'Levada' translates to 'carriage way' in Portuguese, but more literally they're canal ways, albeit small ones, used to direct and distribute rain water from the island's moist north to its arid south. The levada system isn't small, there are about 2500kms worth of mini-canals dug into the island, and much of that length has a nice, generous walking route beside it. Making Madeira an excellent destination for walkers – especially those who don't want to spend all of their time consulting maps but would rather enjoy varying views.
Apart from the levadas themselves, built in the 16th century, Madeira is known for interesting biodiversity of plants and animals, unique architecture, mountainous scenery - and of course the locals produce their own wine and cake. So there are many choice destinations and interesting point Bs to set out from point A towards.
The biggest accommodation hub in Madeira is Funchal, this is where many of the Madeira package holiday-makers come, so this is the easiest place to enter the island, and the place with the largest choice of accommodation. It's also the island's capital. And a good place to learn a bit about the island's botanical treasures which you're about to experience. You can do this at the Monte Palace Garden or the Qunita do Palheiro Ferreiro. If you're not that interested in the island's plant life you could familiarise yourself with the food and/ or wine instead.
The first walk most people take out of Funchal is along the Levada dos Tornos, which runs along the mountainside above Funchal, offering gorgeous views of the city and the coastline beyond it. There are many different points at which you could join this stretch of levada, but the full length is 25kms - so a full days hike. If you want a shorter stretch you'll be able to take a taxi or bus out to an alternative start point.
A bit further from Funchal is the Levada de Serra, which starts in Caminho do Pico do Infante and ends in Rochão – or vice versa. As well as more great views, this walk benefits from being lined with eucalyptus and beautiful wild flowers, from being quite gentle, and, at 7kms, it's only a half day trip.
Quieter Porta da Cruz on Madeira's north eastern coastline is a good base for walks with contrasting views to the Laurel forests around Funchal. The eastern most tip of the island is a stark contrast to the verdant interior around Funchal, so if you like traversing rocky coastlines featuring dramatic pillars and caves in fossilised coral and seashells, then a day walk out to the São Lourenço Peninsula is for you. Take a taxi there and back and walk for about three hours in between.
The Levada do Castelejo runs above Porta da Cruz and the São Roque Valley and allows you to walk the terraced farm land – getting an idea of just how difficult it must be to farm this land. The Penha d'Águia, an imposing rock that separates Porto da Cruz from Faial, is one of the local sightseeing highlights, so should definitely feature on your 'to walk to' list. You can follow the Levada da Portelapart of the way to the site and then head down through oak and fern lined tracks to get a better view of the rock. The rest of the Levada da Portela will take you to Portela, where you might also want to consider staying. From here it's a walk of about 10kms to Ribeiro Frio, a route through heather, laurel and sub-tropical forests. This stretch is one of Madeira's most popular walks, and as well as allowing you to see more of Madeira's biological diversity, you'll also see the caves and arches of Cabeço.
Her subtropical position means Madeira gets nice weather most of the year round, so this is a good winter walking destination. Inntravel run a walking holiday that follows the levada system, so get in touch with them for assistance planning or booking your trip.
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