Lonely Planet Writer

This Basque Country hermitage is the latest Game of Thrones shrine

By now it’s a given that any site used in Game of Thrones is going to become a hot tourism destination and the same is proving true for an amazing island that featured in the latest season of the HBO series.

Gaztelugatxe is an islet of the Biscayan locality of Bermeo, País Vasco (Spain). It is connected to the mainland by a bridge of two arches.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has become even more popular after it was featured in Game of Thrones. Image by Angel Villalba/Getty Images

The islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the Basque Country in Spain was a new addition to the show’s catalogue of incredible filming locations, and tourists are taking note. The rocky outcrop with an amazing winding staircase was transformed by the show into Dragonstone, the ancestral home of the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Spain. Image by Norma Murace Melia / EyeEm / Getty Images

The island is already a popular site in the region for its beauty and as a destination for pilgrimages. It is attached to the mainland by an incredible path along a causeway that leads up to the hermitage on the island. Named after St John the Baptist, the stories say that he visited the island and his footprint can be found along the many steps that travellers walk upon to get to the hermitage, before they traditionally ring a bell.

But dedicated Game of Thrones fans have made it another sort of pilgrimage site, with 75,000 tourists heading to the island in July, according to El Pais. While there isn’t data on how many people visited previously, there has been a noticeable spike. Bermeo, the nearby town, uses the show to promote tourism and even has a website that shows travellers where to find the locations.

All the interest has sparked some concerns, with the local environment department looking at how to conserve the site while still allowing for tourism. Some ideas have been floated such as capping the number of tourists or adding a fee, but nothing has been decided. Regardless of how local authorities decide to manage the site, it’s almost certain that interest will only continue to grow as fans get ready for the show’s final season.