When we flew into Funchal there were some stunning mountains poking out of the fluffy clouds. Spectacular. I have only seen cloud inversion once before, and so this sight was magical. I studied meteorology at school and university, so to see it ‘in action’ was pretty special. One of those peaks I saw from the plane was Pico Ruivo, the highest on the island.
A colleague had told me to be sure to climb up above the cloud layer while we were on the island. I assumed that meant with walking boots and all the gear. Of which we took none. But having seen it from the plane window, I decided we had to find a way. Thankfully a little bit of research on the tourist map I was given an the airport identified just how easy it would be.
Wise thinking Madeiran’s have made their highest peak, Pico Ruivo at 1861 metres above sea level, accessible to casual day walkers! There is a car park at 1592 metres, at Achada do Teixeira. Which means less than 300 metres of climb… Liking their style I must say! (There’s another peak where you can actually drive to the top!)
Not realising when we left the hotel that this was our plan for the day, we didn’t exactly go prepared! In high season there is a shop and toilets in the car park and a place to buy water near the top. In December there isn’t, so we did get a tad thirsty! Thankfully it wasn’t a strenuous walk…
The drive up the mountain is stunning. And amusing, for two reasons. Firstly all the cars are the teeny airport hire cars so there is no need to navigate, just follow the 2nd gear engine squeal! Secondly at the first lay-by everyone clearly realises there are no toilets and hops out and into a bush!
As you drive up worry will cross your mind. It was all blue skies at sea level and as the car climbed it got mistier, cloudier and colder. Promise me you will keep going. Don’t turn round. Remember that you saw the peaks from the plane! They are above the typical cloud line!
We parked in the car park and it felt more like being in the Lake District, as we were surrounded by cloud!! Some of the serious walkers eyed up our jeans and trainers attire dubiously. For clarification, whilst we might not exactly have been dressed for hiking, we aren’t idiots. We had the best technical wind and water proof stuff I saw on the mountain!! And actually trainers are fine for this particular walk! We did spot a few people in Doc Martens and Converse!..
The route is a well laid cobble pathway and really you can’t get lost. Follow the sign out of the car park that points to the top along the path. No maps needed for this particular hike.
I promise that you will need to take a photo every 10 metres. It is that spectacular. As you gently ascend, the clouds start to disperse, and swathes of the Caldeirao Verde (translates to Green Cauldron) come into view. Such a good name, it really does look like a cauldron bubbling away with the clouds as the steam. On the other side you can see big black structures through the clouds – the other peaks of Pico das Torres, Pico do Juncal and Pico do Areeiro. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Just when you think you have seen it all, suddenly you pop out of the cloud entirely. Not only can you see the forests below. But you can see the mountain peaks clearly and it is like being a bird or in an aeroplane. Oh, and the temperature is back up to 21 degrees C!
It was on the way back down that the clouds really started to clear. As the sun rose higher, the colours on the surrounding mountains came alive too. We sat on a ledge and watched the swallows play on the thermals high above the hillside forests below us.
Undoubtedly one of the best day trips on the island. Pack your trainers and head for the hills, fresh air and stunning views! Pico Ruivo was awe-inspiring! And just the right amount of exercise to make my evening massage back at Casa Branca very well deserved!