Do you know that feeling we get sometimes when we go to a new place and feel so connected, so at ease there that the first thought that pops into the brain is: “I have been here before!”. A feeling of déjà-vu (or seen before) that some sites bear. If you believe that a place is composed of both its geography and of all the History associated with it then you might end up realizing that you have indeed at some point been to the place, if not in person at least through the books you have read, the movies you have watched and the images you have seen many times that could very well be of that place. Portugal and Spain, the two countries in the Iberian Peninsula, with their centuries-old castles and towns with all their History that dates back to millennia ago will certainly trigger some of these feelings as you go along exploring.
Images of both countries have been featured countless times in movie productions throughout the last century and some classics do come to mind to some of us such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), a James Bond movie shot partially in Cascais, Lisbon (Portugal) or Dr. Zhivago (1966) that was shot fully in Spain 100 miles northeast of Madrid in the mountain region of Soria.
However, movie directors’ love for the landscapes and heritage of both Portugal and Spain has only increased as the years go by! Recently both countries were chosen again to be featured in the much-awaited House of the Dragon, a prequel to the incredibly beloved television fantasy series, Game of Thrones, which was also filmed here. This vibrant and spellbinding show is an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, the first of which is called A Game of Thrones.
Even though many places were changed through computer generated imagery or some computer retouching program to make them look the way the producers needed them to look, the fact is that the Iberian Peninsula has an incredible potential as scenery for any historic movie or television series.
Let us take you on a trip to the absolutely fantastic locations featured in the series and we will let you draw your own conclusions as to why these were the chosen ones.
Set on a hill that imposes itself to the gaze from wherever you look in the horizon the Portuguese Historical Village of Monsanto holds a unique charm and magic atmosphere to it. The name itself is a hint as it means Holy Mountain. And while it is a remote site in the center of Portugal, Monsanto stands out as a quaint settlement with prehistoric rock formations overlooking the incredibly green surroundings and enclosing a well-preserved medieval center. On account of this, the place has been awarded two titles in the twentieth century Most Portuguese Village of Portugal, in 1938, and the Historical Village prize in 1995. Its massive boulders, rocky hills with built-in houses are an icon of the region and were an important lookout point for the Templars who built their keep here in times gone by. Monsanto is a peculiar and almost meditative experience for those who visit.
This is a city that is extremely rich in terms of History and Heritage. Located in the Estremadura region in Western Spain it has been along the centuries, a meeting point for different people and different cultures. Romans, Muslims, Jews and Christians have lived here in the last millennia and shaped a city that is as a diverse culturally as it is artistically. Roman gateways, Jewish quarters, Muslim towers and Renaissance Palaces, they all coexist in this absolutely glorious gem of the Past. The region around is one of the favorites of movie directors. Places like Plasencia an important Gothic and Moorish style town about one hour away by car, is another site that was featured in the House of the Dragon series. Cáceres’ monumental city center was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1986.
Going into the Monumental City of Cáceres for the first time will feel very much like walking directly into a History book!
The walled town of Trujillo is also in the area of the aforementioned province of Cáceres. It is located between the valleys of the Rivers Tagus and Guadiana, both crossing the borders between the two countries. Trujillo is known as the land of the Conquistadores: Pizarro, the first European explorer of Peru and whose statue rises imposingly in the historical center and Orellana, the finder and first navigator of the Amazon River were both born here.
The town has an important display of well-kept monuments ranging from medieval churches to Renaissance castles and palaces, many of them built around its Plaza Mayor. The town and its heritage have been declared a Site of Cultural Interest by the Spanish Government and once you get there it is easy to see why. The feeling one has after crossing the Puerta de San Andrés and looking at the plaza ahead is that of surprise. Almost as if Trujillo’s historic center was carefully designed to look like a medieval setting for a board game or even for a television series. So of course, the producers of House of the Dragon had to take the chance!
So much has been said and written about the city of Seville and its wonders that this has become one of the absolutely unmissable places to visit when in Spain. The municipality is also the capital of the region of Andalusia. For centuries it has been one of the most disputed cities by the different people that inhabited the South of Spain not just due to its strategic geographic location on the banks of the Guadalquivir River but mostly for its importance and richness. The city houses the largest historic center in Europe and its heritage bear witness to the multicultural past of the region around. The Moorish heritage lives side by side with the more recent Christian heritage forming a stunning well-preserved ensemble quite worthy of a few days of exploring.
If you have an eye for photography or cinema then you will surrender to this colorful and vibrant city as did the producers of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. The Real Alcazar of Seville is featured numerous times throughout the series. This is a 10th century palace formerly belonging to the Moorish rulers of the region that later on passed on to the hands of the Christians though maintaining its Arabic style and charm.
Also the nearby archaeological site and Roman ruins of Italica were used in the series and if you are looking for a live History lesson this is truly the place to go: the city, known in the Roman era as 'Colonia Aelia Augusta Italicensium', is now and excavation site where you still see the amphitheater, aqueducts, temples, thermal baths and houses with beautiful mosaic floors. It was the first Roman city in Spain, founded in 206 B.C. and its name Itálica comes from the word Italy where the emperor that built it was originally from.
