Dragonstone or San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: The magic place behind The Game of Thrones set
Game of Thrones is one of the top series of this decade and no doubt that the sets used in the series are part of the formula that made the show so successful.
One of the most beautiful sets of the Season 7 is Dragonstone. The castle stands upon the island located in Blackwater Bay and is the ancestral seal of House Targaryen and was the stronghold of a cadet branch of House Baratheon. If you have ever wondered where is the location of this amazing place keep reading?
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
The real name of this place is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a magic islet shaped by the fight between the sea and the land, and connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge located in the beautiful Basque Country, approximately 10 km away from the town of Bermeo. On the top of the small island is located a 10th century Hermitage dedicated to John Baptist. To reach the Hermitage you will have to climb 241 breathtaking stairs (some say 231). Breathtaking because the views are getting better and better on your way up but also because if you are not in shape, you will have to do a few stops to recover your breath until you reach the top. Nevertheless, you will be rewarded by the astonishing views of the sea and the coast, one of the best in the of the Basque coast.
Three rituals and one legend
Many beliefs and superstitions circle about this place so most visitors will end up falling into them even if they are not believers.
Most fisherman towns have their own rituals and this couldn’t be an exception.
They say the ring of the bell situated at the entrance of the Hermitage has healing effects for a headache. Nowadays some visitors ring the bell 13 times and make a wish.
Women with fertility problems visit the Hermitage and they bow at the feet of Saint Anne “Santa Ana” with childlike offerings in hope of getting pregnant.
Bermeo’s ships ask the protection of the Saint by giving 4 turns to port and 4 to starboard before departure.
Many legends are told about this place but the most famous one says that John Baptist disembarked in the port of Bermeo and with three giant steps reached the Hermitage. His footprints can be found in the area. The first one is in the San Juan arc, in the wall of Bermeo. The second one in Arene neighbourhood, also in Bermeo. And the third one is the last step of the Hermitage.
The Hermitage building is closed almost the whole year but to get on top is free and open 24/7. Since this place appeared in Game of Thrones it became very popular and the number of tourists has grown significantly. Because of that, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start charging a fee in the nearest future.
If you want to go inside the Hermitage you will have to schedule your visit properly as it only opens 3 days a year for religious purposes.
-The 24th of June. Opens from 6,30am to 1,30pm. People from Bermeo celebrate the festivity of Saint John Baptist There are masses every hour
-The 31st of July. The people from Loyola town carry their virgin’s town so she can visit her cousin Saint Anne. Is Saint Ignacio Loyola’s festivity.
-The 29th of August. Municipalities of Bakio and Bermeo meet there and reaffirm their land limits.
How to get there
I got there by car and I highly recommend to rent one not only to get here but also to explore Bermeo and some other places around. From Bermeo to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is only 25 minutes by car and there are 2 small car parks plus plenty places along the road where you can leave the car.
Once you have parked you have two ways to reach the entrance and the stairs that will later on take you up to the Hermitage: a long sandy road that goes down through the hill or a short slope stairs of steep mud. To get there I chose the long road as even if it took me about an hour the walk is really nice with stunning views. To go back I took the other way and is about 20-30 minutes. If you choose the shortest way either to go up or down, make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the mud can get very slippery, the stairs are quite high and the handrail is quite unstable.
There is no public transport to get there from Bermeo but there is a bus you can take from Bilbao. The bus A3518 (Mungia line) departs hourly, 30 minutes passed the hour. It takes about 50 minutes to the last stop, Bakio town. Get down there and then you have 2 options, take a taxi or walk. The taxi apparently is around 2 euros and you have to wait till it gets full (is a van). I’m saying apparently because is what a couple that I met at the Hermitage told me so don’t take this info as a 100% true. If you don’t want to pay a taxi, you have the option of walking for about an hour. To go back you have the same options. The bus from Bakio to Bilbao leaves hourly, 25 minutes passed the hour.
Always wear comfy shoes as it will take you a while to get there. You will basically do a small trek.
Take water and something to eat. In the parking area you will find some very expensive restaurants so I’m sure you don’t want to spend 50 euros for a meal.
I went on Autumn so the temperature was quite nice, sunny and around 15 degrees. The weather in the North of Spain is usually quite unstable so better wear warm clothes and maybe an umbrella if you are planning on visiting on Autumn or Winter.
If visiting on Spring or Summer watch out once again for the rain. And if you are planning to enjoy the sunset, have in mind that on night time the temperatures drop considerably and it might be a good idea to bring also a flashlight since there are no lights at all apart from the moon and the stars
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