The beautiful Portuguese Island of Madeira lies well out in the Atlantic where the Gulf Stream affords it a mild and equable year round climate. Volcanic in origin the rugged interior rises abruptly to over 1800 metres/6000 feet. Forests of pine, eucalyptus and laurel flank its jagged peaks. A characteristic feature of the island is the elaborate system of levadas or irrigation channels. Over the centuries this network has extended to more than 2000km of channels and more than 40kms of tunnels. They wind their way across gullies and steep slopes bringing water to the coastal settlements and farms. Many of the levadas can be followed on foot and these together with a network of local trails make even the most remote parts of the island accessible. Spring and autumn are the ideal times to visit the island when a myriad of colourful flowers and trees are in bloom; jasmine, begonias, freesias, magnolia and camellias form just a part of the spectacular flora. We have devised an itinerary that exemplifies the best walking that the island has to offer. Our walks follow levadas through a peaceful pastoral countryside or traverse terraced hillsides. More challenging trails climb up to the rugged volcanic peaks of the interior, to Pico Ruivo, at 1860 metres the islands highest peak. Our itinerary ends in the bustling little capital of Funchal. An extra day is recommended in Funchal so that you will have time to visit a Madeira wine lodge, explore colourful food and flower markets and enjoy superb fish restaurants. Also you can spend more time at Monte or the famous botanical gardens.
We grade the tour as 'Moderate' (grade 3). As far as fitness goes the walks should present no difficulties for anyone in reasonable condition and accustomed to walking in hilly areas. When walking in the high mountains you may encounter mist (low cloud) and it is necessary for those days to be experienced with compass and map. Short sections of some walks may be loose and slippery underfoot and a head for heights is an advantage on quite a few occasions. On any day you can if you prefer opt out of the walking and travel with the baggage. Day Stages: 9-17km per day, with ascents of up to 800m, descents of up to 1000m. 3.5 to 7 hours walking per day.
On arrival, a short taxi transfer is included to Machico on the east coast. Machico was the landing point when the island was discovered. This peculiar corner of the island boasts the oldest church, the 'Capela dos Milagres', and two forts still bear witness of the locals’ defence against the many pirate attacks on the village.
Accommodation: Stay two nights at one of two small ‘residencial’ (pension). All rooms have private facilities. The pension has its own restaurant where you will enjoy this evenings meal.
After breakfast you have a choice of walks. Both walks can be extended by 4.4km, 1.5 hours and over 300 metres of ascent by walking from Machico up to the viewpoint of Pico de Facho (322m) and then down to the start of the Levada by the Canical Tunnel.
Option 1: Taxi or walk to the start of the Levada (irrigation channel) de Canical. You can follow this to its source near Ribeira de Machico above the village of Marocos. This levada was built in relatively recent times and is easy to follow. From Ribeira de Machico transfer (included in tour price) by road back to Machico.
Option 2: A longer more challenging alternative. This is for walkers with a head for heights and in reasonable weather without high winds. Taxi or walk to the start of the Levada de Canical, but you soon leave it to Climb to the Boca de Risco pass (300m) and from there a cliff hugging coastal path takes you along the wildest stretch of coastline in Madeira, round the Espigao Amarelo, an exposed path with large drop below and down to Larano (200m). From Larano walk down road to Porto da Cruz and transfer by road (included in tour price) back to Machico.
Two contrasting walks are possible today, both Include transfers to the start and from the end.
Option 1: A circular coastal walk around the Sao Lourenco peninsula, on the eastern point of the island.This is different to any other walk during the week, taking a trek through the volcanic remains which are now a nature reserve. There are spectacular cliff views and wonderful flowers.
Option 2: Although closed at the time of writing due to the 2016 fires, the popular Monte to Camacha walk will soon be open again. Monte, which lies 550 m above the sea in the hills above Funchal, is also known for its wickerwork sleds on which one can slide back down towards the city. There is time to visit the Tropical Gardens and ride the sleds before starting the walk. Our walk starts by following the Levada dos Tornos and then moves up the hillside to follow the Levada da Serra, which contours at a higher level 750m around the head of the ‘Valley of Paradise’. The walk ends in Camacha, from where you will be transferred to Santo da Serra to overnight.
