Around the world one can find luxury accommodations, castles, temples, lighthouses, crypts and a great deal more curiously carved into soaring cliffs. Apart from wondrous views, these locations bespeak great human ingenuity and architectural prowess. In an age when we’ve learned to expect less for more, these sites are a welcome reminder of the promise of humanism–of our capacity for greatness. Here are our 25 favourite spots built into cliffs:
1. Grotto Palazzese – Italy
Dine in style at this seaside restaurant in Polignano a Mare – Southern Italy. It’s built inside a vaulted limestone cave and has outstanding views of Polignano a Mare’s limestone cliffs. The crisp blue Adriatic sea laps against the rocky outcrop at your feet as you enjoy your dessert.
2. Tiger’s Nest – Bhutan
This extraordinary monastery is built directly into the side of a rock face and is among Bhutan’s most iconic and oft-frequented spots. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Takstang, is truly remarkable and so very worth the five-hour hike it takes to reach. To visit one must join an organized tour, as is most often the case when sight-seeing in Bhutan. However if you’re not feeling up to the hike you can hire a horse and arrive in style.
3. Moon Hole – Bequia, Caribbean
This strange skeletal looking former mansion house sits at the bottom of a moon-shaped hole in a Caribbean cliff. The once proud owners, American couple Tom and Gladdie Johnston, came upon the quiet paradise in the Western part of Bequia whilst exploring the island. After a watery hike along the bottom of the cliffs, they came upon the unique site of the Moon Hole and on a whim decided to build a grand hotel at the base of the curious natural arch. Although this unique luxury accommodation was once thriving it now quietly blends in with its austere landscape.
4. Predjama Castle – Slovenia
The absolutely majestic Predjama Castle is dramatically carved into the side of a mountain cliff. Its old Baron, Erasmus Lueger, is said to have built a secret passageway through the cave system in order to siege-proof it.
6. Skylodge Adventure Suites – Cusco, Peru
Brave enough to camp inside a glass bubble stuck to the side of a cliff? Or want to know what it feels like to live like a seabird? Then check out Natura Vive in Cusco, Peru. To sleep here you must climb 400m up the mountain or alternatively go on a treacherous hike involving a zip line. The three spacious capsules are perched near the top of a 12,000-foot mountain and provide a sweeping 360-degree view over the Sacred Valley. A totally unique experience and way to see Peru.
7. Yunak Evleri – Cappadocia, Turkey
Yunak Evleri is a hotel complex carved into Cappadocia’s Urgup mountains. Though a traditional cave dwelling, it offers its visitors a sweet taste of opulence. Its 40 rooms are spread out across the seven cave complex replete with 5-star facilities. There aren’t many hotels as romantic as these in Cappadocia.
8. Hanging Monasteries -Mt. Hengshan, China
Hanging Monastery, clinging above the base of Mount Hengshan, is an architectural wonder. Built more than 50 metres above the ground, the collection of Buddhist temples has withstood the test of time and survived the elements for over 1400 years. The building is literally supported by the rock and held up by cross beams inserted into the cliff face.
9. Mesa Verde National Park – North America
Mesa Verde National Park is an archaeological heritage site comprising of over 600 fascinating cliff dwellings. The remarkable collection stands as some of the best preserved archaeological sites in North America and can be explored on numerous hikes and tours around the area. The largest and most famous example is Cliff Palace, made up of 150 rooms crafted into the sandstone with wooden beams and mortar. Although the cliffs are made of sandstone, which is notably porous and flaky, the ruins have held up remarkably well as a testament to the ingenuity of early civilization.
10. The Gasthaus Aescher – Ebenalp, Switzerland.
Possibly the most picturesque guest house in the world, the Gasthaus Aescher boasts a view like no other. Its owners wanted to build a home from picture book heaven, and it’s safe to say they succeeded. Almost part of the mountain itself, this sweet yellow house is nestled into the cliff above a valley in northeastern Switzerland. Looking out over the snow-capped alps and valley below, the Guest House has been run by the same family since 1987. It can only be reached by cable car over the valley followed by a short 15 min hike across the Wildkirchli caves. It was featured in the National Geographic book of “destinations of a lifetime” in 2016, an honour well-deserved. Its restaurant opens from May until the beginning of November.
11. Fangweng Restaurant – Yichang, China
Taking dining to new heights, this restaurant in China is built directly into the side of a mountain in Yichang. The Fangweng restaurant offers a variety of local cuisines served with an extra side of breathtaking view. There are no glass panes in the windows of this distinctive restaurant so if you’re a little afraid of heights maybe refrain from seats close to the ledge.
12. St Catherine’s Hermitage – Lake Maggiore, Italy
Looming directly over the lake, St Catherine’s Hermitage was built right up to the very edge of the cliff face in the Borromeo Gulf. The white painted stone and perfectly carved cloisters are complimented by the bare rock face and surrounding foliage that jut out from the rock. Inside, one of the most striking features of the charming church are the frescos in the fireplace hall depicting a number of Saints. Digging into the mass of rock has become somewhat of a trend in this area and the church can now be reached by an elevator dug 50 metres deep into the stone beside the site. A bold example of engineering almost as impressive as the church.
13. Þrídrangaviti lighthouse – Morgunblaðið, Iceland
A charming little lighthouse with a red hat and a lonely outlook perches atop a stone plinth on a remote island in Iceland. Miles away from the nearest hint of civilisation, this is possibly the most isolated lighthouse in the world. Building it was not a job for the faint-hearted. According to one of the men who helped do so, Árni G. Þórarinsson, “the first thing we had to do was create a road up to the cliff. We got together a group of experienced mountaineers, all from the Westman Islands. Then we brought drills, hammers, chains and clamps to secure the chains. Once they got near the top there was no way to get any grip on the rock so one of them got down on his knees, the second stood on his back, and then the third climbed on top of the other two and was able to reach the nib of the cliff above. I cannot even tell you how I was feeling whilst witnessing this incredibly dangerous procedure.”
