Set 1,000 kilometres away from mainland Portugal, Madeira is a one-of-a-kind island. It’s formed from the tip of a sunken volcano, for one, and although it’s long been dormant, these volcanic origins shape the landscapes explored on walking holidays in Madeira. The most famous footpaths are the levada walking trails – ingenious irrigation systems that twist and turn through fairy-tale forests and mist-wreathed mountains. Walking, cycling, boat trips, wine tasting and feasting on island cuisine are also excellent ways to get stuck into the spectacular geography of Madeira.
Walking Holidays in Madeira: Follow the levadas
Levadas lead the way to Madeira’s most legendary walking routes. Around 3,000 kilometres of paths follow these stone irrigation channels, originally built to swish water from the rainy, subtropical north-west to the dry, semi-arid south-east. Some hikes are easy meanders between orchards and prehistoric laurel forests; others clamber up (and up and up) to mountains and gorges. And with names like Paradise Valley and Eagle Rock, who can resist?
A Portuguese island full of activities
Canyoning, coasteering, cycling, bird watching, Nordic walking – the extraordinary landscapes of Madeira are best explored by diving right in. Plus, you’re surrounded by the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, where whales, sea turtles and pods of dolphins roam. Head to Canico for a glimpse of the Garajau Partial Natural Reserve, a protected area for marine life.
Back on dry land, weekly markets pop up in village squares, with stalls piled high with hand-made embroidery and woven wicker baskets. And in summer, the familiar chime of church bells calls islanders (and all!) to the many food- and fireworks-filled saints’ fiestas.
The garden city of Funchal
Thanks to its mild winters, Madeira is walkable year-round. This isn’t just great news for wanderers – the weather also inspires the island’s flora to burst into colourful blooms. The island capital of Funchal lays out tropical and botanical gardens filled with flowers, fountains and sculptures, as well as picnic spots in which to admire them all. Alternatively, catch a bus out to the smaller orchid and rose gardens sprinkled around the island.
Madeira food: a piece of cake
You’ll eat well in Madeira, where island favourites range from seafood skewers and passion fruit ice cream to bolo do caco flatbreads slathered in garlic butter. Madeira wine is the most famous tipple; discover the nautical history behind this fortified brew on a vineyard tour. Funchal is home to the biggest choice of restaurants, and exploring its neighbourhoods is as exciting as digging into the varied dishes. We recommend catching the cable car up to the high-rise parish of Monte for your fill of cinematic views.