Madeira’s not very flat. It’s one of the first things you notice when you arrive – it’s really not flat at all; it’s quite the opposite!
This goes all the way back to the formation of the island around five million years ago. Unlike the Azores which are located on the boundaries of tectonic plates, Madeira is more like Hawaii – located in the middle of a plate and formed by a ‘hotspot’ of particularly hot magma which broke through the plate.
The modern-day result is a spectacular landscape of sea cliffs, high mountain peaks, and steep-sided river valleys where homes somehow keep a grip onto the smallest slither of flat land high up the terraced valley walls. Getting around isn’t a problem at all – the Madeiran’s engineering solutions should be a tourist attraction in their own right.
Constructing 2170km of levadas was no mean feat. Following the contours meant digging channels into the face of sheer cliffs, or building aqueducts over deep crevices. To reach inaccessible spots, levada builders were lowered down cliffs in baskets!
Countless bridges cross spectacular gorges throughout the island, but the most impressive must be the João Gomes bridge which was the highest bridge in Portugal when it was built in 1996. It is 280m long, 110m high and has a span of 125m. You’ll also marvel at the 44km of tunnels around the island – in fact, there are over 100 road tunnels with the longest being over 3km.
Look up and you’ll see cable cars! Several white knuckle cable car rides have been built on Madeira to access difficult to reach places. One of the oldest is the 15 minute ride from Funchal to Monte and its botanical garden which replaces the railway of times past. Another originally built to help farmers access their plantations takes you on a breathtaking trip to the vineyards of Rocha do Navio Nature Reserve.
Discover these incredible engineering feats at your leisure on our Madeira self drive holiday.
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