Madeira: summer, sun, sunshine? Maybe every other day of the year, but not the one week in October that I have been here. As the human skin is waterproof and I am not, against all rumours, made of sugar, it was no excuse to not go and try one track after the other. Madeira is definitely worth being called the pearl of Portugal. Even with pouring rain, I couldn’t stop gasping from amazement: tropical plants decorate the whole island together with loads of flowers, trees and sugar cane fields.
It is recommendable to rent a car beforehand, but as my drivers licence decided not to go on holiday with me, I had some problems getting to the more hidden places of Madeira. All of the busses left the capital Funchal at about 11 o’clock, what I think of as very late. My first excursion should go to Rabaçal. To get there, I had to take the bus and then a taxi but the trip was absolutely worth it:
Levada 25 Fontes – Waterfalls meet Levadas
The hiking track to the 25 waterfalls is the right path for all the ones who love nature and don’t want to spend the whole day in the mountains. This beautiful pathway enchants you with one waterfall after the other, breathtaking views and small, winding paths that stretch over three kilometres.
During the day, the path is often crowded with tourists, so I recommend to start your track earlier to experience the unspoilt nature on your own. Or, you just come during the only rain week in the whole year -as I did-, then you will also be able to sleep as long as you want and still not meet the odd explorer.
Just on a side note: the starting point is on a hill, where some cows graze. They are known for their excellent meat, but are also very trusting and like a little pet trying to sneak into your selfie.
Ribeiro Frio and the Balcões
The next day, the day, when the sun decided to come out for one time, I used to make a six hours expedition. Away from the tourist crowds, I tested the hiking track in Ribeiro Frio. Here, you walk alongside Levadas: over waterfalls and rivers, through caves and forest. A true adventure and my personal highlight on Madeira! Levadas are artificially made streams that bring the rainwater from the regions rich of rain into the drier regions. The paths follow the slowly flowing streams and are therefore pleasantly flat.
I took the 10-o’clock-bus and got off at the Balcões. This is a huge terrace, from where you have an unforgettable view: all around you rise high mountains and to the right, you can see the ocean.
Riberio Frio convinced me with its silence. Only few times I met other hikers. The rest of the time, I was completely alone in the midst of a stunning and unique nature. Here, you have to follow the Levada to not wander around and be lost in the woods for some hours. This track is nothing for couch potatoes. When the Levada crosses a waterfall, you also have to do so -luckily, I was already used to being wet from the last days-, if it passes through a tunnel, you also have to do so. You will truly experience action at its best. And when I arrived at a small village, without provisions, a basket with apples was awaiting me at the entrance. The apple that I ate, was probably the most delicious and sweetest one in whole Portugal.
Now, I will add some new and more dry experiences from this January. With a group of friends, I went on a discovery tour on Madeira. Luckily, we had rented a car beforehand, which made everything so much easier and which brought us more or less reliable to all the places. During our 10 days on the island, we had almost only sunshine and up to 28 degrees.
The most known hiking track on Madeira is probably also the one that I would say not to miss by any chance! It was the highest point on my Must-See list and directly after checking the weather, it was scheduled for the next day. The hike starts at the second highest mountain of Madeira, the 1818 metre high Pico do Arieiro, and leads to the highest mountain of Madeira and Portugal, the 1862 metres high Pico Ruivo. One way, it takes seven kilometres, but as we parked the car at one side, we also had to take the same way back. After a nerve-wrecking drive over narrow and winding roads, we arrived at the peak of Pico do Arieiro and, packed with rain jacket, hat, scarf, sandwiches, bananas and cameras, we started our day tour. When we started, we were still caught in the clouds and it was freezing cold up in the mountains. The wind here blows unslowed, directly from the Atlantic ocean and you feel that very clearly. We were happy about our good preparation and the many clothes.
The hiking track is very narrow and at many places secured with ropes as it goes deep down. If you are afraid of heights, you might get dizzy at many points. Normally, there are two different ways, so that you can go by one and come back by the other one, but one of them was closed. Probably, is has broken down partly, which is not uncommon. We also had to cross five tunnels on our way and that is why it is recommended to bring flashlights. Without flashlights, you run risk of hitting your head at the uneven cave ceiling. From experience I can say that a flashlight from your cellphone is enough, but you should have sufficient battery…
The path was very beautiful. We had a lot of great views to different directions: over the mountains, the green valleys and many different kinds of vegetation. We saw some endemic birds and a few times we met other hikers. When we were protected from the wind by the mountainside, it even got really warm with the sun and we continued hiking in t-shirts. On the way, we always filled up our water bottles in the rivers and waterfalls to refresh ourselves. The path is mostly natural, sometimes beaten into the rock and one time, they had added some metal stairs to make the path more secure. Shortly before arriving to the peak, we crossed a strange looking forest. The trees looked like they had been smoked and seemed dead - very mystic atmosphere. Later, we got to know that they were ill, caused by some not endemic insects, and dying.
