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Now don’t get us wrong – we love winter in the UK. Cold, crisp mornings, roaring fires, hearty stews and if we’re lucky, a covering of soft fluffy snow. But here’s the thing – winter lasts
quite a long time. And it’s not always blue skies and frost – a dark, cold morning with the sleet stinging your face is enough to make the most ardent winter-lover dream of warmer times.
That’s where a winter walking trip to southern Europe comes in. A week or two soaking up some warm sunshine, topping up the vitamin D levels and experiencing some fabulous food, nature and culture is the perfect way to break up the winter. Plus, a winter walking holiday will help you burn off some of those comfort food calories.
So, as you reach for your slippers and turn the central heating up a notch, take a look at our top picks for a warm winter break.
Best known for its gourmet food and wine, year-round, mild, sunny climate and breath-taking scenery everywhere you look, Madeira is the ideal destination to visit at any time of year. Our walking holiday in Madeira is focused on the south and eastern parts of the island, where you’ll have the chance to stay in small charismatic villages full of friendly locals, explore lush green levada walking trails and feel on top of the world as you perch on the highest peak in Madeira.
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Available as an
8-day or 11-day trip.
La Gomera is a spectacular volcanic island, away from the hustle and bustle of the busier neighbouring islands. Because of its relative lack of beaches, La Gomera has escaped the levels of development that other parts of Spain and its islands have experienced. As a result La Gomera has an old world, rural feel to it with homesteads, small vineyards, layers of terraces and large rocky peaks set in an amazing crown of Laurisilva - a laurel cloud forest.
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Walking in Tenerife is hugely varied and the aim of our walking holidays is to show you as much as possible. From the ancient university town of La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the elegant resort of Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast, we have selected a programme of varied walks. Your trip includes a walk to the crater of Mount Teide, a spectacular 3,718m high volcano.
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Cyprus may be best know for its popular, and busy, seaside resorts – but head a few kilometres inland and you’ll find an older, sleepier world of villages, farms and forests. The trip is focussed around the Akamas Peninsular, a beautiful nature reserve populated by friendly, welcoming people. If you’re there at the end of winter, you’ll witness the bloom of wild flowers that cover the landscape from February onwards.
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This walk along the Vermillion Coast starts in France and finishes in Spain, taking you along the coastline where the mountains of the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean. You’ll experience pretty fishing villages, amazing French and Spanish cuisine, and spectacular coastal landscapes. This is also a region with a strong artistic heritage – from the French sculptor Aristide Maillol to Spanish master of surrealism, Salvador Dali.
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The daily walks on this trip are relatively short, giving you plenty of opportunities to relax or try some of the many activities available on La Gomera, such as swimming, snorkelling, kayaking or whale-watching. The places you’ll visit are peaceful and unspoilt, with plenty of family-run restaurants to help you sample the delights of the local cuisine as you make your way around the south of the island.
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If you are after an activity break with a dose of some salty sea air this Christmas, consider the great islands and coastline of Europe’s seas and oceans. From windswept cliff-top bicycle rides to more leisurely seaside strolls and walks off the mainstream tourist radar, you will be surprised of the options for a pleasant break during Christmas. For the active traveller wanting to visit Europe, winter tours are a great option to consider.
Popular year-round holiday destinations because of their excellent conditions for outdoor activities such as walking and cycling, these places do tend to attract a fair number of travellers during the winter season. Here is an overview of our favourite active winter trips in Europe.
Active Europe: Winter Tours
| Relatively short walking days exploring the southern trails of La Gomera & leaving time to relax. Southern Trails of La Gomera
| Year round self guided walk following the Levadas and trails through the dramatic and rugged mountain scenery on the island of Madeira. Madeira Island Walking
| Experience La Gomera's lush plantations, mountains and whitewashed villages. Exploring La Gomera – 11 Days
| Year round walking opportunities exploring the mountains and coasts of Spain's most exotic islands. Walking in the Canaries
| Discover the coast and mountains along the edge of the Pyrenees. Walk through beautiful seaside towns enjoying famous Banyuls wine and seafood. Hiking the Vermillion Coast
| Experience the lush plantations, mountains and whitewashed villages of exotic La Gomera. Exploring La Gomera – 8 Days
| Cycle along the spectacular southwest coast of the island biking past white quartz beaches and towering sand dunes, Phoenician Ruins and Ancient Mines. Cycling in Sardinia
| Experience on foot the history and natural beauty of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula. Dingle Peninsula Walk
| Walk the quieter trails between historical Coimbra and Porto on stage two of the Camino Portuguès. The Portuguese Road – Coimbra to Porto
| Traverse the Atlantic coastline of Portugal to reveal a landscape of deserted beaches, fishing villages and dramatic cliffs on foot. Rota Vicentina – the Fishermen’s Trail
Or How About these..
