A Head For Heights

I'm not good with heights, and that's something which rather annoys me. So whenever I'm presented with something high, steep or precipitous I'm determined to face down my fears.

Caminito del Rey

As soon as I read about it, I was fascinated by the Caminito del Rey in Andalucia. Built originally in the early 1900s to provide access to a remote hydro-electric scheme on the El Chorro and Gaitenejo falls, it gained its name after a visit by King Alfonso XIII for the inauguration of the Conde del Guadalhorce dam. The access was closed after two people lost their lives there, but that didn't stop the most determined from still trying their luck.Puente Nuevo, Ronda Over the years the pathway gradually fell into disrepair until it was being visited only by the most ardent thrillseekers. Perhaps this continuing interest in the place was the reason that the Andalucian government eventually decided to renovate and reopen the caminito in a safer but still pretty hair-raising form. The new path opened in 2015 to provide a unique day out for any visitor with a strong head for heights. The photo above shows visitors on the new caminito while a few feet below them are the crumbling concrete and rusty steel of the original.

Tajo Gorge, RondaAlso in Andalucia, Ronda is famed for the deep Tajo Gorge and the New Bridge. (Like all places with "new" in the name, it's old! It was started in 1751 and completed in 1793.) Standing 120m (390 ft) above the valley floor, you can stand on the bridge and peer over the parapet and marvel at the views not just of the gorge and cliffs but the whole of the Serranía de Ronda. It's hard to imagine how builders have managed to construct houses right along the cliff edge where dropping anything out of a window will see it disappear hundreds of feet below.

altBuilding towns at the top of cliffs in not unique to Spain though, and Sant'Agata de Goti a little way inland from Naples is a classic Italian example. This historic gem perches delicately on a steep, sheer bluff above a river gorge, giving it a feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world. With its higgledy-piggledy streets, Baroque cathedral and abundance of characteristic little houses, Sant'Agata de Goti packs all the charm you’d expect from a medieval Italian town. A visit in June would be ideal, when the streets are carpeted in flowers to celebrate Corpus Domini. Not just strewn anywhere though, flowers seeds and leaves are arranged into intricate"paintings". Just hope that it's not a windy day!

altFrance too houses a number of cliff-top villages and the one we have chosen here is Rocamadour. Balanced on a cliff which rises almost 400 feet (120m) above the valley below, topped by the vertiginous spire of the Citadel of Faith, Rocamadour continues to enthral and amaze all those who set eyes on it. In this mist-filled shot, the village looks plucked straight from a fantasy film, or maybe even a Transylvanian horror. Other similarly precarious-looking villages can be found along the valleys of the Dordogne and the Rhone, and in the mountainous regions of the Alps and the Pyrenees.

In Corsica, the citizens of Bonifacio have gone one better and the houses of the citadel there are quite literally suspended above the Mediterranean, poised ready to topple into the sea. altCenturies of erosion have eaten away at the limestone cliffs so that they are now undercut to what seems to be an alarming extent. How much longer will they last? Well Bonifacio was found in 830 AD so perhaps they do have a little time left. To get the very same view as shown in this photo, there are many boat trips available. On the other side of the town is a well protected harbour with a marina, ferry port and pleasure boats. A typical trip will include not just the cliffs but also a magical floating ride deep into a cave which at its far end is illuminated by a natural opening in the roof.

altMany of the most vertiginous structures anywhere in the world are monasteries (presumably located for their solitude) and castles (for defence). One such is the Citadelle de Corte in the town of the same name. Known locally as the "Eagle's Nest", it's a fitting title as it towers above the town and the surrounding valley. The historic building is the oldest in Corte, built in 1420 by the Viceroy of Corsica. As well as being a picturesque viewpoint, it is home to the Museum of Corsica and was once the seat of the independent Corsican government.

Back in Spain, the church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is most famous for its architect, its way-out architecture and the length of time it is taking to build (135 years so far, and still some way to go). I don't know if it's still true but when we visited it was possible to climb high up in those impressively slender towers and look out at the view of the city. In each aperture the parapets were incredibly low, giving an alarming sense of vulnerability. On reflection, it is probably the sense of vulnerability, of being exposed, that contributes more to the fear of heights than the height itself. Every city in the world now has some very high buildings, yet we can stand at a window in one of those buildings and feel nothing. However if the glass were not there ....!

Sagrada Familia

Suggested hotels:
Caminito del Rey - Cortijo Valverde or El Chorro Villas
Ronda - Molino del Santo or Enfrente Arte
Sant'Agata de Goti - Hotel Margherita or Hotel Pellegrino
Bonifacio - Cala di Greco
Citadelle de Corte - La Marlotte
Sagrada Familia - Edelweiss or The 8

2 Oct 2020, 15:42

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