Adrift in the Atlantic, closer to Africa than Europe, lies the Portugese island of Madeira. It’s internationally renowned for its wine and cake – lovely things to be remembered for – but more recently it’s becoming known for its hiking opportunities, which is why TLE took our latest trip there.
Its hiking USP is the levadas: a water irrigation system which brings the water from the mountains and wetter north, to the drier southern side of the island. The concrete blocks double as a path for walkers who follow it across the island, taking in spectacular views, landscapes and forests of Madeira as they journey.
The flat levadas mean that many of the 50-odd approved walks are perfect for those who want to avoid constant ascends and descends. The walks that have been given the green light by the government are well-maintained, with barriers in many parts for added safety. Local tour guides lead these walks and take hikers on trail that’s best suited for their level (as always, the most stunning and quietest routes are better for experienced hikers), while those who go it alone will find the Sunflower guide an invaluable resource.
The varied terrain means that there’a plenty to be gained by picking non-levada walks too – the climb to Madeira’s highest point, Pico du Ruiva which stands at 1862 metres, is particularly glorious. As with most walks, you’ll need good hiking boots (especially as there are a lot of loose rocks) and a walking stick or two, depending on your preference. Along the way, expect to see beautiful flora and fauna, a few fellow walkers, breathtaking views, and not much else besides.
After a productive day of walking, Madeira provides its indulgences too. Its fortified wine is its speciality, but even local table wine is of gorgeous quality, rich with tannins but smoother than many French wines. The famous Madeira cake is not the soft yellowy treat we know – although that’s traditionally served at breakfast – but a delicious dense round akin to Christmas cake, made with the natural sugar cane produced on the island. You will see them everywhere as they’re ideal gifts, especially when it’s boxed with a small bottle of port too. You can buy these, for exar ple, at the Madeira wine company HQ in Funchal, where guided tours are value for money, not least because of the wine tasting at the end.
With so many walks and activities to pick from, it’s possible to spend a weekend or a month in Madeira, though our stay of a week was enough to get a good flavour of the island. Delicious it was too.