Fanal forest: mystical Madeira place where cows have paradise

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A friend of mine, the chef of a renowned restaurant in Piešt’any, used to teach me how to cook sour soups. Almost every soup and every side dish had a bay leaf in it. Back then, I thought these leaves grew in supermarkets, packed among the spices. It wasn’t until I visited Madeira that I discovered that bay leaves are a product of laurels. The trees that made Madeira famous. Fanal forest: a mystical corner of Madeira where cows have their paradise.

Fanal forest

A small plateau on the ER 209 road that connects the foothills of Pico Ruivo with Porto Moniz. An inconspicuous car park is on it, over 1100 m above sea level. This altitude keeps the whole area permanently in the cloud zone. Rainforest. It’s always wet here. Laurel bushes all around. Miles of scrub. Underneath, damp and saturated, evergreen meadows. Gentle mossy hills and ancient trees, Mohicans. They’re all shrubby—many of them over 800 years old. They throne here in thick haze and mist for most of the year. I wait for them to speak to me.

Where cows found their paradise

I get quiet for a while and want to be completely alone. The surrounding landscape reminds me more of Lord of the Rings scenery— the enchanted forest of Rockford. I’m going into myself. You’d expect a dragon and Prince Bajaya. You’ll discover something else. The fog, the haze, and the pervasive humidity give this place the right atmosphere. I understand only when I step into something warm and soft. The local cows, in particular, enjoy this tourist photo paradise. Grazing on these wetlands, they don’t even realise they live in a fairy tale.

Fanal forest: a mystical corner of Madeira

The meadow is small, but trip takes some time. The photographer will go crazy here. The Fanal Forest is rightly listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Fanal is the most extensive laurel forest in the world. Its roots are said to go back 40 million years. The ancient trees take on fantastic shapes under the weight of age and northerly winds. What a unique tree.

I’ve separated myself. I wanted to walk this meadow alone— the interaction of man and trees. Humans only disturb it. You blend into the field. Become part of it. You don’t want to leave. With the low visibility and the humidity, you hear distant, muffled voices and cooing. And silence. Unbelievable silence.

The entire forest is part of the Parque Natural de Madeira, a national park established on the island in 1982. The park covers 15% of the island.

I have many reasons why I would like to return to Madeira: Pico de Ruivo, Pico do Arierio, Porto del Sol, the mountain levadas, the wines of Sao Vincente, or the cliffs at Canical. But just one heartfelt wish. I want to return to this meadow again, in the mist and the haze, and spend hours here. Hanging around aimlessly.

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Pavel Trevor
Pavel Trevor

Active traveling, exploring and discovering new worlds totally fulfills me. The feeling of being thrown into the water. When you don't know what's coming next and it's all up to you.

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