Walking in Madeira with HF Holidays
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Madeira has a reputation for appealing to Silver Travellers
like us, especially in the winter months when temperatures can happily hover in
the low 20s. With a mild climate, spectacular scenery, and gleaming white villas,
it has an upbeat air that’s guaranteed to put a spring in anyone’s step.
Many holidaymakers don’t stray far from the cultural sites
and shopping of Funchal, or even the hotel poolside - and why not - but Madeira
also attracts a more active kind of Silver Traveller, as I found on a wintersun walking break with Silver Travel Advisor partner HF Holidays. Their seven-night holiday at
the 4-star Hotel Galosol in Caniço de Baixo runs from late December to the end
of March and again through September and early October.
Just 15 minutes’ drive from the airport and 20-minutes from
Funchal by fast local bus, the Galosol ticked all my boxes for location,
facilities and meals. All rooms have
balconies and for a supplement, you can look directly across the water to an
island nature reserve, particularly beautiful at sunrise. There’s a large gym and tranquil indoor
pool, an outdoor pool, and a wellbeing spa nestled in a cliff. HF guests eat in the main hotel dining room
from a copious buffet spread at breakfast and dinner.
With a choice of two graded walks each day, the routes
largely follow Madeira’s famous levadas, at which point, let’s separate fact
from fiction. These man-made water
channels – named after the word to ‘carry’ – bring rainwater from the high
peaks and moorland to the drier lower slopes, mostly in the summer months. Tourist photos often depict narrow paths with
vertiginous drops, and these do exist, but there are levada trails to suit all
Lined with concrete, the gulleys generally follow the
contours of the slopes with only a gradual incline, so any steep sections of
the routes are usually between one levada and another, or detours to
viewpoints. And whilst the paths
themselves can be narrow, they are often fringed with trees, or simply a gentle
slope. Any steep drops are guarded with
a rail and are generally only for short sections. And of course HF – and other tour operators
– do not subject clients to any unnecessary risks.
As with other HF itineraries, we were offered a choice of
walks, the Easier and Harder options being outlined each night at a pre-dinner
briefing. Often the difference was more on
gradient than length and several of us chose to mix and match. Our youngest walker probably just made Silver
status, a business consultant taking his annual winter hill walk break away
from the family. Our oldest was everything I hope I will be at 85 - vibrant,
sprightly and up for anything. But walking on the levada trails is not age dependent.
Levada trails are not for walkers with any kind of
mobility or vertigo issues. Our routes
covered roughly 12-18 km per day and were all linear, covering different areas
of the island and contrasting terrain. An ability issue with one of our group during our first walk was dealt with sensitively and sympathetically by our leaders, who worked hard to find a solution without disrupting the rest of the group, but the situation should not have arisen. So be honest with yourself about your fitness before you book. And be aware that some levadas pass
through unlit tunnels, so a torch - even on a smart phone - is essential.
But if you are fine with all this, you will love this
holiday. Our varied levada routes took
us through small whitewashed villages and across moorland ablaze with gorse;
through lush forests of laurel and eucalyptus to a tumbling woodland
waterfall. And not all walks involved
the water channels. We followed some
broad panoramic tracks and on the last day, took the undulating footpath along
the Praia de São Lourenço peninsula with views to each side of volcanic formations and
There’s a sightseeing element too, including the view from Europe’s highest sea cliff and, inland, over a hidden valley. A guided tour of Funchal introduced us to the whitewashed cathedral, Blandy’s Madeira distillery, and the colourful produce market. Don’t miss the downstairs fish market to see the gruesome but scrumptious scabbardfish with their vicious teeth.
HF build in a free day midweek when some walkers chose to
chill out around the hotel, easing tired muscles in the spa, gym or swimming
pools. Others, like me, headed into Funchal or to hilltop Monte for the
spectacular gardens, for which a few tips:
Gardens tumble down a steep ravine and only a small part is accessible by
electric vehicle. Many paths are roughly cobbled and fairly non-slip but wear
shoes with good soles or you’ll get more of a foot massage than you bargained
for. I particularly loved the Oriental Gardens with their koi ponds and red
bridges, and the adjacent orchid garden, but expect native flora, a collection
of African sculpture, and the history of Portugal told in traditional tiled
panels in a stunning woodland setting.
is the perfect walking holiday for anyone who loves spectacular and varied
scenery, plus an element of sightseeing. Just remember to pack your balance with your boots!
Travel Advisor recommends HF Holidays.
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