A first-time visitor’s observations of Madeira…

Travel in Style Madeira

Both Landscapes of Madeira and Walk & Eat Madeira ran out of stock in September. Rather than reprint, we decided to do new editions of both, so they would be bang up to date. Although they will be officially published on 1 January 2015, copies will be available from 5 December. A visitor new to the island joined the Sunflower team walking in Madeira for our September updating trip. Here are a few of his random observations…

Landscapes

Forest Fire: The pines are scorched and smashed – discarded remnants of their lush former selves, gaunt sentinels in line up the hillside. The young eucalypts, arrogant usurpers, take over the vacant niche. Human beings follow much the same pattern – but not, apparently, in Madeira. The elderly still have their place – watching the world – and the walkers – go by … until it’s time to till the soil or get the family meal or say a prayer.

The Pinnacle: It stood out against the brooding sky and the crashing waves, an oasis of calm as the road traffic sped by, ignoring it. The Madeirans – of course – carved a chapel into it.

madeira landscapes

The Old Fort: Excavating the river mouth – to protect against future mudslides – they came across the foundations of an old fort. Clearly, in the recent washout, Mother Nature had repeated herself. She deserves the respect she is now being given.

The View: The dome of the NATO radar base, perched on the top, disturbs the view for nobody. It’s always shrouded in mist. I wish I could say the same for the wind farm.

The Rockfall: I could have walked around it or through it but – impressive as I imagined it to be, with thumping great boulders among the smaller rocks and the bits and pieces, I felt it wiser to stay in safer territory – as the barrier clearly indicated to road traffic… If another fall like that one landed on me, it would be likely to ruin my entire day.

The Levadas: Walking along the flat clay, cooled by the flowing stream, it’s easy to forget the working conditions of the men who built the first ones… and the price many of them paid to give the land its irrigation and me my comfort and pleasure.

Belladonnas: The pink flowers – growing at between 300m and 900m above sea level – weave a loving band around Madeira’s mountains at this time of year.

The Fajã: The only ways of getting there are by sea or by a lift down the cliff… – but supposing we need to get back in a hurry!

People

Language: The volley between two Madeirans, engrossed in their own firmly held convictions as they walked past us, left my Portuguese-speaking companion none the wiser. She hadn’t understood a word… But she guessed it was about football. – Evidently it always is.

Floral Foresters: The first thing they did after completing the concrete road was to plant agapanthus right along both sides of it. They know how to live in beautiful surroundings. The sweet chestnut trees were there already. That helps.

Sugar: Why would a barman grow his own sugar cane? – Of course… He makes his own firewater!

The Business Park: Why did they put it all the way up there? Anything to be stored needs to be taken all the way up and then brought all the way down – and the workers would have to make the same journey. No wonder it’s empty.

Travel in Style:The sledge runs were made for logs to be taken down the mountain. Nowadays they transport no greater a burden than tourists – but that’s burden enough – and the drivers are probably better paid than they used to be (main picture above).

Food

Lunch: On two consecutive days – lunch to die for and lunch to die from. But, still, it’s a good arrangement: they do the walking, I do the eating.

Espada: I’ve seen some ugly fish in my time, John Dory – St. Peter fish in southern Europe – for one. Espada in Madeira runs it a close second. They both taste amazing.

madeira food

Bananas: Small, curvy and delicious… That’s what bananas should be like. The Madeirans got them right. European Union marketing regulations – as always – got them wrong when they forbade them.

Espetada: How on earth did they discover that laurel leaves bring out the taste? And how can I possibly eat half a heffer? … Ah … I can.

Stuffed Aubergine: What an experience! A culinary feast! Such basic ingredients – but what a chef!

Zakynthos (Zante) is an ideal location for spotting reptiles…

four line snake

Zakynthos (Zante) is an ideal location for spotting reptiles because the warm climate encourages them to emerge from the vegetation and bask in the sunlight, a bit like us holidaymakers! In my book Zakynthos, A Complete Guide with Walks, I tell you the best places to see certain species of snakes, lizards and tortoises (and of course sea turtles, the subject of the first article of this series).

I have frequently seen the Hermann’s tortoise at Gerakas (Walk 1-2) and Vrondonero (Walk 7). Lake Keri (Walk 9) is great for spotting terrapins (although several species are introduced and invasive). And the island’s sinuous ancient olive trees make particularly ideal sites for Balkan whip lizards to bask on sunlit patches of bark, while geckos emerge from their nooks and crannies to hunt insects at night (at twilight both compete in the hunting!).

