From The Madeira Island Web Site
Mountain walks on Madeira
By Oliver R. Donald Guenay
Jun 5, 2008 - 10:49:39 AM
a clear volcanic origin just like its neighbours, the Canary Islands, to the
south of Madeira in the Atlantic.
activity, followed by erosion, formed an
impressive landscape: steep cliffs, large
canyons and gullies, dominated by a number of peaks and needles, which thrust
themselves from the abyss out to the heavens in walls of verdejante green –
conquering the vertical and providing awesome jaw-dropping vistas.
The great escape from the office!
the island has peaks and mountains of considerable elevation,
Pico Ruivo being the highest one with
1862 m in altitude,
reaching these peaks
by hiking from all the way from the bottom of the valleys
has not been very popular, and as such is
still something of an undeveloped sport or pastime on the island.
walking in general appeared only quite recently, a few decades ago, mostly
brought on by the very intrepid English who sought initially to take advantage
of the very lesisurely level walways along the levadas (water irrigation
channels of about a metre wide) for which the island is now famous for.
of the island lies in the eastern part. It is a crater like hole – the remnants
of a former volcano – where we find the village of the
Nuns Valley or “
Freiras”. A popular lookout point or belvedere is situated at
Serrado (1095 m) above the village. This has been a popular destination for
recent mountain walkers.
Views down canyons, gullies and ravines
most popular spot for looking at the awesome peaks of Madeira from close has to
Pico do Areeiro. At 1818 m
above sea level it is the
accessible point by road and has an outlook top including a 4 stars Pousada (a
type of hotel) plus parking with restaurant at the road head below it.
This is the
traditional way on Madeira: walking far
is unlikely what both the islander and the usual tourist want or are used to!
mountain huts, like in the alps, aren’t just simple shelters but comfortable
hotels for the slightly more advanced in years to look out at the scenery from
behind the window. But things are changing and younger people are starting to
discover Madeira as a spot for various mountain sports.
two major Mountain walks, which I consider to be the islands best choice: the very
famous and quite well equipped traverse from
Pico do Areeiro to
Ruivo (frequented by hikers) and the
Grande, which I like most among all mountain walks, and which, of course,
is more serious, especially in bad weather conditions and is tempted by far
Some of the flora on the way to the peaks
traverse of Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo is well described in many guide
books. It takes about 3 hours and follows the main range of the island in a
south-north direction across several tunnels and steep steps, contouring the
peaks of Gato and Torres with impressive jaw-dropping vertigo tingling downward
views into the canyons of Cidrâo, Fajã de Nogueira and Gato.
is getting to the starting point and from the end, Achada do Teixeira, back
down. You will
have to improvise transportation by either chartering a taxi on both sides or
having patient friends who may bring you up and down.
To save money
you may take a bus from Funchal to Monte and negotiate a price with a taxi
there to go up to Areeiro. From the other side at Achada do Teixeira, where the
walk ends, you will have to take a taxi down to Santana on the north coast and
then continue by bus.
average altitude of the walk leads you at around 1700 mts. across the heart of
the island, beware of the weather:
normal conditions clouds appear almost certainly at around midday, sometimes
even earlier. The best time to start is early
in the morning. The weather is still reliable and the views, especially
for photo shots, are spectacular !
in high summer you have nice weather all day round and then you may walk late,
too. In August and September it can get hot even there, but clouds, rain and
mist, strong winds can appear at any time of the year and change the conditions
dramatically within hours.
mountain walkers who want to be sure of getting the best conditions as early as
possible can stay overnight at the Pousada do Areeiro, or, in a more mountaineers
way, take a tent and sleeping bag and put it up somewhere (not quite usual on
the island, but...)
Pointing the way to Pico Grande
prepared: most of the walkers underestimate the mountains ! Cold, wet and
slippery conditions can turn the walk into a very severe one on its exposed
Accurate predictable weather
forecasts for the island are difficult to find, not only since the best ones
are in Portuguese, but because Madeira enjoys several micro-climates – the best
information is given at the airport, the least reliable by the local newspapers
or the TV!
severe are walks in December, January and February when even snow can fall and
make it hazardous even for the very experienced mountaineers !
companies provide guided walks for the inexperienced
– ask at the tourist office !
Back to my
second proposal :
Grande (1657 m) is less elevated than the Picos of the main range but
nevertheless dominates the bottom of Nuns Valley by over 1000 metres - most of
which are steep or vertical. Its north face is the highest wall of Madeira
To get to
the departure point is easy: you take a
bus number 3 from Funchal to Estreito de Câmara do Lobos (45 min.) and then get
there by walking or or short taxi drive from the last bus stop towards the forest
Boca da Corrida (1225 m).
From there you follow the panel towards Encumeada and Curral das Freiras. The
walk leads you along the mountain ribs of the Pico do Cavalo and Serradinho
Boca do Cerro – saddle,
before it gets more demanding. In that
very saddle the walk splits off. You find a
group of chestnut trees with a shepherds stable at the base of the escarpments
of Pico Grande.
down towards Encumeada Pass follows to the left across its southern flank and
is very much exposed to the elements. To the right, the descent into the Nuns
Valley turns off and if you follow straight ahead past the stable you‘ll find
the path ascending towards the summit area of Pico Grande which climbs up
steeply along the foot of the rock flank (cables) opening into a large flank of
grass which you cross up towards the summit cone, a knob of rock. The path is
unmarked and needs a certain sense of orientation and you can get easily lost
with fog or bad weather!
the summit you follow on the rock by the help of cables to very exposed top
(cairn). If you want
to explore the surrounding area (where there are very nice volcanic rock
formations and outlooks) beware of unstable weather. After
crossing a stonewall you will “dead end”
above the vertical – the dropdown of the northeast face of Pico Grande’s
Antecime into the bottom of the Nuns Valley.
on the same path down to the saddle, where the path leads down to Curral das
Freiras - to your left. In steep and narrow turns you reach the chestnut forest
above Cumial. You cross the forest in a long zigzag and end up between the
houses of this village. Close by the road junction with the Curral das Freiras
road you’ll find the bus stop and a bar to take refreshments. Plan for the
whole walk some 4 hours - from the starting point down to Cumial.
What a wonderful way to see Madeira - hanging off a cliff!
trips are the ascent of Pico Ruivo from Encumeada Pass, and the Pico do Cedro
and Pico do Areeiro from the road to Curral das Freiras at Ribeira Lapa (2 kms
before the junction with Eira do Serrado) – unmarked sheep trails.
some extreme walks up the canyons and gullies of the northern side on to the
summits of the main range but those trails (which are entirely unmarked and
extremely exposed ) cannot be recommended to inexperienced walkers.
walks just don’t lead to a summit but across the coastal cliffs such as the
walk up from Paul do Mar to Prazeres – 650 meters, very exposed and very
beautiful, but quite hot in summer.
you have a mountain shop where you might find gear and advice, if needed. Tel.
291 222 105.
essential book for those who begin walks on Madeira, is always the following
walks by John & Pat Underwood, Edition Sunflower Landscapes , available at www.madeira-shopping.com
Oliver walking down from one of the peaks
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