Originally published on TravelSupermarket December 22, 2018
Sam swore it was a short cut. It turns out it was once; it just hadn’t been used for a while. Now, it was an overgrown forest of 8-foot-high thorn bushes with sharp, needle-point pines, jabbing and stabbing everywhere. And we’d waded right into the middle of it. In too far, there was only one way out: onwards through the spiny forest.
Not all walks in Madeira end like this, Sam, our guide from outdoor activity specialists Harmony In Nature, assured us afterwards, a cold beer and a million apologies later. We’d been hiking along one of the Atlantic island’s levadas, the old-school irrigation canals that trace Madeira’s ancient laurel forests like veins. Until that point, it had been absolutely lovely.
The levada paths cover a distance of around 2,000km, cutting through lush canopies of sub-tropical rainforest and steep-sided ravines. Madeiran farmers once used them to transport water to the lower areas of the island, but now they are mostly used by hikers. Largely flat and enclosed from the sun, these routes make for ideal walking.
Hidden waterfalls and sweeping valley views were our reward as we made our way along the levada’s shaded paths. It was October and the island had seen one of its wettest summers in a while. An explosion of green surrounded us; the forest was alive with colour. Down below at the valley bottom, other walkers took on the Levada das 25 Fontes, one of the island’s most popular walks. Length and difficulty vary across the different hikes, so all abilities should find something suitable.
Madeira has a bit of a reputation as a fairly sedate destination. There’s no shortage of sleepy little towns, and long relaxing walks. That’s only half the picture, however. An island of cloud-shrouded peaks, vast ancient forests and adrenaline-pumping activities, Madeira was made for adventure – if you want it, that is.