HOT Properties Magazine Archive
HOT Lifestyle - El Caminito del Rey... 'Walk this way!'
Once known as the world’s scariest footpath – and closed in 2000 due to its hazardous condition – three years of planning, 12 months of renovation and reconstruction, plus an investment of €2.7 million have at last bridled Málaga’s famous Caminito del Rey (King’s Walkway), which reopened to the public in March of this year, making headline news around the globe… and crashing its website into the bargain as thousands of people rushed to book their tickets. The great news is that since it’s only around 50km inland from Málaga city, for Costa del Sol visitors and residents it’s virtually on the doorstep and guaranteed to be a huge shot in the arm for the local economy…
Clinging to the towering, perpendicular cliffs of the spectacular Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Gorge, a vertiginous 100 metres above the rippling waters of the Guadalhorce River in the El Chorro area – between the picture postcard towns of Ardales, Álora and Antequera – the original walkway was never intended for hikers, climbers and adrenaline junkies. It had a much more utilitarian purpose than that. Its raison d’être? To provide the only access route for engineers and labourers working on the Guadalhorce hydroelectric plant, and the sole means of delivering vital materials and supplies for the project.
The rudimentary path was built from 1901 to 1905, and back in the day it was an impressive feat of engineering – as was the dam itself. Supported by railway sleepers, the walkway was made of no more than earth and sand. Accustomed to climbing masts and going aloft to set the sails, it was mariners from Málaga who were brought in to build the path rather than construction workers. And, so it’s said, prisoners on death row were drafted in to work on the most dangerous sections with the promise of a ticket to freedom, assuming they survived.
As construction of the Conde de Guadalhorce reservoir progressed – between 1914 and 1921 – and visits to it became more frequent, realising the impressiveness of the views from the catwalk, Sevillan project engineer Rafael Benjumea Burín, decided to have the surface concreted over for easier walking and greater durability.
In May 1921, as work on the dam concluded, the then Spanish King, Alfonso XIII, came to lay the last stone and officially open the plant. Followed by his “somewhat anxious” entourage, and despite the fact that it was raining cats and dogs, the King stoically walked the pathway’s entire length, and that’s how it got its name. Declaring himself to be amazed by the awe-inspiring catwalk, the monarch asked there and then to have his photo taken “to immortalise” his visit.
Of course, nowhere as magical and mystical as the enigmatic Desfiladero de los Gaitanes would be complete without its legend. And it’s rumoured that a lovelorn young English woman with long, blonde tresses was crossing El Balconcillo – the narrow bridge traversing the gorge – when she spurred her white horse over the parapet and both plunged to their deaths on the rocks below. But hopefully that’s no more than an old wives’ tale.
Moving on, if the breathtaking scenery gives you a feeling of déjà vu, that’s because several Hollywood blockbusters – variously starring Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, Omar Sharif and Raquel Welch – have been shot on location here.
First up, Von Ryan’s Express (1965), starring Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. To Spain’s eternal chagrin, a post-production glitch resulted in the credits stating that the movie had been filmed in Italy, when in actual fact the location was none other than El Caminito del Rey. Anecdotally, and to paraphrase Michael Caine, not a lot of people know that during filming, Sinatra – who was staying at the Pez Espada in Torremolinos, at the time one of the Coast’s leading luxury hotels – was apparently fined 25,000 pesetas for causing a ‘disturbance of the peace’ involving Cuban actress Cañibano Ondina and the paparazzi. He hurriedly left for the US the following day.
In the 1971 movie, The Horsemen, it was Omar Sharif’s turn to be filmed in the area for the John Frankenheimer production in which Spain doubled as Afghanistan, while The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2004), starring Robert de Niro and Geraldine Chaplin, is the most recent movie to have been shot in El Chorro.
But time and the elements took their toll and following various accidents and several tragic deaths, El Caminito del Rey was closed 15 years ago, although even €6,000 fines failed to deter the most determined of white-knucklers from walking and climbing in the area.