Zakynthos also has several species of snakes, none of which are dangerous (although you may need antihistamine if bitten). Those most frequently seen are the four-line snake and the Montpellier, both of which can be spotted on most walks on Zakynthos. Here again, the ancient olive trees are an ideal site for four-line snakes: they take advantage of branches with holes, to get a good look at passing walkers! (Can you spot the head and body of the snake in this photograph, taken on Walk 6?)

When looking for snakes, just tread lightly and keep looking, particularly in the undergrowth and along the old stone walls, as well as up in trees. The cat snake (or so-called ‘holy snake’ because of the cross mark on its head) may be spotted on mountain walks, particularly around Exo Chora and Kampi (Walks 17 and 18). The migration of this snake coincides with the Name Day of the Patron Saint in Kefalonia, where it is placed on the icons.

If you are unlucky and don’t spot any reptiles on the walks, then take a break and enjoy an evening meal at one of the restaurants in the Sunflower Zakynthos guide, and keep your eye on the walls and lamps: you are bound to spot the odd gecko hunting for insects attracted to the lights or the sun-warmed walls!

Photograph: Four-line snake on an ancient olive tree, seen on Walk 6. Note its head viewing the scenery from a hole in the branch! Photo: Martin K S Lilley.

Zakynthos waters inspire vibrant turquise ceramics

zakynthos / zante wildlife

A friend once asked why the ceramicists on Zakynthos use such vibrant turquoise colours. I believe that it is to do with the clarity of the island’s marine waters. In my book Zakynthos, A Complete Guide with Walks, I describe alternative routes for every walk on Zakynthos, often directing walkers to secret nooks and crannies along the coast to view the marine life and perhaps have a dip – hopefully, with a snorkel and mask to truly appreciate the underwater beauty.

The waters of Zakynthos are as clear as an aquarium most of the year, so it’s possible to see many marine plants and animals just by walking beside village ports like Agios Sostis (Walk 8) and Lake Keri (Walk 9). You may easily glimpse shoals of fish of various sizes, colourful crabs, rays, urchins, starfish, octopuses and anemones – without even getting wet!

For outstanding snorkelling, there are shallow reefs along the shoreline from Gerakas to Daphni (Walks 1-3), with amazing rock forms, a vast array of algae and fish species, dogfish, seabass and, often, sea turtles. If you’re a strong swimmer, then swim around Kentinaria (Walk 13, from point B on the map): the waters on the ocean side of the islet are deep, while the sheltered side is shallow with many fish species. I missed an encounter with a monk seal while swimming here in 2010, so keep your eyes peeled. Another amazing swim spot is Korakonisi (Walk 16), where, again, both deep and shallow waters may be found. Many locals come here to collect natural sea salt and cockles.

Even along the sandy seabed stretch of Laganas and Kalamaki (Walks 6 and 7), you will find isolated rocks supporting various fish species. In places, the fish provide an important service for sea turtles, cleaning the carapaces and skin of algae!

Particularly in spring, many jellyfish, usually Pelagia, along with by-the-wind-sailor are washed into Laganas Bay. Avoid Pelagia: they have long painful stinging tentacles. But you might also see the 40cm-long octopus jellyfish (Rhizostoma): it doesn’t have stinging tentacles and it’s a beautiful pale purple/pink jellyfish that has many small fish swimming amongst its lobes.

If you visit Zakynthos during winter and spring, be sure to walk along Laganas/Kalamaki beach (Walk 7), where a huge variety of seashells of all shapes and sizes are washed up in the winter storms.

Finally, if you have the chance to go on a boat trip around the island, or travel across to Kefalonia, you are likely to see pods of striped dolphins, so keep your eyes peeled. Sperm whales have been documented migrating past Zakynthos, but are located much further offshore!

Photograph: The waters surrounding Zakynthos are as clear as those in an aquarium

Walking in the Eastern Pyrenees and foothills

eastern pyrenees

Sunflower’s guide Landscapes of the Pyrenees is intended for people who want an introductory overall view of the range. The ideal way to use it is to tour the Pyrenees by car, stopping for walks en route. Naturally, covering such a large area, there isn’t going to be a heavy concentration of walks around any single base.

So if you’re heading to a villa or hotel near the Eastern Pyrenees this autumn and planning to stay put for a week or two, be sure to pack a copy of Landscapes of the Costa Brava and Barcelona in addition to Landscapes of the Pyrenees.

