Ahead are signs of modern living: sailboats, speedboats, ferries and a cruiseship or two. Below are hints of the past: terracotta rooftops, laundry on clotheslines and people on the move within 13th century stone walls that circle and fortify all.
The aerial view stays with me for a couple of hours, because that’s how long it takes to gawk and stroll atop the Walls of Dubrovnik, on the Adriatic Sea and along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. The 1.2-mile ring leads to stone forts, casual café rest spots, artists at work and an occasional sprig of wildflowers abloom through cracks in limestone.
The sheer beauty and panoramic views from this unusual vantage point are extraordinary all on their own, but “Game of Thrones” fans have additional reasons to visit.
This part of Dubrovnik (pronounced DUE-burr-nick by the locals) set the mood for HBO’s complex “Game of Thrones,” described as “the world’s most popular show” on a TIME magazine cover this month. The series is shown in at least 170 countries, averages 23 million American viewers per episode and is based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Story of Fire and Ice” novels. The seventh and final, 13-episode season begins Sunday, July 16.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town was introduced during the first season as King’s Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms. Lokrum Island and its longtime monastery, a 15-minute ferry ride away, was the kingdom of Qarth in season two, also home to the House of Undying.
That’s just the start of what has made Croatia, especially Dubrovnik, a hotbed for fans of “Game of Thrones,” whose power-hungry, blood-thirsty and sexually charged characters seek control of the Iron Throne. Just uphill from the main drag of Old Town, between Pile Gate and the bell tower, is a replica of that coveted perch in a shop that sells “Game of Thrones” T-shirts and other collectibles.
Although Croatia reportedly is not a film site for these last episodes of the show, other Hollywood filmmakers have found their way here. That includes shooting for a “Robin Hood” remake in Dubrovnik last spring, which temporarily turned Old Town into Nottingham.
The movie is for release in 2018; Producers of the movie, for release in 2018 and starring Jamie Foxx as Little John, include Leonardo DiCaprio.
Dubrovnik, nicknamed the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” is a longtime survivor in a country that declared its independence in 1991 and subsequently fought to make it happen.
Old Town bombing by the former Yugoslavia caused severe damage in the 1990s, as did an earthquake in 1667. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Three-hour guided walking tours with a “Game of Thrones” theme happen daily during this time of year in Dubrovnik and cost around $67. The tour company also arranges “Game of Thrones” tours elsewhere in Croatia, Northern Ireland, Spain, Iceland – just about anyplace in the world where the series has been filmed. viator.com, 866-648-5873
Also in Dubrovnik is an escape room inspired by “Game of Thrones” – to save King’s Landing – suitable for two to five players. The one-hour challenge requires logic, perception and teamwork. Cost is around $30 but depends on the number of players. dubrovnikescaperoom.com, 385-976-442-145
About 140 miles north of Dubrovnik is Split, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and “Game of Thrones” film location because of ruins from the Palace of Diocletian, built by the Romans in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries.
No need to book airfare for an immersion into these long-ago times.
Learn blackwork stitching, shop for jester socks, compete in medieval games or gnaw on a turkey drumstick at the 30th annual Bristol Renaissance Festival, 12550 120th Ave., Kenosha. It’s an all-immersive experience: Characters joust, weave baskets, take tea. Meet knights in armor and ladies in waiting.
Learn the difference between a bowyer and a blacksmith. Arrive in costume and step into RenQuest, interactive and theatrical gaming where it will be difficult to separate visitors from the site’s 45 involved staffers.
Admission is $26 ($11.50 for ages 5 to 12). Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Labor Day. The season ends Sept. 4. renfair.com/bristol, 847-395-7773
Admission is free for a “Game of Thrones” season premiere party at House Orpheum, aka The Orpheum Theater, 216 State St., Madison. Come costumed, and pre-register to make sure there’s room for you on the guest list. Doors open at 6 p.m., a trivia contest begins at 6:30 and the show airs at 8. madisonorpheum.com, 608-250-2600
July 29 is “Game of Thrones” Night at the 6:35 p.m. Madison Mallards collegiate summer baseball game against the Battle Creek Bombers at 2920 N. Sherman Ave., Madison. Expect Minnesota Renaissance Festival characters, plus a meat raffle and after-game fireworks. Tickets start at $8. northwoodsleague.com/madison-mallards, 608-246-4277
Aug. 15 is “Game of Thrones Night” at Miller Park; the Milwaukee Brewers play Pittsburgh at 6:40 p.m. A special ticket package, $21 to $45, includes a Bernie Iron Throne Bobblehead. mlb.com/brewers/tickets/theme-nights, 414-902-4000
“As a reminder, dragons and direwolves are not permitted at the ballpark,” the team’s press release states.
Last: One year ago, Jennifer Gursky of Portage won a cool $609,942.76 at a “Game of Thrones” slot machine at Ho-Chunk Gaming, Wisconsin Dells. It was described as the biggest payout for the year.