Especially during the Christmas period, accommodation is in high demand. We therefore advise to secure your winter break as early as possible. To discuss any special requirements or to chat about the best options for you,
please feel free to drop by at our office in London (we’re located right along the Thames Path), give us a call or send us a message.
“ Beautiful scenery, well selected hikes, expertly handled logistics. It was so hard to leave Funchal! ” - E & K Pavlik from Canada
Madeira, the Portuguese island, is famed for its excellent walking temperatures – year-round! But there are many more reasons for the island to be popular, besides its good weather. If you are interested in the rich Portuguese history, a varied landscape that ranges from rugged coastline to pine forests and a wealth of flowers then read on and find out what Madeira walks can look like.
Escape to excellent walking temperatures. Madeira, just over 3.5 hours away from London, less than 2 hrs from Lisbon, and 7 & 8 hours from Toronto & Miami respectively, is one of your best options in Europe. The island enjoys an impressive year-round flowering season thanks to its subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil. For example, October and November still see well over 10 hours of sunshine daily and temperatures in the low-20 oC. In comparison, the average temperature for England is half of that.
When thinking of exploring Madeira, walks are a good option and below you can find 5 reasons to go.
“ Enjoyed the great views, the way the tours were laid up so we had very different walks each day. ” - J Brandstrom from Sweden
Rising steeply from the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Europe and Africa, Madeira offers both a mild year-round climate and a 1,350-mile network of ‘levadas’ to discover on foot. Follow ‘ levadas’ through a peaceful pastoral countryside or traverse terraced hillsides; dating back to the 16 th century, these irrigation channels or aqueducts are specific to Madeira, originally built to carry water to the agricultural regions. Read more about the levadas of Madeira.
Volcanic in origin, Madeira’s rugged interior rises abruptly to over 1,800 metres (approx. 6,000 feet) with forests of pine and laurel flanking its jagged peaks. The island is home to a myriad of colourful flowers and trees, such as jasmine, begonias, freesias, magnolia and camellias.
#3 Pico Ruivo
Walk up to Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s highest peak, from where there is an exceptional ridge walk following the backbone of the island. The views to either side over the island and ocean are very rewarding.
Loose count of how many orchids you can see in the dedicated Orchid Garden – there are more than 7,500 species! Madeira’s subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil make for perfect growing conditions and orchids here enjoy an impressive year-round flowering season. A dedicated weeklong Flower Festival takes place every spring.
Spend time in the bustling little capital of Funchal: visit a Madeira wine lodge, explore colourful food and flower markets and enjoy superb fish restaurants to finish off a week of impressive Madeira walks.
Intrigued? With Sherpa Expeditions you can visit the Portuguese island on an 8-day trip called Madeira Island Walking. Learn more about it by downloading the trip notes here or contact one of our travel experts in the UK office.
There are many reasons to travel to the Portuguese island of
Madeira, but we believe that a walking holiday is the best way to fully appreciate the island. Spend your days in Madeira hiking the levadas and take in the beautiful viewpoints while at night roaming the charming streets of capital Funchal and other quaint towns.
If you’re curious to understand a little more what a Madeira hiking holiday may look like, check out the images below.
Few places in Europe celebrate autumn in such a dynamic way as Madeira…
Through a wide range of festivals, you can experience a lively autumn in
Madeira. Most likely, your main reason to visit Madeira in September, October & November is exploring the Portuguese island on foot. But there are many more things to do in Madeira in autumn besides navigating the island’s ancient and walking paths. From wine and apple cider festivals to celebrating the organ and stunning nature, below find an overview of some of the festivals to attend this autumn. levadas
Madeira Wine Festival
When >> 26 August – 09 September 2018
Where >> from Estreito de Câmara de Lobos to Funchal (start & finish of the Madeira Island Walking trip)
What >> The wine festival has been running since the '70s and coincides with the island’s Wine Harvest Festival, European Folklore Week and street entertainment in Funchal. Late August/early September is when the annual grape harvest takes place in Madeira and attending these is certainly a reason to plan your travel dates accordingly. There are musical performances, ethnographic parades, demonstrations of old-style viticulture tools and even the opportunity to join in treading the grapes!
When >> 13-15 September 2018
Where >> the island of Porto Santo northeast of Madeira (ask our team for details on how to get there)
What >> The world-famous explorer once called home Porto Santo Island and each year in September, the island close to Madeira organises many events evolving around the epic Portuguese discoveries from the 15-16 th century. You can for example witness the ‘disembarking of Columbus’, browse a 16 th century market for food & craft, listen to orations as they were held at the time, and join in many of the other things to do at this time of year. Expect to be drawn back in time when visiting this small island close to Madeira in September.
