Madeira is one of the most charming and beautiful islands you could ever be lucky enough to visit. As you approach it by plane you can see towering, forest-clad mountains and sheer cliffs that plunge into the Atlantic Ocean.
Towns cling to the steep sides of the island and small patches of farmland are positioned on impossible-looking terraces. It’s this landscape that makes Madeira so appealing to travellers and also the reason why its inhabitants have had to be so creative with their development – the levadas (water channels) that funnel water from the tops of the mountains to villages and agricultural plots are a classic example.
If you want to get the most out of your holiday to Madeira you need to be prepared to travel around so that you’re able to see the island’s various sides.
How to travel
There are several ways to get around, each of which will give you a different experience.
Hire a car – Hiring a car is essential in Madeira if you want to leave your hotel behind, as taxis can be expensive and you’ll have a lot more freedom if you’re driving yourself. The other reason to rent a vehicle is that the roads in Madeira are spectacular – they grip the edge of the mountains, slowly zigzagging upwards, and they plunge through long tunnels that have been hewn out of the peaks. There are plenty of laybys where you can pull over safely to appreciate the outstanding views as you get higher.
On foot – Madeira is one of the top walking destinations in Europe and there are dozens of trails to choose from if you want to stride out. Many of these follow the route of the levadas and, like the roads, cling to the side of the mountains. The views are wonderful and there is an incredible variety of flora – the flowers look particularly beautiful in the spring and autumn months when many of them are in bloom.
By boat – To fully appreciate the geographical difficulties the Madeirans face on a day-to-day basis, you need to take to the sea. A boat trip along the coast will show you imposing cliffs that rise up out of the ocean to dizzying heights. This kind of tour will also allow you to get a look at some of the coastal terraces where much of Madeira’s produce is grown. Many of these are accessed by rope ladders, with the crops hauled up or down in baskets attached to lengths of rope.