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Walking in Madeira: Following the Levada Trails

If you enjoy walking and are fairly active ‘Levada Trails in Madeira’ is a great option for a small group trip. Fiona, in our flights team, explains how even as a relative initiate to trekking she found walking in Madeira a fantastic way to discover this beautiful Portuguese island.
Having never been on a walking holiday before, I had no idea what to expect. I enjoy walking but I’d never done the distances described in the brochure, nor had I been on a small group trip with people I didn’t know before. How did I know I would cope and wouldn’t hold people up? What I soon discovered was that this reason meant this way of travelling would be ideal for me.

Discovering Madeira on foot
Madeira is a land of contrasts; on our first walk we encountered the arid, rocky landscape at Ponta de São Lourenço and then began following the Levadas themselves, which stretch nearly 3,000km around the island. Wandering through verdant forests, tunnels and villages, we had time to take all of this in as we learnt about the history of these water channels, which were built in the 15th century, as a way to supply the island with water enabling it to develop as a Portuguese outpost.
 On top of the man-made features of Madeira, we discovered beautiful natural sights. On one day we enjoyed lunch at Caldeirão Verde, the ‘Green Cauldron’, so called due to the plunging waterfall which falls into a green clearing surrounded by high trees and the tall cliff that it falls from. The photographers in our group used the chance to get some fantastic shots.

Local delicacies of Madeira
In amongst the walking we also discovered the culture of Madeira, we used cafés and bars as a way to break up the walks and we tried traditional Madeira Wine and local liquors, as well as local food delicacies such as espada, a black scabbardfish with banana, and bolo de mel, a cake made from molasses. Filipe, our Explore leader, even picked fruits and leaves off the trees as we passed by. This level of knowledge really added a special touch to the trip; it’s certainly not something I’d have known, or even thought to try, without a local.
By far my favourite walk took us to across the peaks of Madeira, from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, the island’s highest peak. It was the most challenging of all the walks we did; with a long winding trail of steps to reach the summit, I had to take my time on the way up but my group supported and encouraged me as I went. It was well worth it. I was rewarded with cheers from my group, as the last person to arrive, and spectacular views above the clouds.

Culture in Madeira
On our last day, we had the chance to explore Funchal; with a short tour of the city we took in the Mercado dos Lavradores, the farmers’ market which had exotic fruit and fish on sale, a Madeiran embroidery workshop and even Madeiran wine tasting. We also had some free-time to do our own sight-seeing, having heard about the views over the town I took the cable car up to Monte Palace Tropical Garden. The gardens were beautiful with koi ponds as part of the oriental design. The best part was the trip down – a thrilling ride on a wicker toboggan!

Why walk in Madeira with a small group
The variety of this walking holiday meant I had the chance to push myself, safe in the knowledge that my Explore Leader would manage the pace, select great rest stops with food and scenery and manage my expectations of what lay ahead. I was never out of my comfort zone and, with such a friendly group, even when I was slowing down I always had company. A walking tour is a great way to really see and experience the unspoilt island of Madeira.

If you’d like to discover Madeira on foot, take a look at the Levada trails of Madeira trip.