That’s all history now though. And while as much of the original 114-year-old catwalk has been retained as possible – albeit substantially improved and with sturdy new safety features added – during a solid 12 months of hard work, no fewer than 15,100 wooden planks have been laid, as well as various glass-floored sections jutting out a dizzying 105 metres above the swirling waters below. This time it was experienced rock climbers and mountaineers who carried out the ambitious refurbishment, which also of course involved the use of helicopters.
Not surprisingly, the project has captured the imagination of 150-odd major media outlets in 22 different countries around the globe. In the UK, The Guardian, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail have all run lengthy news stories about the reopening of the Caminito del Rey, while Lonely Planet have included it – alongside New York’s One World Observatory, Iceland’s Ice Cave and a 4-hour zipline ride in South Africa – as one of its ‘Top Hottest New Experiences for 2015’.
Even before its official opening on 28 March, more than 32,000 people had already reserved tickets to walk El Caminito del Rey, with entrance free of charge until the end of May. Such was the overwhelming demand that the entrance free period was quickly extended until the end of September and with tickets snapped up virtually overnight, by then no fewer than 110,000 visitors will have experienced the walkway first-hand.
So, if you want to visit it too – and who doesn’t? – then there’s nothing for it but to wait until the autumn when tickets, which have to be booked online two months in advance will go on sale, we believe at €6 each. Visitors are restricted to a maximum of 50 every half hour, with a cap of no more than 600 each day. To date, the majority of walkers have come from Spain, the US, UK, France, Germany and Portugal and have included people of all ages and abilities although children under the age of eight are not permitted, nor is there wheelchair access. Hardhats are provided and must be worn at all times, not because you’re likely to disappear over the edge, but rather in case any mountain goats scampering above you should scatter any tiny stones.
So, once you’ve got your ticket, what to expect? Well, first of all, with such breathtaking views to stop and stare at, the walk takes most people between 4 and 5 hours to complete, so allow yourself plenty of time as you certainly won’t want to rush it. The cliff-hugging catwalk itself is 1-metre wide and 2.9km long, with access ways of around 4.8km, making the total length approximately 7.7km. The path is linear rather than circular, and you can choose to enter it either at Ardales or Álora, so if you’d rather not retrace your footsteps all the way back to where you started from – meaning a round trip of 15.4km – you’ll be glad to know that shuttle buses are available at both ends!
While hikers certainly no longer need to be thrill-seekers or in peak physical form to tackle the Caminito del Rey, it’s not exactly a walk in the park either. It’s obviously not recommended for anyone with vertigo or heart problems, and as well as wearing sensible shoes and suncream, you’ll need to take water and snacks with you to keep you going.
Whether you start from the northern Ardales side or the southern Álora side, the approach routes will take you through the beautiful Valle del Hoyo. A stunning valley pervaded by the scent of wild flowers and with plenty of shady trees as well as a cooling stream, it’s an idyllic spot to stop off for a bite to eat at one of the designated picnic areas. The difference is that if you start at Álora – accessible by train from Málaga – the route is uphill. Conversely, if you set out from Ardales, the route is downhill.
Boasting the most spectacular and unforgettable of panoramic views, it’s been predicted that the Caminito del Rey will soon become the most visited attraction in Andalucía, if not Spain itself. In the words of Elías Bendodo, president of the Diputación de Málaga, “The power of seduction of this incomparable landscape is a natural jewel which has been hidden away for far too long and the people of the province of Málaga were determined to rectify that. There’s simply no place anywhere in the world that compares to the Caminito del Rey… it’s totally unique.”
In addition to the €2.7 million already spent on upgrading the catwalk itself, a further €2.8 million has been set aside for the creation of a visitors’ centre, car parks, and a range of complementary facilities.
Meanwhile, local restaurants and hotels in the area are busily hiring additional staff to take care of the overwhelming influx of visitors which is surpassing all expectations, and a range of new leisure and hospitality projects in the region are also on the drawing-board. And all because hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, just can’t wait to walk this way!
To reserve your tickets, and for all the information you need, visit www.caminitodelrey.info
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