A Week In Madeira – 4. Of Levadas & Pergolas



(Photo: Wikipedia)

Levadas are aqueducts specific to the island of Madeira. They provide a remarkable network of walking paths through breathtakingly beautiful countryside



Levadas originated out of the necessity of bringing large amounts of water from the lush west and northwest of the island of Madeira to the drier southeast, which is more conducive to habitation and agriculture, such as sugar cane production. They were used in the past also by women to wash clothes in areas where running water to homes was not available. There are more than 1,350 miles (2,170 km) of levadas in Madeira with 25 miles (40 km) of tunnels. Many are cut into the sides of mountains. The idea of this style of water channel was brought to Madeira by the Moors during the time of al-Andalus, the medieval Muslim Kingdom of Iberia. They are similar to Acequias or water conduits found in Spain and Spanish colonies of the New World.


Map of levadas in Madeira

One bright sunny morning in Madeira we walked a small section of the Levada do Norte. The 12.5 km levada with an easy walking path situated in the south of the island, starts at Quinta Grande and ends in Ribeira Brava. We first drove towards Camara de Lobos, a fishing village just outside Funchal and climbed up in to the vine covered hillside along a twisting road. The water channels which cling to the hillside in this section of the Levada do Norte are under vine pergolas and are covered. We could hear water gushing through them. As is the custom in rural Portugal, vegetables are cultivated under the vines. Elegant houses dotted the path and the view down to the sea through the vines was magnificent.


The twisting road through vineyards to the Levada do Norte


Terraced vineyards



As in mainland Portugal, the Roman pergola trellising system is used extensively in Madeira with fewer vines per hectare – approximately 1666 vines/ha compared with around 4000 vines/ha in a regular vineyard. Canopy management is limited and excessive shading could inhibit grape ripening and lead to unbalanced fruit development with high levels of malic acid in some of the grape varieties cultivated here. Coupled with volcanic soil, this could possibly explain the tendency towards high acidity in Madeira wines. The pergola trellis efficiently intercepts light, thereby giving the vine a higher yield potential. In Madeira, yields are often in the region of 150 to 200 hectolitres /ha which may not affect the quality of fortified wines but is certainly not good for ‘table’ wines.

Vine pergolas with levada

Vine pergolas with levada

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Vegetables under vines


The view from the path

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Tinta Negra grapes


Elegant houses along the way




Our driver Andre was waiting for us at a junction of the levada and the village road. We got in the car and drove to the Barbeito Winery on top of the hill for the morning tasting.

Our walk was arranged by:

Rita Galvão
CEO / Diretora Executiva 
+351 912304517
www.discoveringmadeira.com  www.winetoursmadeira.com

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