Bocca de Corrida to Pico Grande - visual perfection
This relatively small island is walking heaven, packed with fascinating trails, as evidenced by the Cicerone guide featuring no less than 60 walks.
Madeira lies in the Atlantic some 600km off Morocco. It is violently volcanic but also heavily eroded by its wet Atlantic climate, so expect physical drama: jagged peaks and convoluted ridges, cliffs and steep slopes, gorges and deep valleys. It differs from its cousins the Canaries in that it is volcanically inactive but damp, and therefore densely forested or farmed on the lower slopes, with grassy highlands above.
The damp means thick cloud forests full of interest, including very different varieties of ancient laurisilva, many types of fern and tree-heather. And a rich selection of flowers, many endemic. There isn’t much animal life, but a plethora of birds.
One of Madeira's unique(ish) features is its levadas, irrigation channels which snake around the slopes for miles and provide endless outstanding, level, but quite often exposed, walking opportunities. While many of Madeira’s old cobbled tracks have been overcome by roads, the levadas remain remarkably intact. Expect to pass through tunnels, many and/or long on some walks. Many were slave built, so spare a thought if walking on them.
There is so much to do and see, but here are some representative highlights.
A thrilling and different walk takes you along the Ponta de Saõ Lourenco promontory, the at times weird and always dramatic narrow final ridge at the island's far east. Fascinating geology – volcanic dykes and towers with bright crystalline sandstone - and vegetation combine with dramatic cliffs and spires and the pounding sea.
Sao Lourenco peninsula
Down the Sao Lourenco peninsula
While the fact that it is a popular walk to Madeira’s highest point means more people, the south-to-north walk from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo (and back, or on to Achada do Teixeira) is a marvel, often chiselled into sheer but forested cliffs, with stunning views of the island's contorted centre. One of Maderia's absolutely finest walks and that is saying something!
West from High central ridge from Pico do Ariero to Pico Grande (left) and Paul de Serra, early light
Knife-edge ridge north from Pico do Ariero
North to Torres from West from High central ridge from Pico do Ariero
A climb of the Pico Grande, to the south-west of the very highest massif. It can be climbed in various ways, the best perhaps being along the ridge from the Boca da Corrida across to Encumeada. Exceptional views throughout. Sunflower say “if we had to choose our favourite mountain walk … it would probably be this one”.
Boca Corrida to Pico Grande, cloud effects
The Levada do Caldeirao Verde on the northern slopes is one of the very best levada trails, with cliff crossings, tunnels and the beautiful waterfall-laden Caldeirão Verde. Walk on to enjoy the superb abyss of the Calderao do Inferno, no less. A green, damp, mossy delight.
Calderao Verde - sheer cliffs in Ribeira Grande
The Levada do Risco and the 25 Fontes: marvel at the steep valley and its multitude of waterfalls from these levadas and paths. 4 hrs or so. (x-refer also to that Madeira website.)
Waterfall on 25 Fontes levada
Tree tunnel, 25 fontes levada
There are two excellent books: Walking in Madeira by Paddy Dillon for Cicerone. A fantastic selection of walks for all tastes, well written up: not to be missed. Sunflower’s Madeira Car Tours and Walks is also excellent. Find these and other books on Amazon.
This can be tough walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather, where extreme heights can cause real problems, both psychological (vertigo) and physical (falls; the paths can be particularly treacherous when wet). Come fully prepared.