14. Petra – Jordan
Possibly the most famous cliff site, Jordan’s Petra has become a pilgrimage for travellers far and wide. Dating to around 300 B.C, it is one of the oldest accomplishments of civilisation. Petra is an archaeological site containing a complex of tombs and temples carved into the pink sandstone cliffs. The people that still live in caves around the area have an impeccable view. It’s hard to decide what’s more covetable: living inside the resplendent Petra with a view of the huge red cliffs and expanses of sand, or living in one of these humble caves with a view of the treasured kingdom. There are a few different ways to reach Petra, which is only a three-hour drive from the capital Amman.
15. Matisi Grottos – Gansu, China
The Matisi Grottos are carved into cliffs that cover about 100 square kilometres in Sunan. The caves were dug about 1,600 years ago and chiselled into beautiful temples. 21 caves are stacked across the 100-metre high cliff face, each containing a number of statues. Matisi Temple is also known as horse hoof temple, with legend telling the story of a scared horse that left a hoof print in the rock. The grottos are divided into three sections, each inspiring wonderment.
16. Uluwatu Cliff Temple – Bali
Uluwatu Temple, or Pura Luhur Uluwatu, plateaus on a steep cliff 70 metres above sea level. Known for its transcendent backdrop of Balinese sunsets overlooking the Indian Ocean, the temple is of megalithic origin from around the 10th century and stands as a place of worship to the three Hindu Gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. The small forest at the back of the temple is home to hundreds of monkeys that are thought to guard the temple from bad spirits, though they themselves are known to sport some pretty poor manners.
17. Meteora – Greece
At Meteora nature’s grandeur meets workmanship; if the impressive rock formations aren’t enough to inspire a deep sense of awe, the monasteries built precariously on top of them surely will be. The first monks arrived in the 14th century and built an impressive monastic community on top of giant mountains and steep cliffs. The astonishing constructions are still inhabited by a number of monks and nuns today.
18. Riomaggiore – Italy
This entire village in the scenic region of Cinque Terre in Italy is built directly into the coastline cliffs. Riomaggiore is Cinque Terre’s easternmost village and the largest of the five. The colourful, pastel-hued buildings are picture perfect, roosting above the turquoise sea water and the charming harbour boats.
19. The Lycian tombs – Dalyan, Turkey
The Lycian tombs are a collection of ancient cave catacombs carved into mountains. The Lycians believed their honoured dead were carried up to the heavens by ethereal winged creatures, and so endeavoured to meet them half way. The tombs are moreover integrated right into the city itself and featured as part of normal living areas.
20. Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument is 33,000 acres of beautiful canyon and mesa country dating back over 11,000 years. Cave dwellings, ancient petroglyphs and signs of early habitation are carved into the soft rock and painted inside the caves. Most of the National monument is sheer wilderness. The main trail in Frijoles Canyon is the easiest way of accessing the site and visitors can climb ladders into a number of the small carved cave inlets on the rock, just as our ancient ancestors did. 57 campsites span the area providing access to some of the more challenging footpaths and wild areas.
21. Lalibela – Ethiopia
The dreamily named town of Lalibela in Northeast Ethiopia is home to a collection of wonderfully carved rock churches. The most compelling of them, the Church of St. George, resembles a perfect cross. A bird’s eye view of this remarkable construction is almost unbelievable. Painstakingly dug out of the ground by hand, thirteen churches make up the hallowed site in a layout representing that of Jerusalem. Hailed as the next Machu Picchu, Lalibela sees few tourists, which only adds to its mystery.
22. Longmen Caves – China
The Longmen Caves are a UNESCO Heritage Site in the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains in China. Almost 100,000 statues of Buddha were arduously carved into the caves and rock faces between 400 and 1100 AD. The mastery of these early architects is truly astounding, and the sheer height of their creation bewildering. One can only wonder what tools and methods they had available to them.
23. Batu Caves, Malaysia
Inside the three main sites of the Batu caves one finds holy Hindu temples and shrines standing proudly. A large, gold statue of a Hindu Deity stands at the entrance welcoming its visitors. The cave complex has recently become even more captivating, as the 272 steps that lead towards the entrance have received a fresh lick of paint. Its colourful new look is an absolute treat for the eyes with a myriad of rainbow colours traversing the height of the stairs and into the majesty of the caves within.
24. Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamondo – Japan
Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamondo is a Buddhist temple built in the traditional style with one main difference, it’s built into the side of an overhanging cliff. Inside is a shallow cave carved from the rock that houses a statue of Bishamon-ten. As with many shrines and temples in Japan, the elements have destroyed the original structure which in this case was founded in 801. The current building dates back to 1961 and is modelled on the facade of Kiyumizu-Dera in Kyoto, the prefecture’s most famous tourist spot.
25. Enchanted Cave – Blue Mountains, Australia
Hidden in the Breathtaking Blue Mountains Hinterland in New South Wales is a luxury accommodation cave complex. This wilderness retreat offers a relaxing spa bath, wood burning fire and balcony with an epic view. Enter through a cute, round wooden Shire-like door into your retreat to enjoy the untouched beauty of the mountains named after their rather azure hue.
This article is a contribution from one of our amazing travel writers Becky Coe on her experiences traveling Tasmania. For more by Becky Coe check out her photos at https://becky-alice-coe.format.com/.