Madeira Walking – What is it really like?
I think that a lot of people are curious about Madeira - they want to know if it is typically Portuguese, what the Levadas are like and is it for me!
Madeira is famous for it's year round warmth and wine of the same name. It's just 696 miles from Portugal but the unique landscape with towering mountains, jagged cliffs, lush green forests and exotic flowers make you think you are in the depths of the tropics. Just 35 miles long and 13 miles wide there's a lot to discover on this beautiful island.
Back in September 2014 (excuse me if my memories are a bit faded) my husband Carl and I decided to try a week’s walking holiday in Madeira on the Madeira: Flower Island tour. We were both in our 40’s and not very fit - here is my take on the adventure.
Arriving in Madeira
Arriving in Funchal airport (known as one of the 'world's most dangerous airports’ because of its short runway and steep mountains - not for the fainthearted), we were very excited. Our first stop was Residencial Amparo, a small family run hotel in Machico. We were greeted by our host Nubelia who asked if we would like a refreshment. Carl asked for a beer and I asked for a glass of their local wine. I was so looking forward to a cold glass of wine but instead I found myself sipping a small glass of sherry! Madeira wine, one of their famous exports and I have to say it's quiet nice, it is definitely worth taking a bottle home.
Sao Lourenco Peninsula
Our first walk was to the Sao Lourenco peninsula and back again. The weather started off extremely pleasant and there were lots of walkers coming and going, some in walking gear but quite a few in t-shirts and sandals much to our amusement. We made it to the end of the peninsula however on our return journey, there was a downpour which made the walk slippery – worse for the sandal wearers! You need to be prepared for changeable weather.
Our next stop was to the lovely Hotel Colmo in Santana best remembered for the grilled limpets. Santana is known for the typical thatched Madeiran houses. We didn’t do a walk on Day 3 as the walk was dangerous due to the bad weather but spent it relaxing in Porto da Cruz eating and drinking a few glasses of Mateus Rose (which is really cheap). The only difficulty was getting our pick up at the end of the day to our next hotel, the whole village had come out for a funeral which we ended up being in the middle of. The graveyard in the hillside was unusual though!
We did our first of the famous levada walks on Day 4 to the Green Cauldron. Levadas are concrete channels at the edge of (or sometimes through) the mountains created to carry water for irrigation. what makes them so famous is you can walk along the levadas to otherwise inaccessible locations. There are about 200 levadas in total on Madeira covering about 1,864 miles in length and spread throughout the island. We found them very interesting and enjoyed when the levada went into a tunnel. Definitely not scary!
On Day 5 we walked from Santana to Hotel Encumeada in Riberia Brava through thick gorse bushes and steep descents. You can see the hotel in the valley below as you descend which is wonderful motivation to finish the walk. Our next walk involved many levadas, some through long tunnels for which you definitely need a head torch. I will confess we did both bang our heads on this walk – Carl misjudged the opening to one of the tunnels and I wasn’t watching in one of the tunnels and smacked my head off a bit jutting out of the tunnel.
For our final days in Madeira we spent the time at the fabulous Hotel Quinta Da Penha De Franca in Funchal where you can either do all the touristy stuff i.e. tobogganing down the streets in a wooden sleigh, visiting gardens, etc. or take on a smaller walk. We simply relaxed for two days in the hotel gardens and pool. The fruit sculptures on their cocktails are amazing by the way.
I can honestly say I loved Madeira – it is such an interesting island. It is known as the Flower Island due to its abundance of spectacular flora. We went in September which is not the flowering season but this didn’t detract from the lovely experience we had. If you do want to see the flowers April and May is the best time to visit Madeira. We can’t believe this trip was nearly 6 years ago - time to go back!