Walk over small bridges, through tunnels and under trees, keeping along the water around a huge volcano
November is not necessarily a good month to visit the Azores; we had already learned that on the day of our arrival, as a storm caused our flight to be postponed by one day. Surprisingly, our landing on Faial the next evening was hardly unpleasant, even though the storm continued. And during the night-time trip over the island, we could already catch glimpses of the beautiful landscape that would show up in the next days.
Falling from a child’s hand into a small water channel,
under a bridge over other waters,
under wet tree giants,
into a dark tunnel and out again,
and then with a distant view of the ocean,
the small autumn-yellow leaf floats unsuspectingly
around a huge volcano.
We first had a look at the volcano Capelinhos, which was newly formed in the 1950s, and then at the pretty little town of Horta and its famous harbour, which gave us an unexpected insight into the world of the Atlantic sailors, which we didn’t know much about. Afterwards, we checked if there was a chance of doing a whale watching tour at the harbour, but because of the storm, there was no possibility of that. And so we finally left the following morning for a hike along the only Levada of Faial.
Levadas are small water channels that were built in large numbers, especially in Madeira, to transport water from areas with high rainfall over long distances to places where it is needed for agriculture. The Faial Levada was built in 1964 and is considered one of the largest construction projects in the Azores. It is 10 kilometres long and served to provide sufficient water for a small hydroelectric power station.
Today, it is only half functional. The last major earthquake in 1998 damaged it considerably in various places. A landslide has torn away a large part of the Levada, and after hurricane Lorenzo, many smaller landslides and fallen trees severely damaged it and the path next to it.
Already on the first few metres of the hike, which we started above Cedros at the end of the access road that is still passable, it became clear to us that the estimated two and a half hours for the entire hike would be impossible. However, at the same time, we understood that the hike would be highly entertaining and adventurous.
We were all very enthusiastic right from the start, which was a first for our four-year-old Laura. The path goes over small bridges almost immediately, continuing under trees and over small landslides, and it always stays along the canal. A little later, we reached small grottos and finally a tunnel that Laura still reminds us of every day. It crosses the mountain at an estimated length of 60 metres.
Shortly afterwards, we reached a panoramic meadow that looks like a mountain pasture up by the volcano, where several cows grazed peacefully, and we enjoyed the beautiful view of the smaller volcanic cones of the Capelo group and the sea. We used those beautiful moment for a picnic and then hiked on enthusiastically.
Mighty laurel forests, lush ferns, hundreds of hydrangea bushes, rivers again and again, smaller waterfalls, bridges over immense abysses, water basins in which you can probably cool off wonderfully in the summer – the landscape could hardly be more varied, and when we suddenly reached a wonderful valley, which contained a mixture of tropical rainforest and alpine high valley, we were simply thrilled by the fantastic hiking trail.
In addition to the ever-denser cloud swaths that constantly accompanied us, there was also an unpleasant and lush drizzle, which caused us a lot of trouble during the last third of the hike. We continue on paths that looked like rivers or mud pits, and after a short time we were all completely soaked and increasingly cold – especially Laura, who we had to carry on our shoulders and who was complaining more and more about the cold.
When we finally arrived at the small reservoir, which the Levada fills with water, we didn’t think too hard about whether anyone still wanted to walk into the volcanic cone Cabeço dos Trinta, because none of us wanted to walk or freeze unnecessarily through the rain any longer.
Unfortunately it turns out that at the end of the path, where you in theory could have called a taxi, there is no mobile phone network available, and so we were forced to walk further down until we could finally reach one of the taxi companies of Faial. But the taxi needed another hour until it could finally come up the street at walking pace, and the roundish taxi driver informed us in a slightly grumpy tone about the amazing price of 40-45 Euro that the trip back to the beginning of the hiking trail would cost. But, the drive there takes a really long time.
Nevertheless, the four of us did not doubt for a moment that this hike was our most beautiful and adventurous ever. The wonderfully varied hiking trail, the beautiful landscape, the peace and solitude, the overwhelmingly luxuriant and varied vegetation and, last but not least, the fact that the trail is almost always daring and therefore does not demand too much of our youngest ones, we had never experienced so much so perfectly combined in one adventure.
In summer, it may be a pleasant addition to the beautiful path that it is so wonderfully accompanied by water in many of its entertaining forms: the Levada itself, into which our children threw a leaf every now and then in order to look at it, the many rivers that we crossed on bridges or through which we happily waded, a few water basins suitable for bathing at the roadside and several pretty smaller waterfalls.
In autumn and winter, you should have rain-resistant clothing and shoes with you. In summer, you may need swimsuits. Also bring drinks and a picnic. As the path always stays along the water, it might be a good idea to bring a change of clothes for the children in case someone looses footing in the canal.
How to get there:
You can park your rental car in the parking lot right next to the beginning of the Levada.
GPS: 38.600963, -28.710529
If you don’t want to go back they same way, you can call a taxi at the end of the path, if there isn’t already one waiting there.
GPS: 38.581468, -28.745655
Unfortunately, it’s possible that you have to walk down the mountain on the access road to reach a telephone network. The taxi ride from the end of the Levada to the starting point costs between 35 and 45 euros, depending on the taxi location and driver’s estimate.
Duration and level of difficulty:
Since there are hardly any differences in altitude to overcome, the hike is easy to manage, but the beginning of the trail was particularly hard hit by Hurricane Lorenzo (October 2019). It took us 6-7 hours to cover the 8 kilometre stretch. Every now and then, the abysses at the edge of the path are quite alarming, especially one of the bridges crosses a valley at a height of about 20 meters – here you should take extra care with smaller children.
Cows and some pretty birds, e.g. blackbirds, starlings, chaffinches and woodcocks.
On the road:
The path is very narrow and currently full of obstacles. Instead of a pram, it is better to take a sling or a carrying frame with you for babies or smaller children.
Cabeço dos Trinta:
For those who still feel like walking into the volcanic cone at the end of the hike, follow the signpost Cabeço dos Trinta shortly after the water reservoir into which the Levada flows, and after a few metres you will reach a tunnel which will take you into the crater.