The most spectacular mountain scenery on the island of Madeira, unparalleled panoramas, lush green valleys, majestic mountains towering above the clouds, precipitous cliff tops. That’s how I would describe an exhilarating walk across an incredibly formidable ridge that links the island’s third highest peak Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s highest mountain.
The sheer number of steps and constant ascent and descent takes some effort and is not for the faint-hearted. However when you get to the end of the walk and look back, you will have a feeling of an enormous achievement, a feeling of a truly memorable day. Your effort will be rewarded with the views and experience you will never forget.
It took us three attempts to start this walk because of the adverse weather we experienced on the island. You should never even contemplate to set off in wet, windy and misty conditions. The footpaths are reasonably safe and mostly protected by a wire railing you can hold on to, but the sheer drops on one or sometimes on both sides are dangerous enough if you slip or trip over.
The third time lucky, as they say. We set off from Funchal, Madeira’s capital, on a beautiful, sunny morning with blue sky above. There was hope. However the higher we got, the more clouds were gathering around us and soon we were driving through thick mist. Not to give up was the best decision we could have made. When we arrived at the car park near the top of Pico do Arieiro, we suddenly found ourselves above the clouds. The sky above was blue again and the rugged landscape all around us was basking in the sun. The view was out of this world.
So our incredible walk in the clouds began.
The path wound its way up and down through some breathtaking scenery. We watched in awe how the moisture in the clouds combined with the sunlight created incredible rainbows.
For the first time we experienced a phenomenon called brocken spectre. This optical illusion is created by the light falling from behind you. The light projects your shadow through the mist and creates a multicoloured halo around you. Your personal rainbow.
We walked along dangerously exposed paths, often with nothing else to hold on to but a wire fence. We trod with extreme caution up and down steep flights of steps cut into sheer crags, clinging onto volcanic rocks.
Every turn offered another, even more incredible view than the one before, constantly coming in and out of the clouds.
A part of the walk took us through a series of tunnels carved through the mountains.
When we emerged from the tunnels we found ourselves yet again in a totally different, but equally beautiful scenery, walking along more exposed paths hacked into cliff faces, admiring the work of the people who devoted themselves to build this incredible path.
Just before the final ascent to the summit of Pico Ruivo we were surprised again. The path took us through an ancient forest many hundred years old. The mist constantly hanging around us created some eerie atmosphere.
By the time we reached the top of Pico Ruivo, the mist was so thick that it prevented us from admiring the magnificent views. However what we had seen and experienced on the way up made up for it a hundred times.
We decided not to take the same route back, but carry on to Achada do Teixeira, a mild and easy descent through the mist to the car park, where a taxi was waiting for us.
When we got back to Pico do Arieiro we finally got a chance to reflect on the amazing day. While trying to find the right words to express how we felt, the mist cleared and we found ourselves above the clouds again. The day finished in the same way as it started. With the only difference, we were rewarded by even more stunning view as the sun was setting down and creating a warm glow on the rugged pinnacles below us. It was a divine spectacle.
Looking back I can truly say that this was one of the most awe-inspiring and exhilarating walks I have ever trodden and I dare to put it amongst the top walks in the world.
About the author:
Vanda Ralevska is a photographer with a true passion for landscapes, nature and the great outdoors. In constant search for those fleeting moments of magic that turn our world into something extraordinary. She finds her inspiration in grand views, quiet landscapes, and the intimate detail that abounds in nature. Her images reflect the atmosphere, feeling, and sheer wonderment that our natural world evokes within us.