Apple Festival & Apple Cider Festival
When >> 15 & 16 September 2018
Where >> Ponta do Pargo (on the far west of the island)
What >> In its 34 th year in 2018, the Madeira Apple Festival is a rural event to celebrate the ‘pêro’ – what Madeirans commonly call the apple. The small festival takes place in Ponta do Pargo in the western tip of Madeira and attracts apple farmers from the surrounding farmsteads. Festivities usually include apple cider tasting, a street parade, exhibitions, and several musical performances. Besides the festival, Ponta do Pargo is a charming town to visit on its own. Or wait a few weeks for the annual Madeira Cider Festival in the weekend of 22 & 23 September.
Madeira Nature Festival
When >> 2-7 October 2018
Where >> around the island of Madeira (check the stand at the Largo da Restauração for more info)
What >> Just like the Madeira Flower Festival in spring, the island’s nature festival celebrates all activities on the island that involve nature. The natural heritage of the island is rich thanks to its subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil and Madeira is even nicknamed ‘Garden Island’ or ‘Ilha Jardim’. Everything that you can do during the Madeira Nature Festival takes place on the land, in the air or in the sea and includes activities like birdwatching, mountain biking, levadas walks, sailing, and short leisure flights.
Madeira Organ Festival
When >> normally at the end of October, exact dates for 2018 to be announced
Where >> Funchal, Machico & Porto da Cruz (which you’ll visit at the beginning of the walking holiday)
What >> The organ is a relatively unknown part of Madeiran heritage and can be found in several churches and cathedrals across the island. A series of 12 concerts will be held to showcase the instrument and beautiful music it can produce. The festival will have Portuguese and internationally renowned master organ players perform in stunning venues like the Cathedral of Funchal, College Church, Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Church of St Peter.
festivaldeorgaodamadeira.com or on their Facebook page
Madeira is a year-round walking destination with pleasant temperatures to be in the outdoors and there are lots of things to in Madeira apart from walking. For more information and advice on planning your holiday, feel free to
contact our team of travel experts in London.
8-day Madeira Island Walking holiday departs daily, year-round.
©Mark Skarratts Along Madeira's Levadas
Madeira’s 1,350-mile network of watercourses (known locally as levadas ) offer fantastic opportunities for walking holidays. Join us on an historical journey along Madeira’s levadas and learn more about the different routes.
In the early 1400s, Madeira was discovered by three navigators from
Portugal. They found several high peaks, stunning nature and a beautiful coastline on an island that was wet in the northwest, but dry in the southeast. Several years later, the process of building the so-called levadas (aqueducts or watercourses) that are unique to Madeira had started, so that water could be carried to the agricultural regions in the south of the island.
A Network of Levadas
Many of the levadas had to be cut into the sides of the mountains and even tunnels were necessary to complete the network. Today, most of the levadas – and tunnels – that were built between 1461 and 1966 still remain. What’s more, made out of stone or concrete, they still function, although not to distribute water, but to provide hydro-electric power to the island.
Another advantage of the 1,350 miles-long network is the ability for hikers to follow them on foot. Via, at times, easy walks through the countryside and mountain ranges and at other points challenging narrow paths, you can discover the beautiful island of Madeira on a walking holiday.
Levada Walking in Madeira
Partly thanks to Madeira’s levadas, the island owes its nickname of ‘Ilha Jardim’ (Garden Island). On our walking holiday, you can explore several trails along the levadas in Madeira on foot:
Levada do Furado
The walk along this levada is the most dramatic and challenging of all on our 8-day walking holiday in Madeira. It follows narrow paths and uneven going underfoot. You will walk up into the wild, forested hills of the Madeira National Park and be rewarded with magnificent views at a number of points.
Levada dos Tornos
Located around Monte, known for the Tropical Gardens and wickerwork sleds, are the trails of the Levada dos Tornos. Along the way you will be able to enjoy the colourful flora and fauna and views over Funchal Bay. On our day’s walk, we only cover a section of this levada in Madeira.
Levada da Serra
This levada shows you a wonderful part of the island that is fit for walkers year-round. It contours – at a slightly higher level (750m) than the other routes on our walking trip – around the head of the impressive ‘Valley of Paradise’. It is a leisurely walk along a flower-lined levada.
