This beautiful green island, the flower garden of the Atlantic, was created by a series of intense volcanic eruptions, and represents only the top quarter of an volcanic system. The seaside cliffs continue to plummet to the ocean floor reaching depths of over 4000 m. Peaks rising to over 1800 m dominate the centre of Madeira. Scores of rivers radiate from these peaks cutting deep into the softer terrain and leaving only the hardest rock exposed as sheer cliffs and ridges.
To maximize the islands agricultural potential, early settlers built a network of narrow water channels called levadas to transport water from the north to the south of the island adapting a similar system used in southern Portugal. Using only a slight gradient, these cleverly engineered levadas carried water from mountain springs down to the fields where sluices allowed farmers to draw water on a strict quota system.
Mountain trails can be very challenging. The route between Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro follows the knife edge on the central mountain range. This is a challenge only to be tackled by experienced hikers.
Ribeira Brava Levadas
This sheltered port has a name meaning “Wild River”. When the sea isn't raging, the sea does its best to inundate the town, hence the huge concrete breakwater that keeps the ocean away from the esplanade of cafes and small markets.
Taking a local bus to Candelaria, we climb up to the Levada Nova and follow it through the Tabua Valley past poplars, eucalyptus and mimosa. After a long steep descent we are back in Ribiera Brava.
The next day, taking a local bus to Encumeada at 900 m, we climb to meet Levada Do Lombo do Mauro passing waterfalls. Then we hike south beside the fast-flowing water of the levada to Apresentacao and join a steep cobbled track downhill to town.
1 - FUNCHAL 8 - Jardim do Mar 15 - Encumeada 22 - Santo da Serra
2 - Monte 9 - Prazeres 16 - Curral das Freiras 23 - Camacha
3 - Câmara de Lobos 10 - Paúl do Mar 17 - Pico do Arieiro 24 - Airport
4 - Cabo Girão 11 - Fajã da Ovelha 18 - Pico Ruivo 25 - Machico
5 - Ribeira Brava 12 - Ponta do Pargo 19 - Ribeiro Frio 26 - Caniçal
6 - Ponta do Sol 13 - Porto Moniz 20 - Santana 27 - São Lorenço
7 - Calheta 14 - São Vicente 21 - Porto da Cruz
By bus from Robeira Brava we travel up to Encumeada where both the north and south sides of the island can be seen at the same time. Then it’s off to Ribeiro Frio for the huge trout hatchery and on to Porto Moniz using the road built on the rocks by the sea where you can admire the astonishing waterfalls.
After lunch at one of the world renowned restaurants on the north coast, we departed with the remains of our wine to oversee the famous rock swimming pools. Then in Santana we took time to view the famous and brightly coloured “A” shaped frame houses with thatched roofs and beautiful flower gardens. On the way back we stop to take in Madeira’s most vertiginous view that of the fantastic Cabo Girão -the second highest sea cliff in the world plunging 580 m to the ocean.
Ribeira Brava & Funchal Hikes
Taking a local bus to Encumeada, we follow a mountain path with magnificent views past Pico Grande to Boca de Corrida and the Jardim da Serra (Garden of the Mountain Range). This is followed by a steep descent down a cobbled road to Corticeiras for the bus back.
The next morning bright and early its on the local bus to Estreito de Camara de Lobos and a short climb up to the Levada do Norte. We follow this levada through the secret valley of the Ribeira da Caixa smothered in cherry blossoms in the spring and past vineyards, sugar cane, and quaint villages all the way back to Ribeira Brava.
Moving to Funchal, we visit the town of Camacha famous for its wicker baskets and follow the Levada Da Serra to Monte and the botanical gardens. Here you can take a basket ride back to downtown Funchal.
We bus up to Machico and Pico de Facho hiking along the Levada Machico and then up the rugged North Coast path - perhaps the quintessence of Madeira - all the way to the village of Porto Cruz.
The next day our bus takes us up to Pico do Ariero, Madeira’s third highest peak at 1818 m. The bare red lava fields and cinder beds are covered in fog as we begin the hike. We hike the rugged mountain path past spectacular views and through 5 tunnels and above the clouds to the highest peak of Pico Ruivo standing at 1861 m. After lunch on top of the world, we descend gradually to Homem em Pe -a rock formation resembling a standing man.
Busing up to Quinte do Pomar, we follow the Lavada dos Tornos, Madeira’s most important aqueduct to the town of Camacha for lunch at the wickerwork showroom, factory and restaurant.
The next day we follow the Levada dos Piornais past the suburbs of Funchal to the colourful fishing village of Camara do Lobos. Winston Churchill painted some of his best pictures here! Back in Funchal there is much to do. A waterfront sailing voyage in a replica of the Santa Maria is fun as is sampling the various Madeira wines. Some night photos of Funchal round out the adventure in Madeira.