Why visit Madeira?
Somewhere back in 2009, when we had a week to spare for a holiday, Marina suggested a trip to Madeira. I was originally not so keen. This Portuguese island in the relatively cold Atlantic Ocean, West of Morocco and far to the North of the Canaries, is not the typical beach paradise with white sands and coral reefs. And since many greengrocers in South Africa, where we grew up, appear to originate from Madeira, I was expecting a rocky island dominated by vegetable gardens.
Well, there was certainly a lot of (volcanic) rock, more about that later. But I was not prepared for the beauty and variety offered by the island. I’m sure this post will provide proof.
I am not a great lover of fishy dishes but I did very much enjoy the Madeiran signature dish of scabbardfish fillets with banana, yummy!
This island is just fantastic for anyone who likes walking. Naturally, there are many steep slopes (and they are very steep!) but there are also very many walks along the routes taken by the levadas. These concreted water channels run along the contour lines around the island, taking rainwater from one side of the island to the other. They are almost perfectly horizontal, so that the very very gentle slope allows water to flow slowly. And the footpaths along them allowed walkers like us to also stroll at a relaxed pace. Following them through valleys and across ridges, they offered us ever-changing views.
The little Opel Corsa was just ideal for that week. It easily took us everywhere (the roads were excellent) and it was good to have as small a car as possible. I remember a drive through one particular village when we had to take some side roads because the main road was blocked by a church procession: Priests with incense leading a large crowd of people, some of them carrying statues of saints, etc. Certainly no place for a little car with tourists to squeeze through. Anyway, we diverted through some interesting parts of the seaside village, on roads that got narrower and steeper. Eventually, there was literally less than a handbreadth separating the bodywork from the houses on either side. Faced with yet another turn on an incline, we threw in the towel and reversed, which was also quite challenging! There was no alternative but to return part of the way and wait for the procession to end. We did that, and took the opportunity to take in the view and to take the following picture:
Madeira is the top of a shield volcano that rises some 6,000 metres from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. We can therefore only experience the top 25% or so. It’s had a complicated history, starting some 100 million years ago. Various phases of volcanism were interrupted by some quiet times with sedimentation. The last known time of active volcanism was some 6,500 years ago, so I guess we are now enjoying some of the more quiet times in the island’s existence, long may these last! More about the Madeira volcano on this website.
The volcanic soils on this island, combined with the high rainfall, are clearly very good for the plantlife, of which we saw a beautiful variety:
Although many seafaring nations (including Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians and Arabs) must have passed by and maybe even landed, it appears that Madeira was uninhabited until 1419 when the Portuguese landed.
That week is already more than 10 years in the past, unbelievable. Writing this post has brought the memories closer again and I hope it’s given you a brief opportunity to “travel” as well.