ES­CAPE ROUTE

Townsville Bulletin - Townsville Eye - - Escape -

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 down 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, tucked high in the moun­tains about an hour out­side 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 whole 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 was in­vested into mak­ing the path a safe and dan­ger-free tourist at­trac­tion which now in­cludes manda­tory hard hats for all vis­i­tors. The years-long re­de­vel­op­ment was a vi­tal way to pre­serve the path’s cen­tu­ry­old past while al­low­ing its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance to be ce­mented into the fu­ture.

It was first built by sailors in 1901 be­fore it was later de­vel­oped into an ac­cess point for vil­lagers and work­ers to reach the nearby hydro-elec­tric plants. King Al­fonso XIII of­fi­cially 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 adren­a­line 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 just 10m in parts.

The high­est peak of the path­way is a per­ilous foot­bridge about 100m above the ground and is one of the most pic­turesque scenes you’ll see along the way.

Turquoise wa­ter chan­nels flow be­tween the supreme Des­filadero de los Gai­tanes gorge with the sun­light re­flect­ing a hue so vi­brant it’s al­most come straight from an artist’s pal­ette.

As you walk around the walls of the gorge, the waves of moun­tains are 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 mil­lions of years ago the rock walls used to make up the ocean bed.

As the vul­tures cir­cle above, an alpine ibex peers down over us from high on the tip of the cliff’s edge.

When I look down at the old path which 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 like Costa del Sol and Malaga, are a string of lesser known towns like 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 kept 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 are some the re­gion’s best spots to cool off on a hot Span­ish day with breath­tak­ing swim­ming holes.

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 glimpses of the man-made beach, glis­ten­ing out of place in a large nat­u­ral park.

Fam­i­lies have set­tled in the park for the day with elab­o­rate pic­nics while peo­ple float on their in­flat­able toys and en­joy the sun­shine.

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 leads us to an­other hide­away just 20 min­utes out of Ronda.

The Cueva del Gato or the cat’s cave is

GET­TING THERE

STAY­ING THERE

TO DO

E S C A P E 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 spec­tac­u­lar river pool of crys­tal clear wa­ters and run­ning wa­ter­falls with 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. Caminito del Rey is roughly an hour’s drive from Ronda or Malaga and can be ac­cessed by train to El Chorro, where the walk begins. It’s about a 2km bush walk from El Chorro to the start­ing point of the trail, which can take two hours to com­plete. Al­low enough time to reach the start. Buses run at both ends. Ronda is a per­fect place to base your­selves. There are plenty of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions close to the city cen­tre for all bud­gets. A sherry tast­ing in Jerez, the Caminito del Rey path­way un­guided for €10 (AUD$15) ad­vanced book­ing es­sen­tial, visit the man­made beach at Za­hara de la Sierra and take a dip in a cave at Cueva del Gato.

NEW BRIDGE AND THE WHITE HOUSES, RONDA

CAMINITO DEL REY PATH

SHERRY BAR­RELS IN JEREZ, SPAIN

PEO­PLE HAR­VEST­ING GRAPES

SPAN­ISH DIN­NER COOKED AND SERVED

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