Today, let’s embark on a journey to a mesmerizing location that has captured the hearts of many, especially fans of the iconic series, Game of Thrones. Welcome to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
A Glimpse into Westeros in the Heart of Vizcaya
Situated in Bermeo, Vizcaya, in the lush landscapes of País Vasco, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is not just a scenic retreat but a place that has garnered international fame. Remember the majestic Dragonstone from Game of Thrones, where Daenerys Targaryen made her strategic plans? This enchanting location served as the backdrop for those riveting scenes. The ermita (shrine) at its peak was transformed through the magic of television into the formidable castle of Dragonstone.
History and Legends
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe’s roots run deep in time. The island’s name itself, Gaztelugatxe, originates from the Basque words “gaztelu” (castle) and “aitz” (rock), aptly capturing its rugged, castle-like appearance.
Legend has it that the hermitage was founded in the 9th century and has since been a site of various historical events, including battles and pirate raids. Tales of the famous pirate Sir Francis Drake sacking the hermitage in the 16th century still echo in the whispers of locals.
Another local legend suggests that after the Apostle Saint John had a rough landing on the island, he left his footprint on one of the steps leading up to the hermitage. Pilgrims and visitors often try to locate this sacred imprint during their ascent.
The Journey to Dragonstone
As you traverse the winding path leading to the top, reminiscent of the paths tread by characters like Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys herself, you’re transported to the world of Desembarco del Rey. The stone bridges connecting this island to the mainland and the panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and mountains evoke the ethereal beauty of the fictional Westeros.
French Basque Experience
The Essence of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Beyond its cinematic fame, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe boasts a rich history. The name, echoing the nearby 13th-century Andra Mari church, has drawn pilgrims and travelers for centuries. Legend whispers that if you ring the bell at the shrine thrice and make a wish, it shall come true.
While the Game of Thrones series showcased dragons soaring above and vast castles, the real beauty lies in the raw, untouched splendor of this place. From the rugged coastline of Guipúzcoa to the pristine beaches of Bilbao, the Northern Spain region is a treasure trove of natural wonders.
Natural Beauty and Biodiversity
The island isn’t just a historical or cinematic marvel; it’s a natural sanctuary. As you walk the famed 241 steps leading to the hermitage, the surrounding beauty is palpable. The rhythmic sound of waves crashing against the cliffs, the scent of saltwater mixed with fresh earth, and the chorus of seabirds overhead make the journey a sensory experience.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is also home to diverse flora and fauna. The surrounding waters teem with marine life, while the island itself is adorned with unique vegetation that thrives in its microclimate.
If you’re planning to visit, wearing comfortable shoes is a must. The journey, though rewarding, can be quite challenging. It’s also advisable to visit during off-peak hours or seasons to truly savor the tranquility San Juan de Gaztelugatxe offers. And of course, once you reach the top, don’t forget the tradition—ring the chapel bell three times and make a wish!