Levada do Canical
Built in relatively recent times (developments finished in the 1960s), the Levada do Canical is easy to follow. The trail is about seven miles towards its source near Ribeira de Machico. We cover a section of this levada that goes through the Canical Tunnel. This Madeira levada is known as the ‘mimosa levada’ as there are many mimosa trees found along the course of the route.
On a short flight from Europe and about 4 hours from London, discover these levadas on our Madeira walking holidays.
For more information and booking details, please have a look at our
8-day self guided Madeira walking holiday, or get in touch with our team of travel experts.
Few places in Europe welcome spring in such a colourful way as Madeira…
Taking place in spring every year (2017 from 4-21 May), the island’s dazzling annual Flower Festival features beautiful displays of tropical flowers.
Over the years it has become known for its Sunday parade, when hundreds of dancers accompanied by huge floral floats march through the main streets of capital Funchal.
Madeira enjoys an impressive year-round flowering season thanks to its subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil – you can even find a dedicated Orchid Garden with more than 7,500 species! But this is not the only reason why we are such a big fan of Portugal's Madeira island. The mild year-round climate and a 1,350-mile network of levadas together with the impressive scenery form the base for an 8-day self guided walking trip that will immerse you in the island's lush nature.
Flowers in Bloom
© Allie Caulfield
Spring is the perfect time to visit the Portuguese 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.
Volcanic in origin, Madeira’s rugged interior rises abruptly to over 1,800 metres (approx. 6,000 feet) with forests of pine and laurel flanking its jagged peaks.
16th Century Aqueducts
© D Stanley
levadas through a peaceful pastoral countryside or traverse terraced hillsides; dating back to the 16th century, these irrigation channels or aqueducts are specific to Madeira, originally built to carry water to the agricultural regions.
Climb up to Pico Ruivo, the island’s highest peak; many of the
levadas can be followed on foot, which together with a network of local trails make even the most remote parts of the island, such as this peak, accessible.
© Artur Malinowski
Spend time in the bustling little capital of Funchal – visit a Madeira wine lodge, explore colourful food and flower markets and enjoy superb fish restaurants.
On our self-guided walking tour of Madeira island, you will walk 4-7 hours per day. The trip departs year round. For more information you can download the trip notes or get in touch with our team of experts in London.
The Iberian Peninsula remains a firm favourite for many holidaymakers and not just during the summer months. Actually the coming months of December to February are an exceptionally good time to travel to Spanish and Portuguese destinations like Madeira, La Gomera, Andalucia, and the Sierra de Aracena. With pleasant temperatures around 20 degrees C, sunny days, and a landscape that ranges from subtropical greenery, to pine forests, and barren flatlands you have all the ingredients for a welcoming winter holiday. Ah, and the flights to Tenerife, Santa Cruz, and Seville have competitive rates for the winter months as well. So if you want to beat the tourists and enjoy a crowd-free break here are some tips for things to do in Spain and Portugal.
Canary Islands: Southern Trails of La Gomera
Despite being easily accessible from Tenerife (the boat trip takes just an hour), La Gomera remains largely untouched by mass tourism. The southern part of the island is also the sunnier part. The landscape is surprisingly lush green, with deep gorges densely wooded at the top, covered by mountain rainforest. Columbus’ last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492, La Gomera is home to many friendly and small resorts. What you can do on the island is taking coastal walks, enjoy a view of Tenerife from Mt Garajonay, visit waterfalls, or take a historical walk of San Sebastian town.
Madeira Island Walking
Rising steeply from the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Europe and Africa, Madeira offers both a mild climate and a 1,350-mile network of
levadas through which you can discover the island on foot. Madeira island enjoys an impressive year-round flowering season thanks to its subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil – you can even find a dedicated Orchid Garden with more than 7,500 species here! Another thing to do is take a guided tour of a Madeira wine lodge - and try some local libations...
Hiking in Hidden Andalucia
There's a part of Andalucia that is a bit more off the beaten path: the unspoilt sector of the Alpujarras east of Trevelez. A visit in the winter months of December, January or February is great for walks on sunny days. There can also be snowfall and it can get a bit chilly, but the landscape is rewarding these months. Walking the southern fringes of the Sierra Nevada, following the Camino Real (Royal Trail), and staying at charming villages of Berchules, Yegen an Mairena make for a
fantastic winter break, even when the sun doesn't show its face.
Beat the European Winter!
Are you looking for an active break combined with some winter sun? Here are some of our trip destinations that enjoy a much milder climate and warmer temperatures in the winter.
La Gomera is a year-round breathtaking destination. The variety of the landscapes that you will see in such a small area is amazing and Gomeran hospitality is truly memorable. This trip covers the south – and sunnier! – side of the island and the shorter walking days will give you the opportunity to do other activities such as relax by the sea, snorkelling, kayaking or whale watching. La Gomera has a good infrastructure of roads, amenities and services, including good restaurants and small, family-run hotels.
