The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - MICHAEL KERR

In the age of GPS and Google Maps, there is only one car­tog­ra­pher who can get away with say­ing: “Here, there be drag­ons.” He is Ge­orge RRMartin, au­thor of A Song of Fire and Ice, the me­dieval fan­tasy on which the HBO tele­vi­sion se­ries Game of Thrones is based.

If the con­ti­nents of Wes­teros, Es­sos and Sotho­ryos are fig­ments of his imag­i­na­tion, their re­al­i­sa­tions on screen are usu­ally a lit­tle eas­ier to pin­point. The Cause­way Coast of North­ern Ire­land, Dubrovnik and Malta have all fea­tured in pre­vi­ous se­ries.

Now, in sea­son six, Spain steps for­ward as the back­ground to sword fights and sor­cery. Among the places to fea­ture is the ex­tra­or­di­nary landscape in Navarre, in the north, called Las Bar­de­nas Reales. It has be­come the vast Dothraki Sea, home to wan­der­ing hordes of kha­lasars. Ex­pect it now to be over­run by fans tak­ing self­ies.

It wasn’t until Jan­uary this year that I heard the GoT team had fol­lowed many other film­mak­ers into Las Bar­de­nas. I first came across the place in 2008 in pic­tures of a sandy-red landscape of pin­na­cles and canyons and sun­burnt cracked clay, a mini Mon­u­ment Val­ley on the con­ti­nent of Europe.

“Yes, that’s the Bar­dena Blanca, the bit ev­ery­one goes to,” Mikel Ollo tells my wife and me when we ar­rive in Navarre. “They drive in from the west, spend an hour or two there, take some pic­tures, and move on. They don’t For Game of Thrones’ sixth se­ries, Spain is serv­ing as some­thing of a land of ice and fire.

In ad­di­tion to Las Bar­de­nas Reales (which also fea­tured in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough), lo­ca­tions used by the GoT team for film­ing were: • The 11th-cen­tury cas­tle of Santa Florentina in Canet de Mar, on the coast of Cat­alo­nia. • The barri vell (old quar­ter), still partly pro­tected by me­dieval walls, in Girona. • The war­ren of al­leys and lanes in the for­ti­fied promon­tory of Penis­cola, on the Costa del Aza­har, north of Va­len­cia. • The Al­caz­aba (prob­a­bly the best sur­viv­ing ex­am­ple of Moor­ish mil­i­tary for­ti­fi­ca­tion) in Alme­ria, An­dalu­cia. • The cas­tle of Zafra, in Guadala­jara (be­gun in 1437), which was the palace of the Dukes of Fe­ria and is now a parador (heritage ho­tel).

Game of Thrones sea­son six is shown on Fox­tel’s Show­case, at 11am and 7.30pm Mon­days.

bother with the rest of the Bar­de­nas.” Mikel, based in Pam­plona, is used to people who don’t bother with the rest. Ev­ery July he has book­ings from tourists in­tent on run­ning with the bulls. Many stay only one night and, even when they’ve bought a pack­age that in­cludes a guided walking tour, of­ten don’t take it. They don’t bother with Cafe Iruna, a gor­geous rem­nant of the 19th cen­tury (Ernest Hem­ing­way took his cof­fee there), let alone with the 14th-cen­tury clois­ter of the cathe­dral, one of the world’s finest ex­am­ples of Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture.

Mikel makes sure we see both, and taste plenty of the veg­eta­bles for which Navarre is fa­mous. In the hilltop village of Ujue, where his fam­ily has a house, he in­tro­duces us to Juana at Ur­ru­tia restau­rant, who in­sists we eat the early white as­para­gus her hus­band has ear­marked for him­self. Over four nights we see quite a lot not just of the Bar­de­nas but of the re­gion, which is not large but has a his­tory of punch­ing above its weight. It briefly dom­i­nated the whole of Chris­tian Spain in the 11th cen­tury and still likes to style it­self in its tourist lit­er­a­ture as Reyno (King­dom) de Navarra.

But the Bar­de­nas comes first. It lies in the south­east of Navarre, a vast steppe of 42,100ha be­tween the River Aragon, to the north, and the River Ebro (along­side which we walk a stretch of the GR99 na­ture trail), to the south­west. It di­vides roughly into three ar­eas. In the north is El Plano, an al­most flat, el­e­vated plateau and, in the mid­dle, La Bar­dena Blanca. In the south, La Negra, the high­est part, rises to al­most 670m. We spend the best part of a few days ex­plor­ing all three in Mikel’s 4WD, stay­ing in be­tween at Aire de Bar­de­nas, a ho­tel just outside the park that has the air of a moon base but isn’t short of mod cons.

The Bar­de­nas are Reales (Royal) be­cause they were once the pat­ri­mony of the kings of Navarre, but no source

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