son seven. Real life: With se­crets like San Juan de Gaztelugatxe be­ing thrust into the spot­light, Spain’s brac­ing for a huge tourism boost as Game of Thrones’ sev­enth sea­son airs. Con­nected to the main­land by 241 steep steps, the small but spec­tac­u­lar is­land is one of the Basque Coast’s tourist high­lights. Those brave enough to tackle the climb are re­warded with stun­ning views over the stormy Bay of Bis­cay, and the chance to step in a lucky foot­print said to have been left by John the Bap­tist. At the small chapel on the is­land, tra­di­tion dic­tates that vis­i­tors should ring the bell three times and make a wish. The is­land is just out­side the sea­side town of Ber­meo, 35km from Bil­bao. TOURISM.EUSKADI.EUS

DARK HEDGES NORTH­ERN IRE­LAND

The scene: The Dark Hedges ap­peared as the King’s Road where Arya Stark fled King’s Land­ing in sea­son two, episode one. Real life: Al­most ev­ery­where you look in North­ern Ire­land is another Game of Thrones set­ting. With the show’s pro­duc­tion based in Belfast, it makes sense to use nearby lo­ca­tions – es­pe­cially since the coun­try­side is filled with dra­matic scenery and an­cient cas­tles. An hour north of Belfast, the Dark Hedges is an av­enue of more than 150 beech trees, planted by the own­ers of a Ge­or­gian man­sion in the 1700s to im­press vis­i­tors as they ap­proached. It cer­tainly seems to have worked – the trees are a mag­nif­i­cent sight and have be­come one of North­ern Ire­land’s most pho­tographed sites. DISCOVERNORTHERNIRELAND.COM

DUBROVNIK OLD TOWN CROATIA

The scene: Dubrovnik Old Town has ap­peared as King’s Land­ing in many scenes since sea­son two. Key scenes in­clude the riot of King’s Land­ing (sea­son two, episode six) and Cer­sei’s Walk of Shame (sea­son five, episode 10). Real life: CGI ef­fects are used to en­hance as­pects of the city for Game of Thrones, but as a tourist at­trac­tion, Dubrovnik is pretty per­fect. One of the world’s best pre­served me­dieval cities, the Old Town is sur­rounded by city walls that vis­i­tors can walk along for views of the Adri­atic Sea and is­lands. With his­toric churches, monas­ter­ies and palaces co­ex­ist­ing with mod­ern-day life, the town calls out for ex­plor­ing – and since no cars or bikes are al­lowed, the only way to see it is on foot. Game of Thrones walk­ing tours are highly rated. CROATIA.HR

ITZURUN BEACH ZUMAIA, SPAIN

The scene: Itzurun Beach ap­peared as Dragon­stone as Daen­erys Tar­garyen made land­fall for the first time in sea­son seven’s pre­miere. Real life: Al­ready loved by surfers and ge­ol­o­gists, Itzurun Beach is set to at­tract a whole new le­gion of fans thanks to its Game of Thrones ap­pear­ance. There’s golden sand and great surf, but it’s the ex­tra­or­di­nary cliffs and rock for­ma­tions that make this Basque beach ex­tra spe­cial. The beach features a ge­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non called fly­sch – lay­ered ver­ti­cal walls of sed­i­men­tary rock – thought to date back about 100 mil­lion years. The beach is at Zumaia, less than an hour away from the pop­u­lar re­sort town of San Se­bas­tian. TOURISM.EUSKADI.EUS

GRJOTAGJA CAVE ICE­LAND

The scene: The Grjotagja cave ap­peared as Jon Snow and Ygritte’s love nest in sea­son three, episode five. Real life: It’s not just the fa­mous Game of Thrones scene that makes the Grjotagja cave so hot. It’s a scram­ble to reach the off-the-beaten track at­trac­tion, but the ef­fort is re­warded with the prom­ise of a dip in a hot pool. Vol­canic ac­tiv­ity meant that the tem­per­a­ture was so ex­treme that for years en­ter­ing the wa­ter was out of the ques­tion, al­though th­ese days it’s cooled off to be­tween 40C and 50C. The off-the-beaten track at­trac­tion is found in the Lake My­vatn area in north­ern Ice­land, an area known for its stun­ning crater land­scapes, mud pools and caves. NORTHICELAND.IS

ESSAOUIRA MOROCCO

The scene: Essaouira ap­peared as Astapor in sea­son three, with its dra­matic cliff wall fea­tur­ing promi­nently in the sea­son finale as Daen­erys Tar­garyen re­leased the Un­sul­lied. Real life: With a name that’s said to mean “beau­ti­ful de­sign” or “well drawn”, it’s no won­der the port city of Essaouira, on Morocco’s At­lantic coast, was cho­sen as a Game of Thrones back­drop. But its ap­pear­ance in the third sea­son of the show was far from the city’s first brush with fame. The city – about 2.5 hours from Mar­rakesh – be­came a pop­u­lar hip­pie haunt when celebri­ties in­clud­ing Jimi Hen­drix and Mick Jag­ger hung out there in the 1960s. Its old town is a UNESCO World Her­itage site, and at sun­set, the city ram­parts pro­vide dra­matic ocean views. VIS­IT­MOROCCO.COM

FORT MANOEL MALTA

The scene: Fort Manoel ap­peared as the Great Sept of Baelor, where King Jof­frey ex­e­cuted Ned Stark in sea­son one, episode nine. Real life: Game of Thrones’ first sea­son helped put Malta on the tourist map. But sadly, the best known of Malta’s land­marks to ap­pear in the se­ries, the nat­u­ral rock arch called the Azure Win­dow, col­lapsed into the sea ear­lier this year. Still, there are other spots where vis­i­tors can rem­i­nisce about sea­son one. Lo­cated on an is­land a few min­utes from Malta’s big­gest city, Val­letta, the grand, star-shaped Fort Manoel dates back to the 1700s, with a his­tory that spans French oc­cu­pa­tion, Bri­tish rule and WWII bomb­ings. The di­lap­i­dated fort has since been re­stored with plans for guided tours to start soon. MIDIMALTA.COM

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