STEP BY STEP

What was once a dan­ger­ous hike is now a fam­ily-friendly path­way filled with scenic won­der

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION | SPAIN - JANE ARMITSTEAD

Imag­ine bal­anc­ing on a metal bar barely wider than the palm of your hand while you cross be­tween two steep cliff walls. You’re so high, vul­tures cir­cle above your head while the emer­ald green river rapidly flows far be­low. Every step is cru­cial.

This is what thrillseek­ers craved when they walked what was once known as the most dan­ger­ous path­way in the world – the Caminito del Rey, hid­den high in the moun­tains about an hour from Malaga in Spain.

The hike was shut down in 2000 af­ter a num­ber of deaths but re­opened in 2015 with ex­ten­sive safety im­prove­ments.

As I stand on the new walk­way star­ing at the rem­nants of the old worn-out path be­low me, the wind takes hold of my body. It’s easy to pic­ture how this sce­nario might have played out when there wasn’t any­thing there to save my life.

More than two mil­lion eu­ros were in­vested into mak­ing the path a safe tourist at­trac­tion that now in­cludes manda­tory hard hats for all vis­i­tors.

The years-long re­de­vel­op­ment was a vi­tal way to pre­serve the path’s cen­tury-old past while al­low­ing its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance to be ce­mented into the fu­ture.

It was first built by sailors in 1901 be­fore it was de­vel­oped into an ac­cess point for vil­lagers and work­ers to reach the nearby hy­dro-elec­tric plants. King Al­fonso XIII opened the path in 1921, giv­ing it the name of the King’s Path­way af­ter he walked part of the track. Over the years it de­te­ri­o­rated and crum­bled away, at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of dar­ing adrenalin junkies look­ing for a thrill.

To­day, it’s a fam­ily friendly 7.7km trail made up of bush tracks and the in­fa­mous cliff-side board­walk.

The rep­u­ta­tion around it has shifted to one of sheer beauty, with strik­ing nat­u­ral scenery around every cor­ner. Canyon walls tower 300m ei­ther side, clos­ing in to a width of just 10m in parts.

The trail’s peak is a per­ilous foot­bridge about 100m above the ground and is one of the most scenic spots along the way. Turquoise wa­ter chan­nels flow be­tween the supreme Des­filadero de los Gai­tanes gorge, where the sun­light re­flects a vi­brant hue. As you walk around the walls of the gorge, the waves of moun­tains are seem­ingly end­less.

The track is lined with sur­prises as our guide Mar­cello points out wild carob trees and a whale fos­sil en­crusted into the walls. He ex­plains that mil­lions of years ago the rock walls were part of the ocean bed.

As the vul­tures cir­cle above, an alpine ibex peers down from high on the tip of the cliff ’s edge. When I look down at the old path that re­mains di­rectly be­low the new, there’s barely enough room for two feet and in some parts it’s non-ex­is­tent.

Nailed into the cliff wall are re­minders and trib­utes to vic­tims, in­clud­ing a large memo­rial to three friends who died swing­ing from a zip wire in 2000.

The Caminito del Rey is one of the main draw­cards of the An­dalu­sia re­gion but there’s much more of this cor­ner of Spain to ex­plore.

Known for its big­ger cities such as Granada, Seville and Cor­doba, An­dalu­sia is home to an­cient vil­lages, end­less rolling hills, beaches and lush na­tional parks.

Away from beach hot spots such as Costa del Sol and Malaga are a string of lesser-known towns in­clud­ing Jerez, the home of sherry, and Juz­car, a tiny vil­lage that was painted en­tirely blue to pro­mote the Smurf movie a few years ago – and stayed that way.

Among the most spec­tac­u­lar is Ronda, one of Spain’s old­est towns, set above a stun­ning deep gorge with one of the most pho­tographed struc­tures in the coun­try, the Puente Nuevo bridge.

Nearby, breath­tak­ing swim­ming holes are some the re­gion’s best spots to cool off on a hot Span­ish day.

About 45 min­utes out­side Ronda is the La Playita, or lit­tle beach, of Za­hara de la Sierra.

From the road, you would be for­given for think­ing it’s the op­po­site set­ting for a beach. Thick, bushy moun­tains swal­low the ground with not a drop of wa­ter in sight.

But through a clear­ing of trees you see the first glimpse of the man-made beach, glis­ten­ing out of place in a large nat­u­ral park.

Fam­i­lies have set­tled into the park for the day, un­pack­ing elab­o­rate pic­nics in the sun­shine and then head­ing into the wa­ter to float on their in­flat­able toys.

The ar­ti­fi­cial beach was formed from a small dam and has cap­tured a strik­ing im­age of man­u­fac­tured beauty in the most nat­u­ral of sur­rounds.

While I sit on the edge of the “beach”, I get lost won­der­ing what else is hid­ing in the depths of th­ese val­leys.

We drive along the empty roads lined with rolling sun­flower fields, which lead to an­other hide­away just 20 min­utes from Ronda.

The Cueva del Gato or the cat’s cave is the most re­cent ad­di­tion to the re­gion’s list of nat­u­ral mon­u­ments.

The place is en­tirely ours as we catch the last hours of sun­light and revel in the crys­tal-clear wa­ters of the spec­tac­u­lar river pool where there are flow­ing wa­ter­falls and fish swim­ming around us.

Hav­ing ar­rived in An­dalu­sia in search of a thrill, I didn’t ex­pect to un­cover so much beauty bub­bling be­neath the sur­face.

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK

The Puente Nuevo bridge spans a 120m-deep gorge that di­vides the city of Ronda; and the Caminito del Rey path­way takes walk­ers along steep walls of the El Chorro gorge (be­low).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.