You will then have a choice of over 50 walks on the coast and in the hinterland. From the Pyrenees guide there will be nine walks (with variations) within a 50-mile radius of the French coast around Collioure. The Costa Brava guide describes 23 long walks (with variations) and 18 shorter walks especially suitable for motorists between Collioure and Barcelona.

The Sunflower team have regularly ‘road-and-footpath-tested’ both guides in autumn – when the air is sparkling and the temperatures perfect for hiking. Two of our favourite places are the volcanic Garroxta region and the Serra del Cadí not far to the west.

Photo: Pedraforca – the ‘forked rock’ – landmark of the Serra del Cadí

Walking in Madeira: Path Collapse on PR1

madeira steps

steps 2Madeira’s top walk (thus ‘PR1’) is the traverse from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. There are two routes: the westerly trail, which passes through tunnels, and a more strenuous easterly path that climbs over the Torres peaks. The two routes join at a saddle and go on to Ruivo, the island’s highest summit.

Last year the path from the saddle fell away in storms; there has been quite a lot of correspondence about developments in Sunflower’s Walking in Madeira Update Service for Landscapes of Madeira. We learned that an alternative ‘detour’ route had opened in April but that it was being avoided by some local walking tour operators who felt that it had been built too hastily.

So we went to investigate for ourselves prior to publication of a new 12th edition of Landscapes of Madeira in 2015. We completed the traverse with no problems, but most of the people walking with us at the end of August turned back without tackling the ladders and steps involved in the new path. Here is a preview of what to expect! …What to expect, that is, if this ‘detour’ path survives the coming winter’s storms. In the meantime, it is likely that the original path will be reinstated, although there was no sign of any work on it in summer 2014.

Provence by rail all year round!

cathedral

Eurostar have recently announced a 6h 15min service from London St Pancreas to Marseille to run all year round. The train will only make two stops, at Lyon and Avignon. So it will only take something under 6h from London to Avignon, without the hassle of security queues and airport transfers.

The service will start on May 1st 2015 – just perfect for walking in Provence before the weather gets too hot.

Sunflower’s guide Walk and Eat around Avignon is perfect for those using public transport to get to walks in Provence – not just Avignon, but other key towns in the area like Arles, Nîmes, St-Rémy and Gordes. As well as the towns, the book also describes walks focussing on well-known beauty spots like the Pont du Gard and Les Baux de Provence.

But for those of you who like to drive, why not take the train all the way to Marseille – from where it’s just a short straightforward drive to Aix-en-Provence, the meeting point for Sunflowers two ‘Landscapes’ guides to Provence. From Aix you could either drive east with our guide Eastern Provence: Côte d’Azur to the Alps or head west with Languedoc-Roussillon and Western Provence. Each guide has about a dozen car tours, with plenty of picnic spots and walks en route.

Since walking in Provence is enjoyable in all seasons, the new Eurostar year-round service to Avignon and Marseille will be a real boon.

Photo: crèche at Avignon’s cathedral: our authors like to visit Provence at Christmas

Catching sight of the highly endangered Monk Seal on Zakynthos

Monk Seal

Although I’ve lived on Zakynthos for 20 years, I’ve only encountered a Mediterranean monk seal up close twice. In my book Zakynthos, A Complete Guide with Walks, I mention potential ‘hotspots’ for viewing this charismatic and highly endangered animal – based on my own sightings and those of friends. Key locations include the Vassilikos Peninsula (Walks 1-3), the Marathia Headland (Walks 10-12) and viewpoints above some submerged sea caves along the west and north coasts (Walks 13-21). The dive companies on the island seem to regularly spot them, so diving might be one way of increasing your chances of seeing one.

I had my first encounter in 1998. I was on a tour boat giving information about sea turtles, and suddenly there was major commotion on the boat, with the crew rushing to look overboard. There was a two-metre-long animal splashing about in the cove off Mavratsis Beach. Like the crew, I was entranced, but the tourists turned to me and said “this is a seal; we are here to see sea turtles”! Dismayed, I told them that they were that they were extremely lucky to be seeing this seal – one of the top 10 most critically endangered animals in the world. Only 400 individuals exist, with the Zakynthos population comprising just 10-15. The species has been persecuted to near extinction by fisheries.

My second encounter was with a stranded juvenile less than 1 metre in length on Ksigia Beach in 2008. It had become accidentally separated from its mother. Together with a friend who is a vet, and under the telephone guidance of a MOm rep (www.mom.gr), we cleared the beach (on a Sunday afternoon in mid-summer!), and a national park guard remained on watch through the night – during which time the seal returned to the sea and hopefully was reunited with its mother.

