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To me, any mention of Madeira always meant either a large slab of cake to be enjoyed with a cup of Earl Grey or – more likely – a dash of fortified wine to be added to a dollop of crème fraiche and wholegrain mustard (try it!) to make an excellent sauce, maybe to accompany some pork tenderloin.
It didn’t occur to me that as a spring break, Madeira would be just what the doctor ordered (no cake or rich sauces I’m afraid). I don’t do much walking (well I do – round the golf course) but Madeira has countless stunning and truly wild walks, most with breathtaking views out across the cloud-dappled Pico Ruivo Mountain toward the Atlantic Ocean.
The island has a rugged volcanic interior. The jagged ridges and peaks provide a dramatic setting for walks with some quite steep ascents that do get the heart pumping. A reasonable level of fitness is required but if short of breath, the invigoratingly clean and fresh Atlantic air is a real tonic, whilst the fragrant scent of blossoming flowers and wild thyme will delight inquisitive nostrils.
Madeira boasts over 2000km of irrigation channels or ‘Levadas‘, which were mostly built by hand. They were designed to bring water from the north of the island to the drier south but they also provide a network of walking routes which criss-cross the island.
Walking in Madeira
Most of the walking is along flower-lined levada paths, occasionally through dark tunnels. A head for heights is a must on several sections; there are narrow paths with steep drops off to the side, although the handrails do give you some feeling of security.
Blessed with a sub-tropical climate, Madeira makes for perfect year-round walking. In May I found it delightful with plenty of sunshine, a refreshing breeze whispering in off the Atlantic and no humidity. This wonderful climate married with rich soil encourages an incredible diversity of tropical flowers, which come to prominence in April and May.
I’m not going to pretend to be anything other than a moron when it comes to botany, but even I managed to identify bougainvillaea, orchids, bird of paradise and agapanthus (with the aid of my special book of course). This trip was perfect for learning about the flora and fauna of this very special, charming and vastly underrated botanical paradise.
Having burnt off several thousand unwanted calories during my week’s walking I certainly deserved to be reacquainted with that piece of cake on my return to Blighty – Madeira cake of course!
Take a look at our trips below and discover more reasons to visit Madeira.