The forested, rugged and volcanic landscape of mountainous Madeira is best seen on foot and there are many hiking routes across the island. These range from challenging treks up Arieiro and Ruivo, two of the island’s highest peaks, to vertiginous hikes along coastal clifftops and gentle seaside strolls. Madeira is warmed by the Gulf Stream and temperatures stick around 20°C all year, so walking is always a pleasure.
The interior of Madeira is riddled with irrigation channels known as levadas; they wend their way through its sub-tropical forests, around mountains and into remote villages untouched by tourism, and every one is accompanied by a path originally intended for maintenance workers. They are all clearly way-marked and make for excellent walking through varied scenery, from tropical forests to neat cherry orchards or barren volcanic plateaus.
As a taster, the Valley of Paradise levada walk is 3.25 miles (five km) in length and offers two hours of easy hiking through eucalyptus trees and fruit orchards around Camacha. More arduous is the Ribeiro Frio to Portela full-day levada walk; it covers seven miles (11 km), passing through Madeira’s indigenous laurissilva forest and giving amazing views of Porto da Cruz and the curious bluff-shaped volcanic plug of Penha d’Aguia.
The circular levada hike along Ponta São Lorenco, the arid and volcanic terrain at the eastern point of Madeira, follows cliffs that rear out of the sea and gives breathtaking views over rocky coves and wild seascapes spread out below.
Walking can be combined with seeing the tourist sights around Funchal; take the cable car up to Monte for panoramic views over the city and the Atlantic from the Palace Tropical Gardens. Take your chances with an exhilarating toboggan ride back down to Livramento; from there it’s a two-miles of a calf-aching schlep back down to Funchal. The gentlest hiking option of all in Madeira is the stroll along the wonderful seafront promenade from Funchal to the beachside bars and cafés of Câmara de Lobos.