The spectacular Iya Valley (祖谷渓) is a special place: its staggeringly steep gorges and thick mountain forests lure travellers to seek respite from the hectic 'mainland' lifestyle. Winding your way around narrow cliff-hanging roads as the icy water of the Iya-gawa shoots along the ancient valley floor is a blissful travel experience. Top-notch onsen are well within reach, while evening entertainment is nothing more strenuous than sampling the local Iya soba (buckwheat noodles) and reliving your day's visual feast.
The earliest records of the valley describe a group of shamans fleeing from persecution in Nara in the 9th century. At the end of the 12th century, Iya famously became the last refuge for members of the vanquished Heike clan following their defeat at the hands of the Minamoto in the Gempei Wars. Their descendants are believed to live in the mountain villages to this day.