A week in Madeira

Hiking levadas along Ribeira dos Soccoridos

Levada trails

On Sunday we planned our first Levada walk. Levadas are man made concrete waterways that irrigate the island, delivering water from the rain soaked north to the sometimes rainless south. The whole network is an engineering marvel, with slopes set at a slight incline to keep water flowing at a steady pace. They reach up into the highest peaks of the mountain and can be followed, on foot, sometimes dangerously, for spectacular walks with amazing views and an occasional adrenaline rush.

Sam had her walking boots on at breakfast, which caught the interest of John and Jenni, two intrepid holidaymakers looking to do some serious walking. Soon we had our maps spread out across the breakfast table comparing routes and plans. Using our Sunflower Landscapes’s Madeira walks and tours guide, we found a walk, number 1 by chance, that started by our hotel. Sunday buses weren’t an issue, and the rock crushing plant down in the Soccoridos valley was closed. Excellent, we’ll grab some food and start at 11:30am.

Ribeira dos Soccoridos

It had been raining most of the morning and the ground was wet and the air cool, just right. Red painted signs on kerbs and walls pointed us to Levada dos Piornais which we followed upwards and westwards, around to Amparo and Lombada then northwards passed a winged bridge and up through the breathtaking Ribeira dos Soccoridos.

The concrete walkway, a foot and a half across and left of a running water channel, was often cracked or broken. “HOLE,” John shouted, as we walked in single file, dodging the nasty gaps and their treacherous watery ends. Through banana plantations and terraced sugar canes we trekked, going higher and higher.

The higher we got the the more beautiful the views grew and the more vertiginous the walk became. Soon the levada was carved into solid rock, beneath us and to our side a sheer drop to the valley floor. Railings protected us, but they wobbled and had occasionally fallen down. Sam didn’t bat an eyelid, and sailed through without a sign of any vertigo (to my relief!). There was an occasional tunnel and we stooped low with bags off to pass through. Jenni’s purple coat fell into the Levada, and there was a hairy moment as Sam slipped trying to grab it.

Levada do Curral

We left the Piornais Levada at Santa Quiteria, a hill we mistakenly climbed, where a rusted burnt-out car perilously held onto the cliff side. Before continuing to Levada do Curral we stopped at a local pub for “a cheeky one” and shortly after, at 3pm, we had our picnic lunch. The usual Sam and Paul picnic came with fresh bread, salami slices, crisps and Maracuja juice (passion fruit), as I dangled my feet over a racing water channel. The weather had cleared up, the sun now hot on our necks.

Along the Levada do Curral we continued for another hour, climbing ever higher, the guide warning of a point where the walk grew “very dangerous”. The houses ended, and we passed a pool of singing frogs. Onwards and upwards, the railings became less frequent, the concrete more cracked and the drops higher and more severe, but we were rewarded with beautiful valley views.

We pressed further until Sam’s vertigo got the better of her and we had to pause. Three of us continued a little more, looking for an isolated house that signified danger, but sheer drops without railings and a very thin path made us stop and turn back.

We returned the way we came, turning off the Levada where we joined it, narrowly missing a pub where John could “smell the beer”, then towards Madeira shopping and the bus home. Back in the hotel zone we shared coffee and cake and soon it was time for an evening meal.

Riso restaurant

From a bus to the old town we walked up Rua Santa Maria to Riso, a refreshingly upmarket restaurant that specialised in risotto. The building itself was nested into the sea wall, and offered gorgeous sea views, as if on a boat without all the rocking. With a dry Madeira wine and some Coral beer we sat above everyone and ordered:

From above Sam watched everyone’s meals come out, she protested as a complete stranger caked her dish in salt, talked about another man in red who looked flustered and pointed out a group interrupting a couple’s romantic meal for a photo. We were clearly in a prime people watching spot.

Our soup was hugely disappointing and incredibly salty, but the risottos were excellent. The sun set and the sea disappeared, the Porto Santo ferry (a ferry, not a cruise liner) came home and we departed, down the cobbled street that hurt Sam’s feet, beneath the flowery lights.

Blandy’s Madeira wine tasting →