Porto da Cruz

MADEIRA: Porto da Cruz to Canical 14th December

The plan was to carry on down towards Porto da Cruz but to peel off on a minor road above the coast towards the east and follow trails as far as we could along the cliffs on this wild north coast before dropping down south again to Canical. A distance of about 20km again but involving a lot more ups and downs.
We’d been listening to the rain during the night and it was still coming down whilst we had our breakfast ” below stairs” but by the time we’d donned our packs and set out it had decreased to a light drizzle and before long had turned into what we at home would call” a fine soft day”.
The road down towards the sea was very steep so we took it handy past the houses with their fancy corner roof tiles and drying pumpkins.




There were quite a few heaps of crushed sugar cane that we thought must be animal feed and little stands or crops of sugar cane and after getting down to the sea and starting up another steep slope we were hailed by a friendly local who insisted on having us in to sample her sugar cane hooch.



It was very pokey and she crushed some cane into juice to wash it down with. A fine start to a demanding hike.
We clambered on up the hill with the woman’s cheers of encouragement fading behind as we past through the little hamlet of Larano and a bar we had no further need of.
The moisture in the air helps a variety of plants to thrive including the mandala like succulents that were our favourite, clinging flat to the rock faces


To our right we could look across the wooded valley of Ribeira do Seixo with some remote little homesteads and a fine waterfall in the woods.


The Tarmac road became a concrete one as we climbed past the last houses, then a gravel track as we reached the top 350m above Cova das Pedras where a cable car still stands, allowing access to some very inaccessible terraces way way below.


There were lines of grapes for Madeiran wine being cultivated up top too as as we moved along what had now become a narrow path we saw that any ground possible for use was put to the mattock.

After the nights rain there was plenty of water about to feed the streams and waterfalls that ran and fell across the twisting path and slippery rocks meant that attention needed to be paid to where we put our feet rather that gaze slack jawed at the awesome views of the coastline.




The tiny path snaked around the gullies on the sheer mountainside flanked by thick woods of mimosa, eucalyptus , pine, giant heather, gorse and laurel. At one point steps had been cut into the Rock and a hand cable helped the steep climb.

As we emerged from the enclosing tree cover into clearer grassy slopes we rounded a prominent headland that opened up new even more exciting vistas that the icamera cannot capture. Far below, on a 60 degree slope were some more bizarrely situated vegetable plots.


We hugged the towering cliffs of fantastical hues, born in the cauldron of volcanos, to avoid the pull of the immense drop into the thrashing azure seas. The path was narrow and there was no avoiding the showers from waterfalls cascading from high above.


Heading back into a thickly wooded area of laurel, mimosa, giant heather, and gorse we were without views for awhile before emerging again and looking back at the thin line of our path etched faintly into the landscape.

We reached another open headland at Boco do Risco where the main path turned south. We were heading up and on along a lesser known and used trail that continued following the crest of the north coast. We past another isolated small holding as we headed higher to spectacular views east and west.



The colours of the rocks and soil was dramatic as we picked our way across the bizarre landscape.



Eventually our trail had to turn away from the colourful cliffs and we made our way down through cleared eucalyptus woods and into the suburbs of Canical, a busy industrial seaport with an incongruous beach scene.


It had been a fine days hike but demanding on the legs and they were grateful to be carrying us the last few steps past the local domino players to our Airb+b.


With a cheap but excellent seafood restaurant downstairs it was time to think about food and then with the birds home to roost and the last flights coming in, time to think of bed.


MADEIRA: Santo da Serra to Porto da Cruz 13th December

With a short hike of only 12km to do we took it handy in the morning and didn’t get on the road till 9.30. We had to retrace up steps up to the levada at Lombo das Faias so we headed out past the roundabout with a tribute statue to the cider making industry of the area.

The track up beyond the bull and the trout ponds was strangely coloured as it climbed through the big cedars. >
Where we rejoined the waterway there was a water tower and system of sluices sending the clear cold life giving liquid a variety of ways. Dated 1906 the tower was a favourite rest stop for hikers who sat under the fantastically contorted cedars.

On the way there had been the usual mass of flowers coveted at home including nasturtium , hydrangea and agapanthus which are both used to hold the soil together on the steep slopes ,and for the first time, dahlia. As we entered the dark laurisilva forest we came upon species of bay and tree heathers, Madeira mahogany and what looked like Arbutus. Somewhere lurking in there were other trees we could not identify like the til, lily of the valley tree and wax myrtle. There were also some impressive tree ferns and on a smaller scale, lots of little mosses and liverworts beside the water.





Passing a small tunnel and crossing a stream bed we reached another water tower at our journeys highest point, 862m where other paths led off into the mountains. We however were now going to follow the Levada da Portela down and down to Portela at 600m and then down paths to Quinta da Capela at about 300m.


After a steep descent we emerged at the foresters post and picnic site at Lamaceiros where a hardy type axed logs and azaleas and other glories surrounded his home.




As we moved down there were more gaps in the canopy to view the distant mountains through and the sights were impressive.


Down a series of timber pole steps

we reached the viewpoint and bars at Portela where we soaked up the view of the northern coast and Porto da Cruz before having a coffee and buying more flower bulbs and some unknown fruit and veg like apple custard.



One of the bars sported the first thatched roof we had seen although they are traditional and feature heavily on tourist souvenirs.


(I’m afraid the last section of this blog, the tale of the journey from Portelo to Santo da Cruz, got sucked into some data limbo land and was never seen again so I’m attempting to write it again)
We also sampled some of the local cider which turned out to be dry, flat and a bit sour like scrumpy. It was also strong and so probably not the best thing to be drinking before we started the long long descent of the Camino Municipal. It was an exquisitely crafted cobbled stairway but it was very steep and very long.


As it careered around a bend we got a fine view of Eagles rock, a big brutish lump of rock rising sheer out of the sea above Santo da Cruz.

The north side of the island was even lusher than what we had been in so far. The trade winds mostly come in from the northeast and drop their load on the mountains sticking their fingers up to them. There was water running and dripping everywhere and it all looks lush. A wider variety of plants than in the eucalyptus forests and the bird life seemed to appreciate it. We heard more birdsong than we had.
The little homesteads clinging to the hillsides cultivated every inch they could, and with a huge array of crops, a lot of which we couldn’t recognise. And there were flowers everywhere.



Eventually, after a couple of Km of slippy steps we made it down onto a flat road where we turned toward our sanctuary for the night, a 17th century house with adjoining chapel perched on a knoll high above the road with views down the valleys to Santo and the sea and back up into the tree clad peaks.



The wonderful old house was looked after by a wonderful old lady who after showing us our room and the “below stairs” kitchen, left us to it.
So we had tea in the gardens

And later cooked dinner in the 300yr old kitchen.

The food and fine wine and days walk meant that when we later climbed up into our bed made for nobility, we slept as only nobility can.