If you are fortunate to spot a monk seal, enjoy the encounter, but please also record the approximate size, colouring and location of sighting (GPS if possible) and send this information to MOm.

Photograph credit: Fanis Nikoloudakis, owner of Diver’s Paradise, Zante Beach Hotel, Zakynthos

A wild day out walking on the Spanish coastline

Easten Pyrenees wild coast

Now that we’ve finally got our holiday home in Collioure sorted out we’ve been able to make time to enjoy more walking in the Pyrenees. Recently we revisited another of our favourite walks in the Eastern Pyrenees, Walk 2 in Landscapes of the Pyrenees. One important piece of advice. Don’t think of hiking inland in the Albères (the mountains between the coast and Le Perthus) in August. It’s just too hot and there are few water sources. But along the coast is another matter. It’s always a few degrees cooler and there’s usually a breeze.

Mindful of the heat we opted for the shorter version of the walk and took the ferry from Roses to Cala Jóncols, which saves three hours (compared with starting from Cadaqués). The bar right on the beach at Jóncols was just too tempting so we stopped for a drink and the first swim of the day before heading southish for the next large bay, Cala Montjoi. Swim number two.

This is about as wild a coastline as you can find in mainland Spain and the section from Montjoi to the outskirts of Roses is a real gem. The coastal path (the GR92) hugs the low cliffs, winding its way between shady umbrella pines, and dropping down to little coves, quiet even in high season. We passed through Cala Rostella without getting wet but by the time we reached Cala Murtra the sun was almost overhead. Swim number three. By the way, Cala Murtra is clothing optional – whether or not you dare is up to you.

After a couple of hours of hiking and three more of swimming and lounging on the beaches we rounded Punta Falconera and saw civilisation ahead. Buts that’s not the end of the adventure because there are two more great beaches still to go, L’Almadrava and Canyelles, albeit they’re backed by houses and hotels. Back in Roses, as we sipped long, cool drinks by the marina we agreed there could be no finer walk for a summer’s day.

Paul and Chrissie are making their studio in Collioure available to Landscapes readers at a discount of 10%. Just mention Landscapes when making your booking. You can see full details at http://colliourestudio.com

Photo: Looking back to Cala Jóncols from the path to Cala Montjoi (copyright Mike Lockwood, from Landscapes of the Costa Brava and Barcelona)

Gozo beauty spot off bounds for autumn thanks to ‘Brangelina’!

gozo

Why is it that so many of Sunflower’s picnic suggestions end up being ‘off bounds’? It’s uncanny.

The problem first arose in the 1980s, when the Underwoods were walking in Madeira and found that one of their recommended picnic spots had become a building site … a major chain had taken the risk of siting a cliff-top luxury hotel in the middle of nowhere, thanks to reading about it in Landscapes of Madeira. A lovely picnic spot was lost forever … but on a positive note, the hotel brought employment to many people in a hitherto impoverished part of the island.

The pattern has continued through the decades, and the latest closure is at the fjord-like inlet on Gozo, Mgarr ix-Xini – a recommended picnic spot in Landscapes of Malta, Gozo and Comino. So those of you planning to go walking on Gozo may have to forego stopping here during Walk 25: the beach and its rustic restaurant have been taken over as of August 17 by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. They are making a film called By the Sea. Again, it will be a boost to the local economy: the Maltese PM anticipates that tourist revenues could pump £15 million into the local economy.

For the moment they’re planning to finish filming by November 10 – so they will still be on the island when the season for walking on Malta and Gozo starts again in earnest. We imagine that Walk 25 will be a very popular route this autumn!

Photo: Mgarr ix-Xini

Ibiza offers much more than nightlife and parties

ibiza

Most visitors come to Ibiza to have fun and enjoy the island’s famous hot spots and nightlife.

But all of a sudden people are waking up to the fact that there’s an altogether different side to the island — and this summer Sunflower’s guide to walking and cycling on Ibiza (and neighbouring Formentera) has been one of our best-sellers.

Perhaps visitors have realised that even in summer it’s not too hot to walk the coastal paths, since there’s always a light breeze blowing in from the sea. There are myriad small paths to be discovered near each of the island’s holiday resorts — they run along the coast, or through fields, gardens or forests. And there are country lanes as well — ideal for cycling.

Our ‘Landscapes’ guide to walking, cycling and touring on Ibiza and Formentera is the perfect companion for those who want to get away from the party scene. Here are just a few photos of footpaths and cycle tracks taken from the guide (click thumbnail to enlarge)…