Vereda dos balcoes or PR11 is one of the easiest but extremely rewarding hike that you can do in Madeira. After a very short and easy hike you will be treated to a spectacular scene that will simply take your breath away. There are a few catches though, so read along and all shall be revealed to you.
Madeira’s hiking options quandary
Madeira has a plethora of hiking options available. So when we started looking at which hike should we start with, it was a difficult task. But we decided that we wanted to start with something easy to just dip our toes in first and then proceed to the more demanding or longer hikes. That criteria and the stunning photos i had seen of the place during my research made our choice very easy. Vereda dos Balcoes had to be our first hike in Madeira!
We were based in Porto da Cruz for the first part of our round trip across the lush and volcanic island of Madeira. So from a proximity point of view this was one of the closest hikes in the Ribeiro Frio region. Google maps indicated that it was an approximate driving time of about 25 mins from where we were based. The only problem was that it wasn’t very clear to us where exactly the starting point of this hike was. All my research indicated it was somewhere along ER103. So we hopped into our car and headed to Parque National Ribeiro Frio, hoping to find more information there.
Start of PR11 Vereda dos Balcoes hike
We consciously made an early start on the day of the hike to avoid the crowds. Early mornings are never easy for me but i do it only for the love of travel. All of our sleepiness and grogginess just melted away as our senses just captured the early morning freshness and the stunning scenery as we made our way through the bendy mountain roads. We were close to our starting point but still had to cover some distance as per Google maps. But we saw some restaurants, a hotel and more importantly some parking on the road so decided to stop and make a quick check. As it was quite early there was still no one around but a sign at the side of the restaurant did point us to a hiking path. We parked our car outside Casa do Ribeiro Frio and headed up the hike path.
First we had to do a few steps that were peppered with crushed berries and other fruits that had fallen from the trees and their sweet aroma already tickled our hunger pangs. We could already hear the pleasant sound of water flowing. Indeed, we were on the right track as we saw further signs for Miradouro dos Balcoes, which was the final view point that we were headed to. The sight of the levadas got me really excited and i started telling Sridhar all about these small irrigation canals that have formed the intricate irrigation network from mountains to the low lying areas in Madeira since centuries ago. And they double up as miles of excellent hiking paths or levada walks for which Madeira is so famous.
Arriving at Miradouro dos Balcoes viewpoint
We walked along the levadas that altered between gurgling and quiet flows. With only the sound of flowing water, rustling leaves and chirping birds, we were already feeling so at peace. We saw another path leading from the opposite direction which indicated Ribeiro Frio, so we assumed that perhaps that was the path we would have taken if we had driven further along until the actual starting point of the hike. We had walked only for about 15-20 minutes tops and we already arrived at the viewpoint. That confirmed our hypothesis that we had indeed done a shorter version of the already small hike of Vereda dos Balcoes.
In Portuguese, miradouro means viewpoint and Balcoes means balcony. As we arrived at the view point we understood why it was called as such. Imagine having a balcony that is completely surrounded by lush green mountains all around and one side you can see the ocean in the distance. It was just absolutely breath-taking scenery all around. And imagine having this place all to yourselves! Yes, the fruits of getting up early and beating the crowds.
Breakfast at Miradouro dos Balcoes (with Madeiran chaffinches for company)
We decided to have our packed breakfast of jamon sandwich in this stunning location and our very own balcony in the midst of stunning nature. Very soon some finches decided to descend from the trees in search of any bread crumbs that we may leave. I was convinced they were the Madeiran chaffinches as they looked very similar to the one indicated in the local fauna photo. By instinct i put some crumbs on my hand and held it out and to my surprise one brave finch quickly came and picked it up. Soon another one also followed suit. You can imagine what followed for the next few minutes. Hahaha, yes we took turns feeding some friendly finches out of our palms and filming it of course. But it was really fun watching their quick reactions, sometimes they picked the food before we could even blink.
Plenty of photos and videos later, we decided to head back the same way as we had to pick our car. Else we would have been tempted to take the other longer route. But one advantage of returning back the same way was that now we could grab some coffee as the cafe restaurant Faísca was indeed open. Actually we had a hankering for more than just a coffee, so we also grabbed a second breakfast😉 . It was still very early and by 9ish we had already ticked one levada hike, albeit a small one, off our list. Given we still had the whole day we decided to go for our second hike, Caldeirao Verde. The fact that we were headed for a second hike made us feel less guilty about the second breakfast😉
When to do the Vereda dos Balcoes hike?
I strongly advice you to do this hike as early as possible in the morning. Miradouro dos Balcoes is a quite popular spot and the short hike itself is very accessible and doable for all people. Hence almost all tour buses stop here. Doing this hike peacefully and enjoying the sounds of nature will be a very different experience when compared to dealing with tour bus crowds. We were extremely lucky to get to enjoy this hike and the spectacular viewpoint all by ourselves for the entire time that we were there. More often than not we are seeking such meditative experiences in nature. If you feel the same then head there early to beat the crowds. Seriously, you will thank me later🙂
Tips for visiting Miradouro dos Balcoes
- Starting point for the short version of Vereda dos Balcoes is right next to Restaurant Faisca
- Parking spots are available on the road
- Restaurants/Cafe’s closeby: Restaurant Snack bar Faisca & Cafe restaurant Jardim do Vale
- Hotel nearby: Casa do Ribeiro Frio
- The full version of the PR11 is about 1.5 kms
- The short hike we did only took us around 15 mins one way