It was while I was climbing a steep path up to the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence in June that it occurred to me that I seem to make a habit of visiting cities where a long steep climb is required to get to an amazing view; a challenge I can’t resist.
I have friends who are serious walkers and hike along ancient roads, up mountains and across moors who don’t take my city walking seriously. But on the day I walked up to the piazzale for that iconic view across beautiful Florence, I walked 17.3km according to my iPhone, and much of that involved huff and puff up almost vertical inclines. Of course food is a big part of my holidays, as regular readers will know, and I eat more than I normally would at home. But I do walk it off! I build up an appetite during the day before I settle at a restaurant table in the evening, a glass of fizz before me as I study the menu and decide on what my gastronomic reward will be for achieving those 25,000 steps!
Walking in cities is about discovery, seeking out the famous sights as well as randomly taking a route down a pretty street or mystery alleyway just because you fancy it. I like to wander, not necessarily with a destination in mind, but towards what attracts me. That’s when you really get to see a city; unhindered by looking at a map or marching determinedly towards a particular sight, you look around; you look up, across and see what’s around you. And if you’re lucky, you may find a gem: an unexpected view; a delightful little cafe or restaurant tucked into a corner; a stunning building; or a beautiful square with some locals sitting on a bench under a tree chatting amiably.
But to see a city in its entirety, you have to climb. There’s no way out of it. Although sometimes you can ‘cheat’ and take a lift, as I did in Turin to go to the top of Mole Antonelliana and enjoy fantastic views across the city.
Often there’s no choice but to go on foot. When you’re in a beautiful city, though, it’s just glorious to celebrate your efforts as you take in a panoramic view at the end of a long climb; often a view beyond the confines of city walls, or maybe out to sea, depending on where you are. Cities aren’t all about museums, art galleries, historic buildings and restaurants. In most cities I’ve been to you can always find a quiet spot … and, as the following will show, very often a spectacular view.
When I left Florence in June, I moved on to Lucca. Here, the Torre Guigini that rises high into the sky in the centre of this beautiful medieval city, has no lift.
Walking up and up and up is the only way to get to the top. But the reward is spectacular.
Back to Turin earlier this year, I found some wonderful peaceful places to walk, like the Parco del Valentino which runs along the edge of the River Po. I also took a walk up a steep road to the Villa della Regina from which you can enjoy magnificent views across the city.
In Siena it’s worth buying a ticket for a tour of the Port del Cielo when you visit the cathedral. You will have to climb up two steep and very narrow spiral staircases but the view will make it all worthwhile. What better way to appreciate and see this incredible city and its famous campo?
Genoa is built on cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea so a lot of climbing of steep roads is involved just to get around the city. But take the funicular up to Righi, walk up another steep road, and you will find a great view over the city and out to sea.
San Sebastian is famous for the number of Michelin starred restaurants it has (more than Paris) but also its bars serving the most incredible pinxtos (tapas), which are not only delicious but little works of art. Set by the sea, it’s not somewhere that requires much climbing but it is worth taking a walk up to the summit of Monte Urgull for the fantastic views.
Down towards the south of Spain to Granada, this is another city that requires a lot of climbing of steep pathways just to get around. But the views are incredible and well worth any effort required to see them. Always, rising above you, there is the beautiful and magnificent Alhambra that seems to keep watch over the city.
You mustn’t miss a visit into the Alhambra (and this does require pre-booking, even months ahead), from which there are more amazing views.
From the centre of the city it’s well worth the effort of climbing a steep road out to Sacromonte. Here is the old gypsy area where people once lived in caves, and which was the heart of flamenco. Take a look back down towards the centre. It was one of the most incredible and wonderful views I’ve seen.
Further south still in Spain to Malaga. This is a beautiful city which offers both a strong cultural scene (it was where Picasso was born) and a beach. It’s well worth a walk up to the Gibralfaro Castle (14th century) and Moorish Alcazaba Fortress (parts dating back to 8th century) for views across the city and sea.
And let’s not forget Nice, also by the sea. Take a steep and long climb up to the 15th century Tour Bellanda at the top of Castle Hill for a fabulous view over the city.
When you take a holiday in a city it’s all too easy to get caught up in exploring the ground level but it’s always worth seeking out the views from above. Even if it does mean a steep climb on foot!