We heard from our friends about levada walks. Levadas, old water channels, are unique to Madeira, and many have pathways along them. When we found a levada walking company that was recommended, we looked at the description of all of their walks and quickly signed up for the “Fanal – Assobiadores 11.5 km hike”. It’s described as a “breathtaking walk in one of the few places in Madeira where you can see the Laurisilva vegetation at its best.” Whatever the Laurisilva vegetation is, it sounded splendid.
The night before the walk, we looked up what exactly Laurisilva vegetation is so that we’d know it when we saw it. The Laurisilva forest, subtropical with mild temperatures, is how Europe looked 10,000 years ago. The forest in Madeira is old, almost 90% is primary forest, and 66 of its endemic plant species are only found on Madeira. The forest grows in elevations from 300 to 1200 meters and covers 16% of the island (22,100 hectares). UNESCO named the Laurisilva forest of Madeira a World Heritage Site in 1999.
Our guided walk started high in the mountains at Paul da Serrra in a very different environment. We were too high in elevation for the Laurisila forest and had some serious downhill walking to do to reach 1200 meters where the forest would start.
We saw a Madeira firecrest (an endemic bird), Madeira holly Ilex canariensis, ate a Madeira blueberry Vaccinum padifolium (not the same as the US blueberry), and observed harvested ferns stacked on the back of a truck to be put to use as bedding in cowsheds.
By now maybe you have realized what we did: we’d taken a great walk but not along a levada. We think it worked out quite well for us to have seen the UNESCO Laurisilva forest. Maybe next week we’ll walk along a levada.