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The 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 1,800 metres/6000 feet. A characteristic feature of the island is the elaborate system of ‘levadas’ (irrigation channels), which over the centuries has extended to more than 2,000km of channels and 40km of tunnels. 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. Find out more >>
Tenerife is the highest island in the Atlantic and the largest of the Canary Islands. Your first view of the great volcano Mount Teide, Spain's highest mountain and the third tallest volcano in the world will probably be from the aeroplane window… and a few days later you will be there, walking across the massive crater of Cañadas del Teide! Hiking on North Tenerife is hugely varied – from banana plantations to pine forests and from laurisilva cloud forests to lava fields – and our aim is to show you as much as possible. Find out more >>
Cyprus is an island of natural beauty in a region with an abundance of ancient and modern civilisations and cultures. Away from the cosmopolitan towns and beach resorts you will find large areas of natural, unspoilt countryside. Rugged, conifer-clad mountains, woodland and gentle orchards and vineyards are interspersed with tranquil, timeless villages. The people extend a warm and friendly welcome and their hospitality will add greatly to the enjoyment of your tour.
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is place of great dramatic
walks with Atlantic views, of mysterious coastal and highland mists, of intricate water canals and the innate friendliness of the Madeiran / Portuguese people themselves. The jagged peaks flanked by forests of pine and laurel, rise up to over 1800 metres and betray their volcanic origins.
Through these peaks thread the 2000 km of levada channels bringing water down to the coastal settlements. During spring and autumn a myriad of colourful flowers and trees are in bloom: Jasmines, Begonias, Freesias, Magnolias and Camellias form just part of the spectacular flora. Walking routes in Madeira follow paths and levadas through the peaceful pastoral countryside and traversing the terraced hillsides. More challenging trails traverse the coastline and climb up to the rugged peaks of the interior including Pico Ruivo 1860m - the highest summit. Highlights of a trip here include having look around some of the interesting villages and towns including Funchal and a wicker sled ride down from Monte to the capital, which is an interesting experience, as is a visit to a Madeira wine lodge or the food and flower markets bursting with colour.
When to walk in Madeira
Anytime is an ideal time to go walking on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. Surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, 400km north of Tenerife, it's warmed by the Gulf Stream and enjoys a pleasant sub-tropical climate all year round.
During spring and autumn especially, there is more chance of the unstable weather associated with Atlantic fronts than during the summer, although they may only last an hour or so and then there may be a complete reverse back to glorious sunshine. So although it is generally bright and warm in this region each year, you should be prepared for rain, cold weather, high winds, and a particular Madeiran speciality: mountain and coastal mists.
A little on the history of Madeira
Madeira was discovered by sailors in the service of the Infante Prince Henry of Portugal (soon to become known as Henry the Navigator) in 1419, settled in 1420. The name Ilha da Madeira (English: Madeira Island) literally means 'Island of wood' in reference to the dense forest of laurisilva trees that covered the island.
Interesting historical facts about Madeira:
Madeira is famous for it's unique fortified
Madeira Wine. Originally created by accident, its unique charactistic comes from the introduction of grape spirits (added to prevent the wine from spoiling) and the excessive heat and movement that the wine was exposed to as it made its way across the seas in ships headed for the New World or East Indies. The
UNESCO-listed Laurisilva Forest of Madeira dates back to the Ice Age and is the largest surviving laurel forest in the world. It's also home to a very unique ecosystem of flora and fauna including the native Madeira Long-Toed Pigeon which lays only a single white egg. In 1815,
Napoleon Bonaparte stopped off to buy Madeira wine in Funchal en route his final destination and exile on the island of St. Helena. Winston Churchill came here on holiday to paint and write his WWII memoirs in 1950, and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and husband Dennis spent their honeymoon in Madeira 1951, returning 50 years later to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.
doesn't actually come from Madeira. It was named after Madeira Cake Madeira wine which was popular in England during the 19th century and was often served with a slice of golden-yellow 'Madeira' sponge cake. Getting to/from Madeira
Madeira is around a 4 hour flight from the U.K. and is served by numerous airlines from most major airports across Britain. Madeira's main airport 'Funchal Airport' itself is quite an engineering feat and consists of an elevated platform partly over the Atlantic ocean.
The historic town of Machico is the starting point for our Madeira walking holidays and is around 15 minutes drive from Funchal Airport.
Walking Holidays in Madeira
Sherpa Expeditions offers guided and self-guided itineraries to help you get the most out of your walking holiday in Madeira: