Madeira, an island located 17 degrees west of Greenwich in the Atlantic, offers breathtaking wilderness that is never far away no matter where you are on the island. Madeira boasts a unique blend of rock formations, forests, and seascapes that are best explored at a leisurely pace. While there are impressive tunnels that can transport you quickly across the island, taking the time to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Madeira is well worth it.
Watching the sunrise from the ocean is a truly captivating experience. I found myself perched on a chair on a hillside, a mile above sea level, waiting for dawn to break. It is highly recommended to join a professional tour to ensure you are in the perfect spot at the right time. If you’re late, you will miss out on this extraordinary display of nature’s beauty. As the cosmos unfolded before my eyes, I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that the sun was 93 million miles away and yet performing the greatest show on earth.
Exploring Madeira’s landscapes is a daily adventure, thanks to the levadas. These irrigation channels were ingeniously built to distribute water from the west and northwest of the island to the drier southeast. Now, they not only fulfill their original purpose but also serve as pathways for travelers to navigate the higher altitudes of Madeira. Walking along the levadas is a unique experience as you traverse flat terrain, but be prepared for some tight turns as the channels hug the contours of the hills. Whether you choose to follow the established routes using maps or take advantage of the reliable local bus system, a thrilling journey through spectacular landscapes is guaranteed.
One particular highlight of Madeira is Curral das Freiras, also known as Nuns’ Valley. Situated over 3,500 ft above sea level, this viewpoint offers an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the valley. It may resemble a volcanic crater, but it was actually carved by a river over time. The valley gets its name from the nuns of Funchal’s Santa Clara convent who sought refuge here during an attack by French pirates. After exploring the area, you can enjoy a cup of bica, the local name for espresso, and a queijada, a delicious pastry made with chestnuts and cottage cheese, in the town square.
For adrenaline junkies, the Madeira Skywalk is an absolute must-visit. This viewing platform extends out from the cliffs of Cabo Girão, offering a breathtaking perspective of the nearly 600m drop to the Atlantic shore below. While it may not be for the faint-hearted, the Skywalk provides an exhilarating experience that is best appreciated by focusing on the horizon. However, the temptation to look down at the glass floor, revealing the sheer height above the ocean, is simply irresistible.
In conclusion, Madeira’s untouched wilderness, stunning landscapes, and thrilling attractions make it a dream destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. Whether you choose to witness the sunrise from the ocean, walk along the levadas, explore Nuns’ Valley, or brave the heights of the Madeira Skywalk, this island paradise has something extraordinary to offer at every turn.