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Levadas: Dreamy Winding Paths on an Enchanting Island

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The majority of Madeirans live along the coastline and in sight of the sea. Their forefathers were adventurers: seafarers with a thirst for discovery; soldiers of arms and fortune.

Yet they were also farmers who, centuries ago, reckoned the islandís volcanic soil and benign climate were ideal for producing sugar and wine. Just one problem: most of the rain seemed to fall in the mountains to the north and not on the warmer south coast, where the first canes and vines were planted.

Combining ingenuity with backbreaking work, the islanders created a unique system of manmade irrigation channels, which they called Levadas. Suspended from baskets, they would chisel away at a sheer cliff face; on all fours, they would tunnel inch by inch through a hill. And all the while, by instinct perhaps, they had to calculate a gentle downward gradient or the water might never go where it was supposed to.










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