There is much more to explore and to experience in Seville though! A tour of the city is only complete with a tour of the Cathedral and the Giralda Tower and the Torre del Oro by the river; also make sure to visit the neighborhood of Barrio de Santa Cruz and Barrio de Triana, the birthplace of Flamenco, the traditional Spanish singing and dancing style.
Seville is really all of what the heart of Spain is about: the delicious tapas, the ancient culture, the beautiful music and slow living lifestyle of its people. A truly irresistible destination!
Located at 80 Km (or 49 miles) from Seville in Andalusia is the quaint town of Osuna, declared by UNESCO a Historic-Artistic Site. One of its streets, Calle San Pedro with its whitewashed houses, typically Andalusian was even considered the second most beautiful in Europe! While you are walking the streets go all the way to Plaza Mayor and admire the Convento de la Concepción and the Torre del Água, a former Arab tower turned into an Archaelogical Museum.
If there’s something we learned by now in this Iberian adventure is that if it is good enough to be classified by UNESCO, then the site is perfect for cinematic purposes. The main Game of Thrones film location in Osuna was the Plaza de Toros one of the widest bullrings in Spain where real bullfights still take place nowadays. Food here is a serious matter and the tapas here are some of the best in the region. Visit one of the many restaurants in town and ask for the Iberian Pork Cured Ham, the spicy fries potatoes called Patatas Bravas and a sample of the fine local olive oils. An experience to remember for years to come!
The Basque Country or Euskadi as the northern region is called in the local language which bears the same name, is a nearly magical part of Spain with long ridged coastlines surrounded by dramatic greenery, very often cut through by a mysterious mist rising from the mountains. What a perfect setting for a fantasy television series, right? That is precisely the reason why the producers of Game of Thrones have recurred multiple times to these landscapes to create the necessary mesmerizing ambiance for the characters in the show. These include places like Gaztelugatxe a small islet off the coast of Biscay connected to the mainland by a winding, manmade bridge or the Muriola or the Zumaia Beaches both with unique rock formations and seascape and at a short drive from Bilbao. However getting to know the Basque Country is so much more than that after all!
Drive along the scenic roads to find all the treasures of the region such as the coastal city of San Sebastian (named Donostia in Euskadi) with its amazing views over the ocean, cultural atmosphere and incredible tapas (here named pintxos). Make sure you also include a visit to Bilbao and its world-renowned Guggenheim Museum by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry and one to the colorful ancient fishing town of Hondarribia with its lovely typical Basque houses dotting its ancient cobbled streets. If you can save some time for Vitoria (Gastéiz) with its fantastic well-kept historic center boasting a Gothic catholic cathedral which has been classified as UNESCO heritage.
Should you would like to try some of the best wines of Spain take a detour to the region of La Rioja-Navarra and spend some time sampling the different types at the numerous wineries. And while you could try an impromptu approach it is best if you have your reservations in order with Spain Trails even before you pack as the Summer season specially can be really busy.
Girona is a province and city of Spain about 100Km (or 62 miles) from Barcelona in between the Pyrenees mountains and the Costa Brava coast. The city is known as “The City of The Four Rivers” as it sits at the confluence of the rivers Ter, Galigants, Onyar, and Guel. The incredible diversity in heritage and architecture of the city is much due to the different people who inhabited it namely the Romans, the Arabs, the Jews and the Christians. The Onyar River divides the city into two parts, the historic center to the east and the more modern neighborhoods to the west towards the plains. The choice of Girona as one of the sets for The Game of Thrones was probably an obvious one as there is a variety of sites in town that could be featured in the series for their uniqueness and style. Some that were indeed included were the Cathedral of Gerona, a masterpiece of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic art standing majestically at the center of the beautiful Plaça de la Catedral; the cobbled streets of the old town such as Bisbe Cartaña and Plaça dels Jurats built almost as to resemble a maze and surrounded by fortified walls; the stairs of Sant Marti Sacosta 17th century church; The Banys Àrabs or Arab Baths and the Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants which is an ancient Benedictine abbey dating to the 10th century! When in Girona make sure you find some time to escape to the fabulous beaches of the Costa Brava bathed by the Mediterranean Sea or maybe even to the unexpected gem that is the Cap de Creus Natural Park. Food in this part of Spain deserves a television series of its own: the variety and freshness of the cuisine in the region is one of the highlights. Some of the local specialties include (but are definitely not limited to) grilled vegetables with romesco sauce, made with almonds and red peppers; rabbit seasoned with chocolate or the unmissable "Crema catalana" a custard cream with a caramelized sugar topping, or the Spanish version of a delicate crème-brûlée. Choose your reason to go to Girona but should you have the opportunity, just go end enjoy the time of your life!
There are so many other places that could be featured in Game of Thrones, The House of the Dragon or even in this article as there is an abundance of beautiful landscapes and locations in Spain and Portugal, some of them looking like they came out of a dream or a fantasy world but we leave it to you to discover some of the wonders of two countries that have so much to offer. Dive heads first into a magical world where, wherever you go, whatever you do, you are always at a win!