Sitting in the sub-tropical Atlantic, closer to Morocco than to Portugal, Madeira is a startling island, rising high and steep from the ocean. Consisting overwhelmingly of basalt rock, which started spewing from the earth’s core around 130 million years ago, the land of Madeira itself is probably two-and-a-half-million years old.
The volcanic nature of this island produces not only steep gorges radiating from the rugged central mountains – the highest of which, Pico Ruivo, stands at 1,861 metres above sea level – but also accounts for the spectacular coastal scenery. This tour explores both settings.
A hugely varied number of plants and flowers enjoy this dynamic combination of fertile soil and warm temperatures. Bananas and vines, two of Madeira’s major exports, flourish on the coastal plains, while lush deciduous vegetation covers the higher mountain slopes. As is standard on remote islands, there has been considerable speciation, and more than seven hundred plant species are indigenous to Madeira. Of particular interest are the laurisilva woodlands, the large house leeks, woody sow-thistles and marguerites, the beautiful shrubby Echium species and the curious Dragon tree. By exploring the terrain on foot we examine these species and their setting in greater and more rewarding detail.
Aside from the ecological and horticultural aspects of this tour, there is also the opportunity to study the history of the island’s greatest export, Madeira wine. Although established as a Portuguese colony since Prince Henry the Navigator’s expedition landed in the early fifteenth century, it was during the period of Spanish ownership that a commercial treaty was established with the British in 1660. This marked the beginning of the wine trade, which has been significant ever since. We have organised a private tasting and visit to a winery that has been operating on the island for over two hundred years.
Fly at c. 12.30pm from London Gatwick to Funchal, (British Airways). Introductory lecture and dinner in the hotel. First of five nights in Funchal.
Morning walk: c. 5 km, c. 2 hours. Starting in the hills above Funchal, we walk to the Blandy family estate at Palheiro for lunch and a guided visit. A level and easy walk along the levada, narrow in places with a descent onto the road to finish. The extensive sub-tropical gardens, first acquired by John Blandy in 1885, have been continually developed by the family. Some free time to enjoy the camellias, centennial trees, the rose garden and myriad other flowers and climbers.
Drive to Madeira’s easternmost peninsular, Ponta do São Lourenço, for a morning walk: c. 6 km, c. 3 hours (length subject to weather conditions). A challenging walk with steep ascents and descents on stepped paths. This is rugged, almost lunar landscape, home to fossils, cacti and the odd flash of flowers. An afternoon guided tour of Funchal’s centre focuses on its city gardens and historic monuments. The Mercado dos Lavadores (farmers’ market) is a brilliantly vibrant showcase of the island’s produce. Visit the Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, with its whitewashed walls and Mudéjar-inspired ceiling, and the Jesuit collegiate church.
A morning visit to the Boa Vista orchid gardens which house the rarest and most unusual collection of orchids on the island. The Jardim Botânico located in the Quinta of Bom Sucesso is home to over 100 species of indigenous plants, as well as tropical and sub-tropical fruit trees and coffee trees, sugar cane and popular medicinal plants. Visit one of the island’s newest gardens, located on Ponta da Cruz, the southernmost point of Madeira. This is the warmest and sunniest spot on the island which makes for an extraordinarily colourful garden. The rest of the day is free.
A challenging morning walk to Madeira’s highest peak, Pico Ruivo: c. 6 km, c. 3 hours. A stony path, steep in places, leads to wonderful 360° views stretching to the horizon, and a dramatic vista down to the small town of Curral das Freiras. Lunch is in the cool hills above Funchal at the unesco biosphere site at Ribeiro Frio, where a botanical garden and trout hatchery sit among quiet glades. There is an easy afternoon walk to Balcões and back along the levada of Serra do Faial with spectacular views of the mountains and valley: c. 3 km, c. 1 hour. Private evening visit to the Blandy Wine Lodge with a Madeira wine tasting.
Drive to Funchal airport for the flight to London Gatwick, arriving at c. 5.30pm.
Although we have chosen the walks on this itinerary with due care and consideration, Madeira is subject to high winds which may mean that walks have to be changed or modified at short notice. We follow the advice of local walking guides.
Dr Gerald Luckhurst
Landscape architect and garden historian based in Lisbon with an extensive knowledge of sub-tropical and Mediterranean garden flora. His work involves both historic restoration and contemporary garden design. Books include The Gardens of Madeira, Luigi Manini: Imaginário & Metodo, Sintra: A Landscape with Villas and The Gardens of the National Palace of Queluz. He is currently working on projects in Portugal, the Atlantic Islands, Africa and the Middle East.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,440 or £2,220 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,930 or £2,710 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) on British Airways flights; travel by private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 2 lunches and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips for waiters, drivers and guides; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and additional guides for the walks.
Reid’s Palace Hotel, Funchal. Arguably the best hotel on the island, this famous 5-star luxury hotel is set in subtropical gardens overlooking the Atlantic. Rooms are elegant in décor with sea or garden views. There are three excellent restaurants to choose from. Service here is second to none.
This is a walking tour, graded moderate. Of the 4 walks, 2 are easy and 2 are more of a challenge. This tour is not suitable for people who suffer from vertigo. It is essential for participants to have appropriate walking footwear, be in good physical condition and to be used to country walking with uphill and downhill content.
Average distance by coach per day: 39 miles.
Between 10 and 18 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.
'The lecturer and tour manager were excellent. Nothing was too much trouble for either of them.'
'Highly professional in conception and execution. One of the best features of the tour was the quality of the other participants.'
'Excellent variety and thoroughly enjoyable.'