The real-life landscapes and structures that stand in for Westeros and Essos on Game of Thrones are just as jaw-dropping as their fictional counterparts, but at least one new location for season 7 was unprepared for the massive tourism spike that occurred after it was heavily featured in the show.
The grand castle that stood on Dragonstone, House Targaryen’s ancestral homeland in Westeros, wasn’t real, but the winding stone pathway leading to it very much is. Those 241 steps will take you to the islet of Gaztelugatxe—located in Basque Country, a region in Spain—and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a hermitage (and monastery). It’s a pilgrimage site dedicated to John the Baptist that dates as far back as the 10th century.
Since Game of Thrones season 7 started airing, the islet has received far more visitors than usual. A report from the Spanish newspaper El País revealed that San Juan de Gaztelugatxe received 75,000 tourists during the month of July, which amounted to approximately 2,400 people a day. When you climb all 241 steps you can ring a bell and make a wish, so with the influx of tourists the bell has been getting quite a workout.
Although Gaztelugatxe’s local tourism office sees the Game of Thrones affect on the site as a positive, it’s concerned about protecting the site, which many still visit as a religious pilgrimage. It’s currently considering limiting entry to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, making it easier for those who visit to access it, or charging tourists to enter the site as potential solutions to what could be a growing problem.
Even if tourists have to pay a fee to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, it’s still a much better deal than what Daenerys Targaryen offered those who visited her home: a demand to bend the knee.