We arrived at the peak, where suddenly many people gathered. They probably came from one of the other three walking tracks that meet here. The view was just breathtaking: The green forests, the clouds between the mountain peaks and the beautiful birds! We made a pause, ate our snacks and watched the coloured birds eating the crumbs.
Then we returned over the same way that we had come from. Shortly before the end, the sun was going down and coloured the clouds in golden. It was just spectacular! The perfect ending of a perfect day.
The whole track took us seven hours, 15 kilometres and over 900 metres in height to finish the hiking. We were so tired and just fell into bed, when we came home. But, it truly had been an amazing day.
There are also some other variations of this track. For example, you can enlarge it and continue hiking to Encumeada or choose another route. There is the short two kilometre hike from the parking lot, for the less hiking enthusiasts, or the even more demanding track from Ilha. There, you start at a height of 400 metres and then mount the peak in 8,7 kilometres from the seaside. On this way, we didn’t meet any soul, which could be because it is lesser known, or just no one else is crazy enough to do it. Except of a cat that we met in the middle of the forest and who followed us more than one hour meowing all the time. Probably it was happy about having found some companions as no one else passed by here. We thought it was pretty funny to go hiking with a complete srtanger cat, except of the few times that -typical cat- it almost made us fall. The path leads up in endless stairs and then turns into a unstable, rocky way. Especially beautiful is the part, where you hike through the Laurisilva forest.
Levada do Rei – Laurisilva forest
The Laurisilva forest, which is part of the UNESCO world heritage, can also be discovered on the kings levada (Levada do Rei). This is a wonderful way through the deep green forest with lots of fern trees and lush vegetation. One time, the way passed under a waterfall and we all put on our hoods to not get too wet. Indeed, it was very cold here, as the humidity was high and the sun didn’t reach through the leaves. The way and the Levada ended at a small stream, which was the origin of the Levada. In contrast to the other hikes, this one was very relaxed: no incline, soft grounds, pleasant and natural colours as well as a very pleasant silence.
To get some change to the days before, we planned a trip to the cape of Sao Lourenço. This is the most eastern point of Madeira. It seems like a complete different place: here, instead of green and lush vegetation, high mountains, lots of rivers and waterfalls, you will find short and hard grass, which is more yellow than green, brown ground, soft hills, cliffs, lava stone and red rocks. Because of the missing water and shadow, the seemingly easy track got more exhausting than we thought. From our experiences of the last days, we had only brought a few water bottles hoping we could refill it at a waterfall or river. So, we had to ration our water. But the landscape made it all worth the suffering. It was different than the rest of the island, but very beautiful as well. From the point at the end of the cape, you could even see the island Porto Santo. At the cape, we made a pause and then returned with a small detour down to the sea back to our car. The whole track took us three hours and eight kilometres in total.
Madeira is a true paradise for hikers and outdoor lovers. There are so many different landscapes to discover: from volcanic caves over high, green mountains with deep gorges and valleys, to black or golden beaches, countless hiking tracks for every level, many interesting cities, where you can visit touristic attractions or just try local specialities. I could tell you so much more about this dream island, but I will keep it for another time.
If you now want to experience the beauty of this Portuguese island of your own, we have a lot of lovely accommodations on Madeira and Porto Santo.
This secret place - The Hotel Atrio - overlooks one of the most beautiful islands of Europe, Madeira. The small family owned hotel is settled on the sunny south side of this green island and welcomes its guests with panoramic views of the deep blue sea and the green mountains. It is surrounded by a stunning 10.000m2 garden and combines tradition with contemporary elegance. This boutique hotel offers 22 exclusive rooms that provide comfortable double beds, modern bathrooms and terrace or balcony with overwhelming views. The areal of this old quinta offers a cosy restaurant, a bar with fireplace and a sunny terrace. A heated pool, a sauna and massage therapies allow maximum relaxation. This hidden boutique hotel is the perfect starting point to explore all nature linked activities such as hiking, whale watching, Birdwatching, diving, mountainbiking, canyoning and much more.
Are you looking for an eco-friendly and peaceful place to stay in Madeira where nature suits simplicity? Then, Calhau Grande is your perfect place to be. The 8 self-catering cottages were built with a unique combination of natural beauty, comfort and privacy. They are settled within a beautiful garden paradise, each with its own terrace, overlooking the deep blue Atlantic Ocean and green mountains. This family-owned accommodation welcomes its guests with the typical warm hospitality of Madeira. There are different cottages, offering a studio for 2 guests or a spacious cottage with two levels for up to 6 guests. Calhau Grande is perfectly situated to explore and enjoy the island of Madeira.
Located in Ponta do Pargo, in the west of the island Madeira, this hidden gem offers six individual charming houses. Casas da Levada amazes with a property of 5000 square meters, which provides an impressive infinity pool with breath-taking sea views and is home to the houses built from stone. You are going to stay in warmly decorated holiday homes, where a fireplace makes you feel even more at home. The design is a blend of traditional furniture and modern amenities. Sustainability is highly valued at Casas da Levada. They cultivate their organic garden and even have some farm animals. The water is heated by solar power and they use biodegradable cleaning products. Upon your arrival, the owners will provide you with fresh breakfast supplies, so you can enjoy the most important meal of the day at any time you want.During your stay at Casas da Levada you will have plenty of opportunities to explore the lush green hilly nature of the island, observe wildlife and enjoy the Atlantic Ocean and the delicious island food.
