Visit: 4th December 2016
Many months ago I had the idea of spending a week in December travelling around Portugal and Spain on my own. I booked a flight from Gatwick to the island of Madeira and another from Madeira to Lisbon, with the intention of travelling by bus from Lisbon to Madrid and then flying home from there. Some weeks after booking my mum expressed an interest in joining me, then my brother decided he was interested too. Finally my dad found his schedule allowed him to come too, so my solo adventure had been turned into a fully-fledged family holiday!
Joe and I were on the same plane out – a half-empty Norwegian Air Shuttle 737-800. Madeira’s sole airport is known amongst pilots as a relatively tricky place to land because of its proximity to steep terrain and its unpredictable weather. This was especially so before the year 2000, when the runway was extended out on stilts over the sea.
An hour after our touch-down Mum and Dad arrived from Bristol and we drove to our hotel for the night. We ate dinner in Funchal, the island’s quaint capital, and discussed our walking plans for the following day.
Madeira is a mountainous volcanic island in the eastern Atlantic ocean, roughly level with Marrakesh. It is covered by primary, or ancient, forest – meaning forest that has never been cut down by man. Indeed, it was not settled by humans until the 1420s. Madeira’s isolation led to great biodiversity, giving it many endemic plants and insects and two endemic birds.
One experiences this WHS by hiking the ‘levada trails’, which are walking routes that follow man-made irrigation channels known as levadas. The levadas generally flow horizontally along the contours of the hills, with occasional descents down the slopes.
The most striking things about driving up from our hotel by the coast up to the laurisilva forests in Madeira’s uplands were the changes in weather and vegetation. The temperature dropped by about 10 degrees and the types of plants we saw changed as we ascended. It was as if it was still summer down at sea level but further up – as the temperature fell – the leaves had turned brown and autumn was well and truly underway.
The start point for the Levada 25 Fontes and Levada do Risco trails was shrouded in fog. If we had wanted to go walking in cold, foggy conditions we could have stayed in England!
These two routes, which start off as one but then fork off individually, led to waterfalls and give a good flavour of the sprawling forests of Madeira. We spent several hours walking along the trials before heading back via road on the north coast to our hotel in Funchal.
We had enjoyed our time and would have liked to have stayed longer on the island. But I had planned only to stay for one full day (two nights) before setting course for the mainland, so the family had no choice but to join me.