If you stay on the East of the island - in Porto da Cruz, Machico, or Funchal, for instance - you have easy access to some of the most picturesque routes on the island. Whether you're looking for the picture postcard view or a challenging hike, here are four of the best, tried and tested by yours truly:
If you're easing yourself in to life on the island, this walk is a good place to start. It's very easy in terms of safety, with steps and a hand rail virtually throughout, and your chances of getting lost are nil.
Head to Baia de Abra by bus - SAM buses can take you from Machico. It's the end of the line, so there's no chance of missing your stop. When you disembark, you'll see a big sign marking the start of the trail with a map and the usual walking advice.
I went at the start of January and there were a good 100 or so other walkers over the 2-3 hour course of the peninsula with me, so if you're after a peaceful ramble be advised that this is unlikely to tick that box for you in the summer months. This is one of the busiest trails you'll come across, but when you start to walk it you'll understand why. The views are gorgeous. Stunning rock formations at sea look like smugglers' coves, with jagged deep red sections jutting out of the waves into the sky and, inland, unusual geological variations cause scars across the landscape resembling giant claw marks. Squint, and you'll find yourself in a land of sleeping dragons...
If you get a little toastie along the way, head to the pebble beach or down the concrete steps to a platform where you can dive straight into the sea to cool off, or take the ladder into the water if you're feeling cautious. If you're like me, you might find this a nice spot to meditate for 20 minutes or so on the horizon, or notice the peaceful sounds of the water.
The final stretch of the walk before you turn back the way you came is a steep climb (up steps) to a look out point from which you can see the entire peninsula. It requires a bit of leg power, but it's not at all treacherous. (Read more about the grading of walks here.)
Away from the mountains and trees of inland Madeira, this walk is a good one for soaking up some sun. It's 6-8km and roughly 77m - 50m - 150m.
This is a classic levada trail, following one of the old and vital waterways of the island. You can drive to Ribeiro Frio, or do the walk in reverse by getting the bus to Portela and beginning there. If you decide on the latter, be advised that there's a section not long after you begin the trail (which is up some steps from the bus stop opposite a restaurant) that isn't well signposted and you may find yourself back on a road unsure of where to go next. If this happens, head down the hill and round the bend. There will be a bar and a turning on your right hand side. Take that turning, which will lead you up a track alongside a levada. Keep following the levada and it's unlikely you'll go wrong from there. Eventually, you'll come to a picnic spot with tree trunk tables and chairs. Follow the levada path past the loos into the trees and it will take you all the way to Ribeiro Frio via tunnels into the mountainside.
Some parts of the trail from here until the end are along a very narrow path with a drop on the other side, and can be slippery, so take care and beware meeting walkers coming the other way. For the most part though, this walk is an easy one.
At the end of the trail you'll come out at a restaurant on the roadside. If you turn right and cross the road, heading downhill, you'll come to a big sign on the left hand side leading to the Balcoes. Take the turning and after a short walk you'll reach the lookout point with a large rock, which you can climb if you want to spend a few quiet moments with the birds or have a picnic. It's beautifully peaceful up there.
This walk is 11-13km and roughly 600m - 860m - 850m. Allow 4-5 hours with stops for picture taking and lunch.
This is the most beautiful walking trail in East Madeira and perhaps even the whole island. However, as I wrote in 5 Things You Should Know About Madeira In Winter, sufferers of vertigo are not going to enjoy this one bit. And it shouldn't really be attempted in wet weather.
As I was staying in Porto da Cruz, I caught the bus to Machico and walked up the hill on the road to Canical to the start of the trail, which is opposite the turning on the right to Pico do Facho and just before the old tunnel.
The start of the trail isn't signposted here. Just find the levada on the left hand side of the road as you're looking at the tunnel, winding its way amongst the houses, and follow it with Machico and the valley on your left. (Thank you to activityworkshop.net and their helpful directions which got me this far.)
After about 45 minutes, you'll find your path joins a main road. That's OK - cross the road and find the levada again on the other side. 10 minutes or so after that and around a few bends, there is a path leading uphill on the right hand side. It's actually marked with a small sign that reads Boca do Risco too, so you can't miss it!
From here you can't really go wrong, as you climb higher to the lookout point at the start of your hair-raising journey across Boca do Risco ("mouth of danger") to Porto da Cruz. If you've got a picnic, have it here as there's nowhere to stop once you're on the cliff pass.
Over the course of the next 1-2 hours, you will experience the most breathtaking views of the Madeiran coastline accompanied by the roar of the ocean, which is a sheer drop beneath you, interspersed with the booming quietness of sheltered forest glades, the sounds of the birds and gentle trickle of water down the mountainside.
Take care walking this path. It is treacherous. Some words of advice can be found in 5 Things You Should Know About Madeira In Winter.
Eventually, Porto da Cruz and Penha d'Aguia (Eagle Rock) beyond will come into view. Keep going and your path will turn into a track and then a concrete road (at the cable car station). If you carry on, you'll end up winding your way down the main road into town.
Allow 3-4 hours from Machico. It's roughly 15m - 220m - 360m - 15m.
Sometimes you just want to climb, get the lungs and muscles working hard. This is the walk to do.
On one side, you have Faial. On the other, Porto da Cruz. And you can make the journey in whichever direction - it's pretty steep either way. If you're coming from Porto da Cruz, you can walk or get a lift to the start of the trail, which is past the table football bar on the main road opposite the start of the Levada do Castelejo walk.
A hundred or so metres after the start, you need to turn into the mountain - left and uphill - but this isn't signposted. I didn't do this and subsequently spent the first hour of my walk scrambling about farmland at the base of the mountain and following a levada that I shouldn't have been...
If you do get lost, turn back! 2 German girls I met while I was out there ploughed on, struggling with what was an unnecessarily difficult and probably dangerous climb, and really didn't enjoy themselves, when what they could have done was retrace their steps and as a result of approaching from a different angle found their way to the correct path, which is what happened to me. There is a fallen tree trunk with 3 carved marks into it (see pic above) at a quasi-crossroads - go up from here, that's the right way.
From here, it's a steep uphill climb to the top where there's a concrete monument, so you know you're going the right way. Just before you reach that, the path opens out into a mini clearing with a gorgeous little sun spot on one side. It's a short way from here, bearing round to the left, to the monument. Continue on past it and you're en route down again into Faial.
Up and down is a scramble. Make sure you've got suitable footwear, like these Scarpa Terra GTX walking boots.
From Faial, either get the bus back or you can walk along the road to Porto da Cruz. It's not far, and there isn't much traffic in Madeira. It's around 1.5 hours up to the top and an hour back down - that's an ascent to 590m from 130m.
Head to Funchal. Visit the Tropical Gardens at Monte, have a restorative glass of Madeira wine in the gorgeous garden cafe of Universo de Memorias, have lunch along Rua de Carreiro or a slice of Bolo de Mel cake at Penha d'Aguia bakery by the cathedral (thanks to the lovely shop assistant who let me have mine for free), then check out the art in the form of painted doors along Rua de Santa Maria (see pics above) which leads to the old town where you can catch sunset.
Et voila. Madeira. Some of the best bits from the whole island can be found just on the East side. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below :-)