Madeira has lots of spectacular scenery but the lack of sandy beaches has spared the excesses of mass tourism. It’s a delight for nature lovers, a lush Island of Eternal Spring tucked in the Atlantic, closer to Africa than to its Portuguese motherland, almost 1000 km away.
On an area just 23km by 58 km, this favourite Portuguese island offers a surprising variety of landscape and terrain. There are bucolic valleys and rugged mountains, coastal cliffs and vertiginous ravines and quiet rural heartlands where levadas, the ancient water channels, run along terraced slopes to irrigate vineyards and fields.
Walking on Madeira ranges from gentle level strolls to adventurous hikes best for seasoned ramblers or with the guidance of a local guide. The annual walking festival held in winter offers treks of varying lengths and difficulty but guides are available year round.
Favorite Portuguese Island, Levada Trails
A short but lovely levada trail follows the Serra do Faial from the mountain village of Ribeiro Frio to the Balcões viewpoint, overlooking a stunning valley. The longer Levada do Moinho also follows a level path for most, though not all, of the way, through the old land of watermills in the north west of the island.
Most levada walks however include some steep climbing, up and downhill, crouching through tunnels where a torch is essential, and edging along narrow vertiginous paths. But it’s all worth it for the fabulous scenery away from it all, the waterfalls and leafy glens, the flowers and trees, including Madeira’s World Heritage laurisilva forest.
Madeira Best Coastal Walk
Madeira’s best coastal walk is the popular and relatively gentle Verada da Ponta de São Lourenço, exploring the long narrow peninsula on the island’s easternmost point. There are no trees on this windswept outpost but in winter, the slopes are velvety green, strewn with wild golden rape, dwarf daisies and pink mathiola. Cliffs and volcanic cones stretch into the distance, sculpted by crashing waves into fantastic shapes and colours.
Monk seals are sometimes seen on the rocks and it’s a great spot for bird watching, from pipits and canaries to Cory’s shearwaters or Bulwer’s petrels. The path winds past vertiginous coves, all the way to the volcanic peak at the end of the land. It’s a steep slippery climb to the top but the panorama over land and ocean is one of the best.
Walking on Madeira, Mountain Treks
At 1861 metres, Pico Ruivo is Madeira’s highest point, barely an hour’s walk from the road though some sections of the trail may be scary in high winds. It does boast the most fantastic views on the island, from the glistening Atlantic to the mountains towards the lower but more rugged peak of Pico de Areiro. The trail linking the two peaks is demanding, with variations in altitude and narrow dizzying ridges, but it’s highly rewarding for experienced trekkers.
Other exhilarating mountain treks include the Verada da Encumeada which follows a ridge high above the wooded valleys, and the Old Royal Path, the Caminho Real da Encumeada, which crosses part of the central mountain range, close to some of the highest peaks.