Madeira archipelago used to be a huge volcano; nowadays it’s a dead one. The remains of this giant form the main island Madeira and the smaller islands Porto Santo and Desertas.
Volcanic past has created nature’s open-air museum
The island of Madeira is at the top of a massive shield volcano that rises about 6 km from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The volcano formed atop over 5 million years ago, continuing until about 700,000 years ago. After this, extensive erosion happened, causing two large amphitheaters open to the south in the central part of the island. The most recent volcanic eruptions were on the west-central part of the island only 6,500 years ago.
Because of the volcanic history and isolated position in the middle of the ocean, the nature of Madeira is unique. One might think it’s nature’s open-air museum, where you can find forests that existed on the mainland of Europe tens of millions of years ago. On the other hand, the climate is also very special; you can experience all four seasons during one day.
All Madeira mountains are beautiful
During our Nordic Blogger Trip we had several day trips to the several parts of the island. We saw different kinds of mountainous areas, all very beautiful. The direction of the wind is the main factor for the amounts of rain and therefore also the species of vegetation. Usually the north-facing regions get most of the rain, so there the forests are denser. A sad part of the history of Madeira are the wildfires, many of them caused in recent times by humans. The hot and windy weather spreads the fire rapidly and steep hillsides are very difficult for firemen.
Famous levadas lead hikers down to the coast
Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in 1419 and settled after 1420. In the 16th century the Portuguese started building levadas, or aqueducts, to carry water to the agricultural regions in the south. The most recent were built in the 1940s. There are over 2,170 km of levadas and they provide a network of walking paths. Some provide easy and relaxing walks through the countryside, but others are narrow and dangerous.
We had a half-day hike at one of the easiest levadas. For me, not being a botanist, one of the biggest advantages as a hiker was the almost total lack of bugs, flies, snakes and other little nuisances. There were safe and easy hikes around, allowing you to listen to the silence of the huge forests in the middle of the misty mountains.
Somewhere over the rainbow
There are also opportunities to drive directly near the cliffs and close to mountain tops. One of the top moments of my trip was the trip to Mt. Eira do Serrado, altitude 1094 m. The temperature up there was only a little bit above +10 degrees Celsius and the wind was crazy; I had to hold my camera very tightly. And there I was, literally over the rainbow watching the view, so majestic and beautiful.
Madeira is the place to visit if your physique allows you to hike and walk. Although there is also a lot to see in Funchal, the biggest experiences await in the mountains and forests.
Disclaimer: My visit to Madeira was organized by Visit Portugal. My opinions are always my own and not for sale.