The Ribeiro Frio to Chão das Feiteiras levada hike is a peaceful journey through the incredibly lush, UNESCO Heritage Laurissilva forest of central Madeira Island. There is no ‘epic viewpoint’ or incredible waterfall on this trail. However, what you will find is a quiet trail where you can become fully immersed in the forest. Hear the noises of the birds, notice the sound of the rain dropping from the leaves as you delve deep into the forest along this levada walk.
RIBEIRO FRIO TO CHÃO DAS FEITEIRAS LEVADA HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike was 7.5 kilometers.
Hike Duration: The hike will take you about 2-3 hours. There is a few hundred meters of incline towards the end of the hike, which will slow you down ever so slightly.
Hike Difficulty: Overall this trail was not difficult. It was guided by the levada for most of the way with railings whenever there was a drop-off. The only hard part was staying on track in the second half of the route. Once you turn off when you begin up the hill for the incline, it is a little less well-defined and I needed to consult the online map a few times to stay on the right path. But in terms of the actual difficulty regarding the trail, there was nothing that should trouble you if 300m of incline is all good for your fitness. Kids, dogs, and families will enjoy this forest immersion.
Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike was 309 meters by my recording but was stated to be 500 meters. Felt like 309 more so than 500.
My Strava Map Upload: Ribeiro Frio to Chão das Feiteiras
HOW TO GET TO THE TRAILHEAD
The trail begins at Ribeiro Frio, which is the same starting point for the popular, Vereda Dos Balcões hike. Ribeiro Frio is actually an attraction in itself with lush gardens, trout ponds, and a number of stunning streams and small waterfalls. Because Ribeiro Frio is quite popular, it can be tough to get parking nearby but often the parking just overflows down the street. At Ribeiro Frio, there are multiple restaurants, cafes, toilets, information offices, and facilities. The trailhead is just 23 kilometers from Funchal, which takes 40minutes by car.
I’ll include a map below with the exact location pinned so you know where to arrive for the start of the Ribeiro Frio to Chão das Feiteiras hiking trail. At the start of the trail, there is a big sign saying PORTELA, which is quite hard to miss. The entrance point is directly opposite the trailhead for Vereda dos Balcões.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE RIBEIRO FRIO TO CHÃO DAS FEITEIRAS LEVADA HIKE
It’s funny how tourism works. On one side of the road you have the ever-popular Vereda Dos Balcões hike and on the other you have the Ribeiro Frio to Portela/Chão das Feiteiras routes. When I visited Vereda Dos Balcões there were hundreds of tourists and when I walked the Ribeiro Frio to Chão das Feiteiras levada, I saw not one person. What I’m trying to say to you here is, if you want a slice of tranquility make sure you end up on the correct side of the road.
My journey began in Funchal and I enjoyed the beautiful, winding drive up through the misty mountains. I was the first car to arrive in the upper parking lot at 8:30 am, which was just half an hour after sunrise. When I returned from the hike the entire parking lot was full and there were tourists everywhere.
It’s best to park in the upper lot away from the restaurants and commotion. You will see a big blue Ribeira Frio sign before you reach any restaurants or buildings. This is where the hike will finish although it starts further down the road near the restaurant.
Once you’ve parked your car, walk down past the trout farm and then past the restaurant. You will see a large red sign on the right-hand side of the road that says ‘Portela’. It is directly across the road from the Vereda Dos Balcões trailhead. The route for this hike uses the first part of the hike to Portela.
Okay, so now that the hike has begun you have a 7.5-kilometer loop through the forest. The trail begins by passing by a small man-made waterfall and an abandoned building and then after that it becomes a natural affair with nothing but the path and the forest before you.
The first half of the trail is very flat and easy to follow alongside the levada. This allows you to take in the UNESCO Laurissilva Forest, which at times flows over onto the path. It’s quite a wild trail although well kept so you feel like it is an adventure deep into the forest even from the comfort of the levada.
I’m not a flower expert but you will come across some truly incredible fauna on this trail. I kept my eyes open for wildlife and flowers on this trail and there was never a big pause in between beautiful wildflowers or a small Madeira Firecrest bird to observe. In the silence of an empty trail, if you stand still and be patient often the wildlife reveals itself.
There are a number of moments with a large drop-off but there is always a railing to keep you safely beside the cliff. While there are no big balcony viewpoints on the trail, you can catch some peaks in the distance on a clear day. I noticed the fog moving very fast and waited a few moments in one position as it began to reveal several mighty peaks high above the treeline.
The trail now leaves the main levada behind and becomes even wilder as you begin the incline. While it is still not too difficult to navigate, the trail is a little overgrown in some sections, but this just adds to the adventure. Imagine roots wound together creating a natural tunnel overhead with ferns lining the path.
The trail climbs up this route for almost 300 meters of elevation, which is a decent amount of incline for most hikers. There is a small waterfall, or should I more accurately call it a humble cascade to the left. You can divert to check it out but it was a couple of meters in height with not too much to observe. It was a picturesque pond but don’t panic if you miss it. At the top of the incline, you will reach a large plateau. For me, it was covered in fog and quite eerie. There was no real signage but the key is to head over to the abandoned house and barn and then turn right. Follow that dirt road for a few hundred meters until you see a small wooden sign leading you into the forest on your left. You will then begin the descent back down towards the parking lot where you began.
The final point of interest comes in the final moments of the route where the levada tumbles down a series of cascades next to the stairs. It’s classic on Madeira and can be found in many of the levada trails but is quite a unique structure and makes for some interesting photos.
After you reach this point, you are basically back to the parking lot and will shortly emerge to the main road to find your car and conclude the trail.
I hope you enjoyed this guide for the Ribeiro Frio to Chão das Feiteiras levada hike on Madeira Island. Happy hiking and stay safe.