While Madeira may not be renowned as a beach destination per se, there are plenty of other ways that you can get out and enjoy some fresh air during a stay on the island.
One of these is walking – with a stroll along one of the island’s famous levadas as essential a part of any holiday to Madeira as sampling the local wine or riding the cable car from Funchal.
What makes Madeira such a fine place for walking is not just its natural beauty, but its mild climate, with temperatures staying manageable in the summer and warm in the winter, so it’s never really too hot or cold to put on your walking boots and go for a ramble.
But what exactly are these oft-mentioned levadas and why are they so suited to walking?
Levada translates roughly as ‘carried’ and describes how these irrigation channels, which were built between the sixteenth century and the 1940s, carry water from the lush north-west of Madeira to the drier south-east, through a very mountainous landscape.
Today, these incredible feats of engineering provide tourists with a fantastic opportunity to traverse that very same hilly centre using the narrow paths built alongside the water channels.
While the views from many of the levadas are stunning – sweeping panoramas across huge mountain valleys – they are often very exposed, so you’ll need a strong head for heights along the sections where you’re faced with a sheer drop of several hundred metres to one side!
It certainly pays to pack a sturdy pair of shoes with you if you’re keen to make the most of the levada walks – not only to ensure you have a sure footing on these narrow paths, but also to avoid developing blisters on some of the longer routes that can take five to six hours to complete.
Of course, don’t also forget some water and food, and a fleece if you’re walking in the winter, as well as a digital camera to capture the many sights you’ll encounter along the way.
The best thing about the levadas is the range of different walks to suit all abilities. Easy routes include the 6km Paradise Valley walk, the 5.5km Levada do Castelejo and the 9km Levada dos Marocos.
Moderate routes include the 12km Kings Levada route and the Rabacal and the 25 fountains walk (beware there are tunnels and steep drops on this 11km route), while those graded ‘difficult’ due to their length and the amount of ascent and descent involved include the trek to Pico do Areeiro and Pico Ruivo, the highest point on the island at 1,862m. Unsurprisingly, the views encountered along the course of this challenging walk are breathtaking.
In order to get the most out of your walking on the island, purchase a book containing route guides or take a tour with a local rambling group.
As well as stunning vistas, you can also expect to encounter flora and fauna such as beautiful blooms of wildflowers, pretty trees and diverse bird life.
Even if you take only a couple of these walks during your stay, you’ll develop a real appreciation for the diversity and beauty of this small island, and come away feeling refreshed and rejuvenated