I had three weeks of holidays (all from last year, since I started working for TAP) and little money in my pocket. So I decided to go to Madeira for five days – TAP offers us domestic flights, so everyone can go home, and I stayed with my great friend Soraia.
I have been to Madeira several times but never done a levada – irrigation canals, built since the 16th century, which were due to the need to bring water from the North oriented slopes of the island, where it abounds, to the south side of the island, easier to live and where the majority of plantations have always been. So I decided that this time I would go for a walk in each day to discover these paths through the mountains.
During the research I identified, in addition to the levadas, some paths that I would like to do, so my selection was as follows:
Day 1 – Levada do Alecrim + Lagoa do Vento (9km in 3h45)
One of the most famous and popular levadas is the Levada das 25 Fontes. For that of Alecrim we leave the car in the same place, follow the arrows that indicate PR6.2 and where we are almost alone. It was my friend Soraia who suggested me this one, as my original idea was to make the famous one. And what a good suggestion! The levada itself is not as extraordinary as the one I did on day four, but at that time I did not know yet, so it seemed wonderful to me. But the most impressive thing is the huge waterfall in Lagoa do Vento, where I spent a lot of time observing the power of nature, completely alone! The only difficulty is to go back up to get to the “spring” of Levada do Alecrim (something equivalent to 90 floors) where we find another waterfall. Then you have to return to the starting point. During the levada and already away from the waterfalls it is possible to stop and hearing absolutely nothing, complete silence, while enjoying Madeira mountains!
Day 2 – Vereda do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo + Achada do Teixeira (12.5km in 4h30)
The one I liked the most and the hardest I ever did. Perhaps one thing influences the other, because it always makes good for the ego to reach the end of the day and realize that we can climb something like two hundred and thirty floors to get to the highest point of Madeira. I arrived at Pico do Areeiro about ten o’clock in the morning and the mountain was so inside the cloud it was impossible to see 10 feet ahead. I decided to wait a little and see if anyone ventured first because it would not be a good idea to go alone, in case something happened I would have no one to help or save me. After half an hour I saw two girls who were as apprehensive as me about the atmospheric situation, but we decided to risk it, because soon after we started we met a man in the opposite direction who warned us that that wind was only in that initial part. They, a Polish and a Turkish who lived in Germany, made the whole way with me, fortunately we were walking at the same pace, something very important in these wanderings. The hike has incredible views, dark tunnels, and the last hour is a giant staircase, aspect that discourages us until we reach the top, above the clouds, and gain an incredible boost of energy! We considered walking back but we thought it was best not to and we went to Achada do Teixeira, place only 2km away from Pico Ruivo where the cars arrive, and where Soraia’s father kindly came for us. I say kindly because to return to Pico do Areeiro, where I had left the car, is an hour drive.
Day 3 – Vereda dos Balcões + Levada do Furado (14km in 4h)
This is a hike with more people because there are buses at both ends of the path. I also went by public transport because in the previous days I used Soraia’s car but in this day she needed it. So I took the 10 o’clock bus from Funchal to Ribeiro Frio (so crowded that they had to make an extra bus to take all the tourists). I first made the Vereda dos Balcões, a walk of only 1.5km to a viewpoint overlooking the central mountain block where I had hiked the day before. I had seen fabulous photographs of this viewpoint, so the light of that hour disappointed me a little. Returning to Ribeiro Frio I bought a prego no bolo do caco at Faísca, a place known precisely for this delicacy, before starting Levada do Furado. This was the least beautiful I did and where I felt more lonely, because the wave of tourists had started as soon as I arrived at Ribeiro Frio, without first passing by Balcões. Only after the half of it did it begin to get more interesting, when I found the “holes” (furados), mini tunnels dug into the rock. The levada ends at the viewpoint of Portela and the last two kilometers, going down, are quite uninteresting, it is only that feeling of “almost there!”. Then there is a bus that takes us back to Funchal.
Day 4 – Levada do Caldeirão Verde (13km in 4h15)
This is also one of the best known and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful. It is 6.5km long for each way, and the return was done in half the time than the way in as the clouds got installed precisely at that level and didn’t let us see anything. It is recommended to take a lantern, since it has very long and absolutely dark tunnels, and not only look at the floor but also at the ceiling because there are very low parts (and by the sample – this time I have had company – 3 in 4 people bump their heads… hard…). The whole course is beautiful and ends with an incredible waterfall, in the Caldeirão Verde, an old volcanic crater. It is advisable to take a warm coat because the cauldron is very fresh and if you like to stop and absorb all this energy of nature, you should be comfortably warm.
Day 5 – Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (8km in 3h15)
The last time I came to Madeira as a tourist I visited Ponta de São Lourenço and, despite the wind, I was filled with the desire to reach the easternmost point of Madeira island. I left this walk for the last day also because it is the one closest to the airport, where I ran into as soon we finished the hike. This part of the island has a very different vegetation, due precisely to the winds that are felt, not on that day, so it was actually too hot. It also has the most crystalline waters I have ever seen, quite inviting when the air temperature is half a dozen degrees higher. According to Soraia it is also very interesting to do it throughout the year because colors change a lot, from the flowers in the spring to the drier shades of summer – although at that time it is horrible to hike it as there is not a single shadow. Since August there is a support bar in the Sardinha House, just before the great ascent that leads us to see the tip of the tips, an islet already detached from the island of Madeira and, therefore, impossible to access. It is also from here that you can see both the south and north coasts of the island and where the airplanes fly by, so from the plane you can also get pretty pictures of the tip!
I confess that sometimes during these days I thought that I would not be able to finish what I had proposed, the muscular ache was very present but the willpower was superior and the feeling of conquest in the end is the best feeling in the world!
In total I did 56.5km, I spent 19h45 walking, I climbed 476 floors in a sum of 77500 steps!