One of the many reasons why visitors come to Europe is to steep themselves in history. But the Portuguese island of Madeira is home to a piece of history that goes beyond the ruins of Rome and the battlefields of France – the Laurel Forest. Vegetation such as the kind found here used to carpet southern Europe, and it is believed that the forest is at least 15 million years old! Now it is a rare sight, and those going to Madeira put it high on their list of things to see.
The Laurel Forest, also called Laurisilva, holds a bounty of flora and fauna that astounds visitors – as well as a subtropical mist that gives it an ethereal ambience and makes the views from certain observation points that much more incredible. There are several long- and short-range hiking trails through this UNESCO World Heritage site that can accommodate various levels of ability. However, proper shoes and attire should be brought for the adventure, as well as food and drink.
The best point of entry to the Laurel Forest is in the village of Ribeiro Frio, about 45 minutes from Funchal. Follow the signs on foot along Highway ER103 from Ribeiro Frio to hiking route PR11, “Balcões.” It is a fairly level topography, and the walk to the (natural) observation point should take no more than an hour.