For a long time I had wanted to visit Madeira and this year the opportunity arose with the Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers www.bearsdenandmilngavieramblers.org.uk. The holiday was organised with a choice of two walks every day and a rest day to explore Funchal as a tourist. There are weekly flights to Madeira from Glasgow. We left Glasgow on a cold morning and about four hours later arrived in Madeira to sunny skies. We stayed at a comfortable guest house with lovely food in Funchal, the capital of Madeira.
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal. Its total population was estimated in 2011 at 267,785. The capital of Madeira is Funchal on the main island's south coast. It is just under 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Tenerife, Canary Islands. Since 1976, the archipelago has been one of the two Autonomous regions of Portugal (the other being the Azores, located to the northwest). Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in the service of Prince Henry the Navigator in 1419 and settled after 1420. The archipelago is considered to be the first territorial discovery of the exploratory period of the Portuguese Age of Discovery, which extended from 1415 to 1542. Its southerly marine position renders the warmest year-round subtropical climate in Portugal, with winters being extremely mild and summers long but withrelatively modest heat.
I will describe three of the walks. The first day was from Abra Bay on the Eastern end of the island to Ponta de Sao Lourenço. We used the public bus to Abra Bay and started the walk on a very good path with open aspects to the sea on both sides. It was a chance to explore this beautiful rocky peninsula, see its spectacular seascapes and evidence of the island’s volcanic formation. We followed the path to the last hill at the end of the island with a view out to the lighthouse. I was on the easier walk but we completed the walk at a slower pace.
The following day I chose the easier levada walk. "Levada" is a Portuguese word derived from the word "levar" - which means to carry and is roughly translated as "carriageway", but more correctly defined as mini-canal. The mini-canals are irrigation systems developed to distribute water from the rainfall heavy and wet regions on the north of Madeira island to the drier sun parched regions of the south. The Levada "Walks" are walking trails along the maintenance paths beside the Levadas. We travelled on a private bus to Rabaçal above the high- level plateau do Paul and walked from there down to the levada. It was the Levada do Risco to the 25 Fontes. It is considered an easy levada walk but in sections was very busy and took time to walk as groups had to pass each other on a very narrow path alongside the levada. It led to the 25 Fontes, a popular beauty spot, which is a circular rock enclosure with springs. There can be sheer drops at the side of these trails due to the mountainous nature of Madeira.
The most spectacular walk was on the following day. It was Pico Areiro to Pico Ruiva and then to Achado Teixeira. This is the classic high-altitude walk of Madeira, crossing between the highest peaks on the island, with magnificent scenery and views down on the northern woodland. The bus dropped us at Pico Areiro at 1818metres, the third highest peak on the island. We walked to the viewpoint with crowds of people. We started on the path where it was much quieter and immediately were on a route with a wire to the side and a narrow path cut from the rock. The path would continue like this throughout the day and care had to be taken as there were long steep drops beyond the wire. The views of the rock formations were spectacular. Where the rock could not provide a path, we walked through tunnels and the head torches were invaluable. At times, we climbed metal ladders where there was no path. It reminded me of the Via Ferrata in the Dolomites. We finally reached the summit of Pico Ruivo, the highest top on Madeira at 1861 metres. It is described as a strenuous hike and involves many ascents and descents. It was exhilarating and we were fortunate to have good weather.
On the free day, we walked down to Reid's Palace Hotel, established over a hundred years ago overlooking the sea. It has a colonial feel and we had coffee on the terrace. Afterwards we walked into the Centre of Funchal to have lunch at the fish market. We saw the scabbard fish which resembled eels. One evening in the guest house, we had the fish for dinner, sliced in rings and deep fried in a light batter, delicious. We enjoyed walking around the well maintained tiled pavements and parks finishing at the Cathedral.
This was a wonderful holiday exceeding all my expectations, well organised by Peter and his group who worked so hard to ensure we had a choice of walks, arranged transport and selected a very comfortable guest house with lovely meals.
Coming attractions; Pitlochry, Jersey, Isle of May and Mèze.
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Thanks to Dave Clark for the spectacular photo on the Pico Ruivo walk.