Accommodation: In Santo da Serra, a village situated on a broad ridge at 650m above sea level. Two nights in a 4 star hotel, located 200m from the village centre. All 68 rooms have en-suite facilities, cable TV and phone. The hotel has its own bar and restaurant. There is a heated indoor pool, jacuzzi and a small fitness room. The hotel also has an attractive large garden.
After your included transfer to Camacha, there is more levada walking at an altitude of about 500m overlooking the coastal valleys, hillside terraces forests and the long narrow Sao Lourenco peninsula. There is Luxuriant vegetation along the levada itself, and you pass through areas of farming terraces, small villages and other valleys of abandoned farms. Then a short ascent back to Santo da Serra, where you spend a second night. Hopefully you will find some time to look round the beautiful park in the village which has a wonderful panoramic viewpoint, towards Machico.
Today you follow the Levada do Furado up into the wild, forested hills of the Madeira Natural Park. With magnificent views at a number of points, the levada threads its way along the hillsides covered with Laurisilva vegetation and the water is very pure. Today’s Levada is a whole lot more dramatic and challenging than anything on the previous walks; with narrower paths and uneven going underfoot. At Ribeiro Frio (Cold Stream, 850m above the sea) you are met and transferred to Santana, a village set, 400m/1300 feet above the north coast. (Transfer included in tour price). Overnight in Santana. This village, perched on a shelf high above the north coast, is known for its traditional architecture.
Accommodation: Stay in the center of the village at a 4 star pension. Rooms have hair dryer, cable TV, digital phone, air conditioning, double-glazing and balcony, with views over the fields and countryside. General facilities include a small indoor pool, sauna etc. The hotel has a popular restaurant and offers traditional island fayre.
An extra day in Santana could be taken in order to walk the Levada from Queimadas to Ilha via Caldeirao Verde, another beautiful walk!
Time to head up into the high mountains for a spectacular walk along the highest ridge in the centre of the island. The route does need reasonable weather conditions. The walk starts with a road transfer (included in tour price) up to Achado do Teixeira (1592m), from where it is about an hours walk up to the summit of Pico Ruivo (1862m), the highest summit in Madeira. From there you can continue along a high ridge, which forms the backbone of the island, with fabulous views either side (weather permitting). This is a strenuous but very rewarding walk and the hardest day of this tour. There are more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’ and you eventually descend to Encumeada (1007m), a high road pass and cafe. From here it is a short road walk down below the pass to your hotel.
If the weather outlook is poor or the path is closed you can ride with your baggage from Santana to Encumeada for an alternative walk, to Ginjas (13 km/8 miles, 3.5 h bus or taxi back not included).
Accommodation: Our 3 star pension is a welcoming destination after a long day in the hills. All rooms have en-suite facilities, balcony with mountain or valley views, satellite and cable TV, and phone. The public lounge has a fireplace. The restaurant and bar are in traditional rustic style. There is an outside drinks terrace. The natural setting of the hotel among the forest and peaks is quite outstanding.
Today, you have a choice of two routes heading towards the sea.
Option 1: Starting from a roadside stop at Lombo do Mouro, follow a quiet descending levada, which soon drops along a ridge and then follows some steep lanes through terraces ending in the coastal town of Ribeira Brava. At Ribeira you take a roughly hourly public bus to Funchal.
Option 2: The higher route is often closed but provides a more challenging route with spectacular views when the path is safe and the weather is good. The route goes via Fenda do Ferreiro (1100m) and Boca do Cerro pass (1250m) to Corticeiras from where you take an afternoon public bus to Funchal where you overnight.
Accommodation: We use one of two 4 star hotels which are located approx 25 minutes walking from the center of Funchal. The hotels have fully equipped rooms, with cable TV. They also have good restaurant - bars, a swimming pool, a small fitness room, etc.
After breakfast, a transfer to the airport is included in your trip price and takes approx. 30 minutes.
We felt very well looked after. Enough support with maintaining enough autonomy. Resorts, as well as walks very interesting and varied. Make sure there is at least one extra day at the end to spend in Funchal.
S & J Scott, Calgary, Canada, 26 Jun 2017
Beautiful scenery, well selected hikes, expertly handled logistics. It was so hard to leave Funchal!
E & K Pavlik, Canada, 20 Apr 2017
Per Person, Twin Share