This ‘floating garden’ is aptly named for, apart from the wild flowers, birds and butterflies on which we focus throughout this tour, Madeira is also awash with cultivated flowers. The capital, Funchal, is a garden in itself with many beautifully managed squares planted with stunning tropical and sub-tropical trees, shrubs, plants and creepers of all kinds. Neighbouring Porto Santo, about 55 kilometres to the north-east of Madeira, is considerably more arid. Ferry crossings to and from this island allow us to enjoy the numerous seabirds and dolphins that may be seen. The colours and fragrances of Madeira, the stunning and varied scenery, and the opportunity to observe some of its extremely localised birds will surely make this tour one to remember.
- Volcanic Madeira has a unique and fascinating natural history - perfect for the all-round naturalist
- Search for 113 endemic plants amongst the island's 1,163 species
- Look for 3 endemic birds - Zino's Petrel, Trocaz Pigeon & Madeira Firecrest
- Plus 4 Macaronesian endemics: Fea's Petrel, Madeiran Storm-petrel, Plain Swift and Canary
- Seabirds and cetaceans on an optional sea crossing to the island of Porto Santo
- Single-centre holiday in a friendly, family-run hotel in Funchal
All included in the price; except for evening meals in Funchal. Allow £80+.
Comfortable, family-run three-star hotel near Funchal, with private facilities.
Pico Ruivo (Paul Harmes)
Day 1 Depart London for 7 nights Funchal
Day 2 Ribeiro Frio, Balçoes levada walk
Day 4 Punta do Sao Lorenço
Day 5 Encumeada levada walk
Day 6 Day off - optional extra to Porto Santo
Day 7 Paul da Serra, Rabaçal levada walk
This tour to Madeira, a naturalist’s paradise often referred to as the floating garden, is timed to coincide with the peak flowering times of a vast array of beautiful plants, and the breeding season for most of the birds. It is a tour for the all-round naturalist, concentrating on the species that are unique to the islands.
Situated in the north Atlantic about 560 kilometres off the north-west coast of Africa, the Madeiran archipelago is very much the Galápagos of Europe, being of volcanic origin and isolated from colonisation from the continent by the predominantly westerly winds. Like the Galápagos, many of the species found in Madeira are found nowhere else on earth. Unlike the Galápagos, however, very little is known about most of them!
The Madeiran archipelago comprises five main islands. The largest, Madeira itself, is only about the size of the Isle of Wight, but rises to over 1,830 metres. The landscape is rugged and spectacular, with deep ravines, gorges and swathes of lush and pristine Laurissilva forest — home to the rare and endemic Madeiran Laurel Pigeon. The vast system of levadas — man-made watercourses — which run at a steady gradient along the sides of the mountains and hills throughout the island provides an ideal means of exploring its little-known corners at a gentle pace. The incredible number of 1,163 plant species has been recorded from the islands, of which 113 are endemic! Even in a week, by carefully planning the itinerary to visit as wide a range of habitats as possible, we will be able to appreciate the great richness and diversity of this wonderful island.
This ‘floating garden’ is aptly named for, apart from the wild flowers, birds and butterflies for which this tour is planned, the whole island is also awash with cultivated flowers. Indeed most roadside verges are planted with lilies and other flowering plants and the process is continuing as can be seen from our minibus as we traverse the island each day. Funchal, the main city where we are based, is a garden in itself with many beautifully managed squares planted with stunning tropical and subtropical trees, shrubs, plants and creepers of all kinds; even the rivers running through the centre are covered in a canopy of bougainvillea, and it is this lush flora with its nectar, pollen and attendant insects that is a natural magnet for birds and especially butterflies.
The second largest island, Porto Santo, which is less than a tenth the size of Madeira, has a much smoother landscape and is considerably more arid. Situated about 55 kilometres to the north-east of Madeira, the sea crossing both ways will provide us with excellent opportunities to observe the numerous seabirds. Most common will be Cory’s Shearwater and Bulwer’s Petrel, but with luck we should see Manx and Little Shearwaters, and possibly one of the Pterodroma petrels (either Desertas or the endemic Zino’s Petrel — known locally as Freiras) or a Madeiran Storm-petrel. There will be a chance to visit this island as an optional extra on our free day, advised not only for its differing flora and abundant birdlife, but also for the excellent sea-watching on the crossings and the dolphins that are regularly seen playing in the wake of the ferry.
The remaining three islands in the archipelago are known as the Desertas and form a chain lying about 25 kilometres to the south-east of Madeira. They are designated as a Special Protection Area for their internationally important seabird populations. They are managed by the National Park Service of Madeira and, due to the vulnerability of the Fea’s Petrel colonies, access is restricted.
The colours and fragrances of Madeira, the stunning and varied scenery, and the opportunity to observe some of the extremely localised birds will surely make this tour one to remember.
Mr & Mrs A.
The Naturetrek holiday in Madeira was superb … Paul Harmes classed himself as a botanist and his wide knowledge confirmed this, but his knowledge of birds and insects etc was also extensive, making him a true naturalist - just the sort of person you want to lead such a holiday. He looked after the interests and needs of the entire group on an individual basis … An excellent holiday from every angle!
The hotel was pleasant especially the rooms with balconies. The hotel staff were excellent, helpful, kind and polite...an excellent trip. Excellent leaders and we enjoyed their company very much.
Paul and James were excellent leaders, making sure that everyone saw and did what they wanted to do in a friendly way. The picnic was super!
The leaders were both genuinely enthusiastic about their subjects, and good at sharing their enthusiasm. They were good at explaining distinctive features and very able at helping both beginners and more knowledgeable members of the group. They were always approachable, never impatient and on duty all waking hours.
The coverage of the island was excellent and each day was different and interesting. I liked the way the programme was not cast-iron, but altered if weather or our needs suggested otherwise. Many thanks to our trip leaders who were tireless providers of information - as well as being delightful people.
The leader (Paul) was excellent (personally, as an organiser and no doubt as a botanist.
Mr & Mrs D.
I enjoyed Madeira.
Paul did a fantastic job.
P. & S.S.
Overall the week was reasonably exhausting but jolly good fun.