Hurtling through the air on a zip line at 120 km/hr I lost all sense of speed or height. For a moment I felt like I was just hanging, suspended between the two mountains, over 800 meters above the ground.
The Volo dell’Angelo or Angel’s Flight runs 1.5 km across a deep valley in the Lucanian Dolomites between the mountain towns of Pietrapertosa and Castelmezzano in Italy’s southern province of Basilicata. Not for the faint of heart, this is apparently the fastest zip line in the world.
I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to give it a shot. I’d never before been on a zip line higher than the ones in children’s playgrounds, where you need to bend your knees to avoid touching the ground.
On arrival at the ticket office in Pietrapertosa, we discovered the price was only 30 Euros. I waited in line, still not entirely sure I would go through with it. Had the price been more, I probably wouldn’t have bought the ticket and risk not using it. But I figured that if I changed my mind, even at the very last moment, I could afford the loss.
After buying our tickets we were told we would have to wait. A thunderstorm had just passed through the valley, and the wire had been closed. What effect, I wondered, would a wet wire have on the ‘flight’? Was it safe? Was there still danger from more lightening? I think the mix of other foreigners had the same thoughts as we all vied for a spot further behind each other in line to avoid going first. Eventually, all geared up and ready to go, Miikka took the first flight across the valley, disappearing into the distance after just a few moments.
Then it was my turn to go.
I suppose the anticipation and nervous tension are always worse than the actual experience. Geared up in what felt like little more than a modified sleeping bag, I was strapped into place. While staff on walkie talkies sent a flurry of messages in Italian back and forth across the valley, I was left hanging by what felt like a much-too-tiny line to the wire above. My heart was pounding as I waited for the release to sound.
My acceleration started off slowly. I could still see the grass and shrubs just 3 meters … 5 meters … 10 meters beneath me. And then the ground suddenly dropped off as I soared above the valley. I lost all sense of height as I looked down to roads winding through the countryside. At the midpoint, even though I could feel the breeze hitting me from the side, it almost felt as if I was stopped in mid-air. And barring the humming sound of the mechanism running along the wire just above me, it was so surprisingly silent. But the peaceful moment was only to last a short while.
Soon, I saw the other side of the valley approaching. I assumed that I would ease into a slow and pleasant deceleration as the wire leveled out. And I did slow down somewhat as I approached. But not nearly fast enough! I could see the scaffold ahead where the line ended, and it was approaching much much too fast. My heart started to race again and my head filled with blood as I was still careening along at 30km/hr? 50km/hr? I don’t know.
On reaching the scaffold, with my heart pounding in my ears, I felt the sudden effect of the stopping mechanism. My feet, previously extended behind me were now beneath me with the force of the deceleration. And then flipped back up again behind me as I came to a stop and was lowered down to the scaffold floor.
Arriving across the valley in Castelmezzano, staff drove us further up the mountain to a stop from where we hiked up to the return wire back to Pietrapertosa. Having survived the first Angel’s Flight, the return journey across the valley was more serene and the stop less heart attack inducing. Still, for the chance to fly between two mountains, the initial terror was worth it.
I even went first on the return flight!
- ‘Flights’ start at 30 Euros per person
- More information including directions and booking is available at the Volo dell’Angelo official site.