A plateau palace carved into the rock... Rulers have long built imposing palaces to intimidate their subjects and terrify their enemies (two not always mutually exclusive parties), but few can have achieved the desired effect to the extent of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka.

Into the lion's den...

This vast solitary rock plateau rises, almost sheer, 1,000 foot from the surrounding plains, and was the 5th century seat of power of one King Kassapa. Foreign envoys and minions alike would have ascended a staircase leading up through the gaping mouth of a roaring lion before an audience with the king. Sadly all that remains of this most imposing of entrances are the lion's vast paws - each the size of a bus.

Eviction time

Kassapa himself was an insalubrious character who had his own father assassinated and deposed his brother, but there's no denying his eye for a nice piece of real estate. Lion's Rock, as Sigiriya means in Sinhalese, was originally inhabited by Buddhist monks but Kassapa soon evicted these unwelcome squatters and set about building a fabulous palace on the summit.

Maiden Sri Lanka

Probably not best for vertigo sufferers, the route up involves negotiating a series of rickety metal staircases, but there is some light relief about half way up in the form of a series of beautifully preserved rock paintings of scantily clad ladies. Debate still surrounds who exactly the comely 'Maidens of the clouds' are, but they are astonishingly accomplished drawings.

Rooms with a view

On the summit itself you can wander around the foundations of great buildings, see giant baths and water cisterns carved straight into the rock, and soak up the beautiful views that would have allowed Kassapa to see rival armies coming from miles away. It's also possible to look down over the rest of the old city and see where great gardens once stood among vast boulders like a giant's rock garden. All in all we think Sigiriya might just be the highlight in one of our all-time favourite destinations.