This Secret Place on one of the most beautiful islands of Europe, welcoming its guests with privacy, luxury comfort and panoramic views over the deep blue ocean. The resort offers 9 ocean view rooms and three luxury villas. All are settled within the typical green garden and each with its own privacy area. The combination of luxury, design and exceptional surrounding makes this place so unique. The resort does only accept adults. Each ocean view room offers a comfortable double bed and modern bathroom for maximum two guests. Each villa offers a comfortable bedroom for a maximum of 2 guests, a modern bathroom and open living area. A delicious breakfast is served and included in all rates. Come here and breathe in the serenity within an environment of absolute comfort and tranquility where attention to detail makes all the difference.
The location of the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol is amazing. Basically, it is set on a high ravine on the south coast of Madeira. This provides guests with fantastic views of the blue ocean and plenty of sunshine and light. Talking of light, this area, some 25 minutes drive from the capital Funchal, is said to have the best climate and more hours of sunshine than any other part of the island. Hence the name of the village from which the hotel takes its name - “Ponta do Sol” Point of the Sun.The village is 500 years old and sleepy. There’s not that much to see there frankly, despite its picturesque setting. In many ways that’s how Madeira has been traditionally seen – perhaps a place for the older, more conservative, traveller. The Estalagem da Ponta do Sol, on the other hand, is a different ball game. It’s trendy, minimalistic, modern and utterly magical. A really well-designed hotel. A young hotel with excellent facilities and well thought out design. There is even attention to detail in the pool. Its infinity style provides an illusion of blending and melting into the ocean. Still, all this is nothing without human warmth and at that point, the Ponta do Sol can impress as well. The staff are friendly and professional. They can even pick you up at the airport if needed.Despite the getaway feel, there are interesting activities in and around the hotel like a sailboat trip which the Ponta do Sol can help to organize. All in all a great combination of two different types of Madeira, one genteel and slow-moving the other hip, up to date and beautifully styled. The natural attributes, the sun and the sea will further ensure a super relaxing stay.
This place is so special, that we should start with the downsides. If you are scared of heights you might have to think twice before coming to the Fajã dos Padres. Although it lies right on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, the only access is via a 300 m panoramic cable car that descends from the cliffs above the lodging. Otherwise, you can only arrive via boat.Once there, a beautiful garden with mangoes, avocado, and banana trees. It is not far from the elevator to the houses but does warm you up a bit.The name Fajã dos Padres derives from the fact that Jesuits used to live there, benefiting from its former isolation. It is obviously a little paradise. The nine houses are simple, but comfortable and used to be fishermen's cottages and small storage houses for fishing material. The cottages have a little kitchen and are quite spacious. All have a little terrace with great views over the ocean and total privacy. It is a pebble beach, although not guarded, with transparent waters ideal for diving or snorkeling.The Fajã dos Padres also has a small pier from which you can take a previously booked boat that will take you to Funchal or the nearest port called "Câmara dos Lobos". The pier also has a nice terrace with deckchairs and parasols at the guest’s disposal. The restaurant has good local dishes, among which you will find tuna and other fresh fish just brought by boat by local fishermen. The side dishes and desserts are made from locally grown produce. All are accompanied by "malvasia" wine grown locally.Please note that the Fajã dos Padres is a place to relax the soul and body. The houses have Internet connections and the cable car only works from 10:00 to 18:00 in winter and 19:00 in summer.More secret than that is impossible.
Casa Papagaio is an accommodation on the outside of Funchal, but you can reach the city in just a few minutes by car and you have the convenience of being able to park in front of it.The main house has large windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with views of the capital and the immense sea. The interior of the house is beautifully decorated using Portuguese art and furniture. Artistic objects and embroidery from Madeira stand out, as well as cutlery from mainland Portugal. A few reproductions of Van Gogh and other impressionists give Casa Papagaio a pleasant touch of color and personality. Next is the garden, with an abundant assortment of semi-tropical plants and flowers. A few stairs down we find a large swimming pool available to the guests - a wonderful spot for sunbathing and relaxing in the sun. Another special feature of the farm is the "levada" ( artisanal path) which crosses the property and allows you to walk to Funchal or Câmara de Lobos.The accommodation has 7 rooms all of them with good sized sea views, filled with natural light and scents coming from the garden. The rooms range from doubles, studios and apartments (the last two with kitchen), with a simple and contemporary decor and most of them open to the exterior with sun beds, tables and chairs.The owner, Filomena, is a dog and cat lover - docile and well-behaved - they roam freely in the garden. Please note that for those with pet allergies, this may be a bit of a nuisance.However, guests are welcome to bring their own pets. At the moment the lounge is closed to guests and breakfast can be enjoyed in the room or in the garden.