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Why You Should Hike Madeira in Europe
It’s not exactly a secret island — thousands of visitors enjoy its volcanic splendor every year— but Madeira is certainly the most overlooked destination in Europe, especially by the under-thirty crowd. Get away from the capital city and its surrounding villages and you’ll find an island still remarkably untouched by mass tourism. So why is the stunning beauty of this island not known to more people? In a word, it’s the beaches. Think island, think beaches, but in Madeira’s case you’d be wrong: its coastline is at best pebbly and most of it is bounded by dramatic rocks or impossibly sheer cliffs. Madeira is not a beach destination and that is why it’s remained such a fabulous unspoiled paradise for hikers. So, if you thought that Madeira was just a place for old folks who are into their wine, then think again. Here’s some reasons why you should hike Madeira, even if you don’t really think of yourself as a hiker.
Known as ‘The Island of Eternal Spring’, Madeira has an all year-round summer climate which means that you can hike all year round, although if you are heading for the tough stuff in the mountains, that’s best done in July and August. Between October and May, the climate in the mountains can be changeable with bouts of fog and rain. On the island, they say that you can go from pineapples to snow in fifteen minutes.
The island has an astonishing variety of flora and fauna and unspoiled wild landscapes. The Laurel Forest, known as Laurissilva, is a survival of the type of forest that would have covered Europe before the last glaciers. Classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it is a magical untouched environment where you can easily imagine yourself in the landscape of your favorite fantasy novel. In contrast, the volcanic heart of Madeira is a primal landscape of giant splintered rocks and frozen lava flows.
If you’re a hardcore hiker then you’ll be heading for Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on the island. The most challenging route runs from the summit of Pico do Arieiro. Twelve kilometers (7.5 miles) may not sound much but its ridges, inclines and tunnels will take you a demanding five to six hours. Much more gentle hiking, which is equally rewarding, can be enjoyed by strolling some of the island’s thousand miles of Levadas. These are irrigation channels along which are narrow paths, often with a dramatic drop to the terrace below. The great thing about these paths is that they are mostly flat and the scenery is no less spectacular than the more demanding routes.
Madeira has been voted the World’s Leading Island Destination multiple times and it’s easy to see why. Its variety of unspoiled landscapes are surprisingly easy to access, villas are affordable and conveniently located at some of the island’s best walking trails. And if you don’t fancy walking up to the mountains you can always take a cable car or a jeep tour.
So, what are you waiting for? Start dusting off those walking boots right now.