Portugals little Floating Garden

By: Douglas Scott

The beautiful island of Madeira is part of Portugal. It lies in the Atlantic Ocean, 470 miles to the west of Morocco and 300 miles north of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

It therefore enjoys a wonderful warm climate the whole year round. For centuries, it was a particular favourite amongst British aristocratic travellers wishing to escape British winters, long before travelling and winter breaks became the norm for less wealthy folk.

Madeira, or Portugese for wood, is often described as a the Floating Garden due to the luxuriant greenery and abundance of wild flowering shrubs that can be seen there.

It is a rugged, extremely mountainous, highly picturesque island, roughly rectangular in shape and measuring about 30 miles in length by 10 miles wide. The highest mountain on this extinct volcanic isle is Pico Ruivo, which is 1862 metres, or 6060 feet, above sea level.

Coaches can carry visitors up very winding mountain roads to over 5000 feet. It is not an experience enjoyed by those of a nervous disposition. Although the views from the mountains on a clear day arebreathtakingly spectacular.

Due to the hight of the mountains, their peaks are sometimes shrouded in mist or low cloud. This provides Madeira with valuable water for irrigation, as well as everyday household use.

The hard working Madeirans have, over the centuries, created a fantastic network of Levadas or irrigation channels alongside narrow paths, to carry valuable water from the highest peaks to the much drier valleys and coastal villages way down below.

The levadas are a fantastic feat of engineering and a tribute to the Madeirans dogged determination to make the best of their island. It is quite humbling to think of the heroic effort that must have gone into the creating of these levadas on the most difficult steep terrain imaginable, using the simplest of hand tools to break up the volcanic rock.

The Madeirans of old must have been as nimble as mountain goats and very tough, Today, the levada walks are amongst the favourite tourist attractions of Madeira, and one of the prime reasons that thousands return, year after year, to this gem of an island.

The scenery of the Madeiran mountains and rugged coastline is truly spectacular, particularly when the shrubs and trees are in flower.

The beautiful Bird of Paradise flower, or strelitzia is a firm favourite with visitors, who buy them in their thousands from the colourful flower shops.

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