Surrounded by mountains and valleys, Rabaçal is the kind of place where a truly privileged connection with nature can be found.
Calheta is not short on places where nature is splendorous. Some, you can reach in short amount of time by driving. Others, however, will require you to put your mountain gear on and dive into the wilderness.
Rabaçal is one such place. Just a little over nine miles away from the town of Calheta and at about six hundred and fifty six feet above the level of the ocean, Rabaçal is one of the biggest valleys of Madeira and distinguishes itself for the varied palette of green shades that colour its vegetation.
Every day, early in the morning, there is a massive increase in the number of vehicles that come to the area. Armed with their faithful maps, a guide or a mobile app, the first of the day’s many adventurers arrive.
Many still resort to one of the many firms providing transportation and expert and well-prepared guides.
All without exception come here curious and bearing high expectations as to what nature has store for them. At the end of a long tarmac road going downwards, there are two boards, one pointing towards ‘Levada das 25 Fontes’ and the other towards ‘Levada do Risco’.
The first one is 2.8 miles long and usually takes around three hours to be walked. The second one is slightly shorter, 1.8 miles long, and takes about half the time of the other one to be crossed. Upon finishing both paths, one has to walk back the same way.
Sharing a part of their course, their function today remains the same as that which they had when they were built in 1835: that of carrying water from areas where it abounds to others where it is scarce. Taking full advantage of the collection of the rain that falls in the forest, that water is meant to be used for both consumption and irrigation purposes.
Both paths start at Casa do Abrigo do Rabaçal, a building which, until 1974, was one of the old houses that belonged to the Governor of Madeira and which are to be restored sometime this year.
Upon exiting via one of the recommended courses, one cannot help but feel small before the magnificence of the mountains in the surrounding area.
The hike itself is flows quite naturally. Going round plenty of curves, water, with a little bit of help from Man, has beaten the mountain and created a place for itself in the landscape. In fact, in some instances, it carved its own path, flowing out of the one mean had prepared.
Between the endemic fauna and flora, walkers find themselves torn between the two paths, solitary with those who pass by them. We are at the heart of the Laurel Forest, crowned UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1999. The vegetation is adorned with heath. If you are lucky, you may find the Trocaz Pidgeon as well as the many busy fish who rush home down the levada.
While walking the path, a silent contest for the perfect picture arises, Tourists and residents alike try to immortalize those seconds through the lenses of their cameras.
Tree trunks, stones and water are the elements of a path that poses very little obstacles. It is actually considered one of the most accessible ones and it is usual to find families and their children walking it.
After several hours, the sound of water is an omen of the end. He Levadas in both paths are a worthy sight, a true spectacle of nature. The ’25 fontes’ (fountains) got its name from the number of waterfalls that stream into a multi-coloured lagoon. The noise made by the water as it falls is more than enough sound in a place that invites silence and contemplation. In warmer days, why not go for swim among the eyes of the curious fish?
The highlight of ‘levada do Risco’ is definitely the waterfall that shapes the place, falling from the mountain in a vertiginous manner.
Waterfalls, fountains, lagoons, unique species and sights without peer. Few places hold such beauty in a single spot. That uniqueness, though, is hidden and only the most curious of adventurers will find it.