Hiking the Forest of Fanal

The mystic forest of Fanal or better known as the Laurisilva of Madeira is one of the few surviving areas of primary laurel forest on the planet. This type of forest used to exist in many parts of Europe, however, due to the ice age it vanished completely from the European continent with the exception of a few islands, namely the Canary islands, the Azores and Madeira. Since 1999 the forest of Fanal is part of the UNESCO world heritage.

Due to their elevation, the woods are often overdrawn by clouds and fog which, combined with the twisted forms of the laurel trees, creates an athmosphere as if the forest came straight out of a fairytale.

There are many hiking trails that lead through different parts of the forest. In this post we will share our route and our experience hiking through this magical environment. We hope you enjoy!

If you wish to read more about what else we did while on the beautiful island of Madeira, head to our Extensive Sightseeing Guide to Madeira. Or head to our 25 Fontes Hiking Trail Guide for more information on another amazing hike on Madeira!

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Where to start?

To get to the starting point of our hike we took the ER209, alongside which you will find several smaller parking options. We stopped at the biggest parking lot which is located directly next to one of the most pictoresque parts of the forest. So in case you simply wish to visit the forest of Fanal you can just park here and enjoy the beautiful trees. 

Our route & experience

However, if you wish to explore this beautiful landscape a bit more indepth, I highly recommend a short hike! On the map to the right you can see our approximate route. I say approximate because parts of this route are grassland so it is a bit harder to say where exactly we walked. But I guess this is the fun of it since it allows everyone to have their own unique experience!

When pulling up to the parking lot, everything around us was already plunged in the most beautiful coat of fog. This was probably the first time in my life that I was this happy we did not have blue skys and sunshine.

Forest of Fanal, Madeira
Fanal Route Screenshot

Eager to explore, we first strolled somewhat aimlessly around the forest (on the map: 1.), marveling at the trees and taking some of our most beautiful photos. It is really pleasant walking around and taking in the everchanging forest views, always having the cold sensation of the fog on your skin. The mist leaves you kind of unoriented and under the impression that time flows differently. When we parked our car, there were already quite some cars there but due to the foggy atmosphere it was rather easy to forget that other people were around. Moreover most people kept close to the parking lot so the further you wander, the fewer people you will see.

Forest of Fanal, Madeira

After an unknown timespan we decided it was finally time to look for the trail we had decided upon previously. It was not that easy to find it since this part of the trail is just grass. So we walked on the meadow, up the hill, trying to follow the path on maps.me. Eventually we reached the top of the hill. Through the fog we got some glimpses of Rocha dos Ingleses (on the map: 2.)

The walk over the meadow actually provided beautiful views of the now more faraway trees in the mist. What we didn´t expect was that all of a sudden cows emerged out of the fog as we walked further. Actually the meadows located on the plateaus up in the mountains of Madeira are used by farmers as grassland for their cows.

Forest of Fanal, Madeira
Forest of Fanal, Madeira

A little further a small path emerged that slowly lead away from the meadows and into the woods (on the map: 3.). The trail  winds at the mountainside trough yet another beautiful laurel tree forest. It is filled with even more mystical looking trees. Some even looked kind of creepy. It was very easy to imagine walking through some kind of fairytale forest, where fairies and goblins are hiding behind every tree.

Forest of Fanal, Madeira
Forest of Fanal, Madeira

Eventually the trail lead us out of the forest into scrubland. Here we simply followed the path for a while until we reached an intersection (on the map: 4.). If you take the path to your right you can finish the loop a little faster. Most people actually continued on that trail. However, we chose to take the trail to the left. It leads you to a staircase that winds through a tunnel of trees. 

Once you climbed the stairs, turn right and you are on the right path back to the parking lot. The walk back again leads through scrubland (on the map: 5.). There are a lot of birds chirping in the bushes around the trail. Some even posed quite nicely for a photo!

Our hike, however, still had a small surprise for us. All of a sudden we heard a honking car coming our way. We were a little confused at first but didn´t think too much of it. It wasn´t until the car passed that we realised what his honking was for! The honking was followed by mooing and eventually a herd of cows running on the trail towards the car. We were standing behind some bushes to make way for the cows which steadily came running in small groups for a good 5-10 minutes. We throught it was a rather funny way for a farmer to gather his cows, but I guess at the same time really fascinating, considering the fact that the cows listened so well to it.

Forest of Fanal, Madeira
Forest of Fanal, Madeira

After our encounter with the cows we reached the parking lot. There is an area with some picnic tables close to the parking lot. We ate our lunch there and eventually made our way back to our airbnb.

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