The ultimate ‘Game of Thrones’ travel guide

1 / 5
The Castillo de Almodóvar del Río is in Córdoba. (Shutterstock)
2 / 5
Dimmuborgir crops up in Icelandic folklore.
3 / 5
Thingvellir National Park is stunning during the winter months.
4 / 5
Downhill Strand is one of the longest stretches of sand in Northern Ireland.
5 / 5
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Spain boasts incredible views.
Updated 26 August 2017

The ultimate ‘Game of Thrones’ travel guide

DUBAI: It is fair to assume that many readers will be somewhat familiar with the ultra-popular saga “Game of Thrones.” It just wrapped up its seventh, penultimate, season, which had more than 25 million viewers in the US alone last year. That is not including global viewership, nor the astounding records being broken for pirated downloads, with several outlets reporting it to be the most-torrented TV program around the world.
Based on George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, the hit show has created a fresh crop of stars in a variety of roles, but the real scene-stealing characters are often the epic landscapes, quaint castles and other-wordly towns — all entirely tangible places across Europe and North Africa. Here are three regions from season seven where Game of Thrones super fans can book a ticket and go bend the proverbial knee.
The location: Highgarden
Country: Spain

Farewell, Queen of Thorns. We all loved Olenna Tyrell, all the way until she met her fate at the hands and poisoned chalice of Jaime Lannister. The aged but vivacious Tyrell would do anything for her family but sadly was not able to defend Highgarden, the historic seat of House Tyrell, famed for its complex maze and fertile surroundings.
The castle: Castillo de Almodóvar del Río  
The real-life location, on the banks of the river Guadalquivir in the Andalusian province of Córdoba, is equally impressive. The castle dates date to the 8th century when the Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula, harking back to an era in Europe that truly reflected the bloody feuds in the “World of Ice and Fire.” The good news is the location is open to the public and you can visit the lofty towers and the castle’s dungeons.
The location: Beyond the Wall
Country: Iceland

Hordes of “Free Folk” were united beyond the wall by Mance Rayder and almost besieged Castle Black in season four but were held at bay by Lord Commander Snow and later overrun by Stannis Baratheon’s forces. More recently, Snow and his fellowship of allies returned to kidnap a zombie “wight” for evidence of the war to end all wars.
Some of the show’s most incredible snowy scenes were shot in Iceland. In fact, the “Game of Thrones effect” has been linked to Iceland’s spike in visitor numbers, from 566,000 in 2011, the year it premiered, to more than one million by 2015 — and there are plenty of dedicated travel packages on offer.
Mance Rayder’s camp: Dimmuborgir
In the real world, the main Wildling camp was just south of the town of Húsavik in a lava field with distinctive rock formations. Dimmuborgir is deeply entwined with Icelandic folklore and was believed to be the home of murderous trolls — somehow fitting for a violent fantasy show.
The cave: Grjótagjá
When Jon Snow first went beyond the wall he shared a memorable moment with his redheaded friend, Ygritte, at Grjótagjá, a natural hot spring. The small lava cave near Lake Mývatn is in northeast Iceland and the spring can reach temperatures of 50°C even during the winter months.
Sweeping landscapes: Thingvellir National Park
When not buried under meters of snow, some of the Icelandic filming locations are popular summertime getaways. Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Alþingi (the national parliament of Iceland) was established more than one thousand years ago in 930 AD. Fans can even find real shards of “dragonglass” here — pieces of cooled lava known as obsidian.
The location: Dragonstone
Countries: Northern Ireland and Spain

The birthplace of Daenerys Targaryen has cropped up a few times throughout the show, both as the stronghold of the ill-fated Stannis Baratheon and where the “mother of dragons” sets up base on her return to Westeros. What is potentially confusing is that “Dragonstone” is not only the name of the castle, but also the island itself, which lies at the outer edge of the fictional Blackwater Bay.
The beach: Downhill Strand, Northern Ireland
Stannis “The Mannis” Baratheon and his devout adviser Melisandre burned wooden idols on this beach in County Londonderry. One of the longest stretches of sand in Northern Ireland at 11km, it is overlooked by the tiny Mussenden Temple.
The footbridge: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain
One of the filming units for season seven set up camp near Bilbao, on the north coast of Spain, to film several scenes on the incredible islet. It is far more secluded and peaceful than the likes of Madrid and Barcelona — for now.

Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

Crossing the unwelcoming terrain of the North Pole is not for the faint-hearted. Mariam Hamidaddin’s brave and inspirational journey to the top of the earth was ended by the threat of frostbite. Reuters
Updated 20 May 2018

Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

  • Mariam Hamidaddin was one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions.
  • Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.

LONDON: Mariam Hamidaddin was skiing toward the North Pole in temperatures as low as minus 38 C when she was advised by her team leader to give up on her dream and take a helicopter back to base camp.
She did so reluctantly. Frostbite had taken its toll on the Jeddah-born entrepreneur’s hands, but with no previous experience of such climates, Hamidaddin was unaware of the severity. Only when she was assessed by a Russian medic who spoke pidgin English did she appreciate how close she was to losing her fingers.
“The words he told me were: ‘No chop’ ... which was scary but also a great relief to hear,” said Hamidaddin, one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions. Team leader Felicity Aston deliberately chose women with no athletic or Arctic experience with the intention of demonstrating that anybody can achieve their goals with determination.
As Hamidaddin discovered, however, having an expert on hand helps. The transition from frostnip to frostbite can be a matter of five or 10 minutes, so it is essential for people in extreme weather to pay attention to their body. The tiniest sign can help avoid severe consequences.
The 32-year-old had followed all the instructions learned during training camps in Iceland and Oman: She kept moving to circulate her blood and had not removed her gloves even once in the Arctic. She felt pain, yes, but the entire team had frostnip, so why should she consider quitting?
Fortunately for her future — and her fingers — the decision was taken for her.

Mariam Hamidaddin was an inspirational member of the North Pole expedition before a doctor’s verdict cut her journey short.

“There was no proper moment where I realized I had frostbite,” Hamidaddin told Arab News after returning to the heat of Saudi Arabia. “If it was up to me, I would have wanted to continue, so I am extremely thankful that I was asked to evacuate because the frostbite gradually got worse and worse.
Basically, the team leader saved my fingers.”
Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.
This month on her Instagram feed @InTuneToTheSound, she is posting photos of her journey in non-chronological order. The intention is to be “open and vulnerable and hopefully inspire people.” In a post, a video shows her typing at a computer using only her right pinky finger.
“There is a negative media perception of what a Saudi woman looks like and what she can and can’t do,” said Hamidaddin. “For this reason, it’s important for us to show that what you see in the media isn’t necessary a true reflection of who we truly are.
“It is also important to share our failures as well because when I see success upon success, I cannot connect with that. I am human, I have weakness and I fall, and I need to know that when I fall, I can rise again. Those stories are the ones that will connect most with people.”
With Saudi Arabia women now competing at the Olympic Games, being allowed to attend football matches at certain stadiums and the imminent lifting of a ban on driving, opportunities for women in the Kingdom are blossoming.
Hamidaddin, founder of the Humming Tree, a co-working space and community center that focuses on creativity and wellbeing, said she sees examples of strong, athletic and confident women every day.
“You can see them everywhere — women running, biking, climbing mountains,” she said.
“So we are already there. It’s just a matter of sharing these stories more. We are strong women; we know what we want and we find a way around it. We do what we need to do and we get it done. The fact that driving now is going to be open for us, just makes all that easier.”
Although Hamidaddin’s journey to the North Pole was cut short, the team’s doctor said she could wait out the expedition in the warmth of base camp and celebrate with her team when they reached their destination.
It was an opportunity that, even with frostbite, she was never going to turn down. What she found at the top of the world was a beautiful, dreamlike landscape — and, perhaps fittingly, a perpetual chase to reach her goal.
“Unlike the South Pole, which is a landmass, the North Pole is a constantly drifting landscape. It’s sea ice on top of the Arctic Ocean and it’s always moving, so you are constantly trying to catch it,” she said.
“One minute you’re on top of the world taking a photo and by the time you’re done taking it, well, the North Pole is a few miles away. You have to keep trying to catch it.”