ON THE RUN See the sights in new ways on a jogging tour.
What’s better than a private guided tour of some of the world’s most beautiful spots? asks Sarah Baxter
This is the perfect moment to be jogging along Madeira’s Levada dos Piornais.
As we skirt the edge of the city, via this winding irrigation channel, the afternoon rain clouds have dispersed and the sun is lowering, casting a golden glow upon the rooftops of hillside Funchal, the capital city of Portugal’s Madeira archipelago. The light glitters on the sea too, emphasising the deep-green hills behind. I’m about to tell Daniel, my running partner and guide, that I want to stop for a photo when, as if the sky is peacocking for the camera, a rainbow appears.
I only landed in Madeira two hours ago, tired after a 36-hour delay. I’d almost cancelled my planned running tour with Go Trail Madeira; a shower and cocktails had seemed far more appealing. But now, as the rainbow bursts and the Atlantic shimmers, I can feel the stresses of travel slipping away with every springing step and I’m so glad I didn’t. Running has never been more popular. According to 2016 gures from England Athletics, over one million more people are taking part in athletics (including running) on a weekly basis compared to 10 years ago. Part of the appeal is the simplicity and low cost – all you need is a pair of trainers and the motivation to get out of the door. And that motivation is even easier to nd in new and beautiful places.
Consequently, there has been a rise in sightjogging tours. All over the world, companies are o ering guided runs around highlights and backstreets. Private tours mean you go at your speed, with frequent stops for photos and history. Whether you’re a hare or a tortoise, they’re a great way to sight-see if you’re short on time, or if you want to soak up local culture while getting some exercise. They are also great for solo travellers who might feel nervous about running somewhere unknown, ending up in the wrong neighbourhood or just getting lost.
On my trip, the area is incredibly safe, but it would have been di cult to nd or follow
Levada dos Piornais on my own.
I signed up for my rst sight-jogging tour in Boston – home to the world’s oldest, most prestigious road marathon. There, Wayne Levy, owner of Run Boston, showed me the sights and gave me plenty of tips, from running advice to restaurant recommendations. “It’s best to do a running tour at the start of your stay,” he told me. “It gives you a good sense of a place so you can go back and spend more time in areas you liked the look of. And you can grill me for useful information!” So, with Wayne’s words in mind, I’d decided to start my Madeira trip with a run.
Daniel and I quickly pick up Levada dos Piornais, one of the many irrigation channels that run like veins across the island. “Madeira has more than 2,000km of levadas,” Daniel tells me as I try to neither fall into the water nor o the drop on the other side. We run gently, at chatting pace, and he lls me in on a little more island history: how these channels, which carry water from the moist highlands to the crop elds, date back almost to the discovery of Madeira, 599 years ago. The elds are incredibly lush with banana palms; however, it was sugar that rst made the island’s fortune. “We do still grow cane,” Daniel says, “but we no longer export it – we keep it for our rum.” Ah yes, the Madeiran rum, Aguardente de Cana, which I was keen to try later.
As we follow the levada, we come to a section teetering high above the Socorridos Valley, where we crouch through tunnels, dip under overhangs and, at points, seem to be dangling in mid-air (with a railing to keep us safe). Then we wind down
“The waves fizz on one side and another runner passes by on the other.
I feel like I’m in on a little secret.”
towards the ocean, following a springy boardwalk beneath crumbling cli s. The waves zz on one side, another runner passes by on the other – but there are no tourists. I feel like I’m in on a little secret. Finally, we reach downtown Funchal just as the fairy-lights are icking on along the Avenue do Mar as if in celebration of our e orts.
That evening, I have a poncha cocktail – the local mix of Aguardente de Cana, honey, sugar and lemon. Having seen the slopes that nurture these ingredients helps me to fully appreciate the avours, and all that exercise makes me enjoy my reward even more.
I sign up for another run with Daniel. This time, we head to Madeira’s north-west, the side of the island that gets the brunt of the weather. Miraculously, between the towns of Porto da
Cruz and Machico, a precipitous path known as the Vereda do Larano exists. Maps show the old trail, which has long been used by islanders, but tracing it with someone who knows the way leaves you far freer to enjoy the view.
Starting in Porto da Cruz, we climb up into the rural hinterland before we hit the Larano’s precipitous ledge. White swell slaps the rocks below. At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the ight I had to catch or the deadlines that would be waiting. Just the sea salt and sweat salt on my face, and the breeze clearing my head.
Running isn’t for everyone. But people of all shapes, speeds and sizes can feel the bene ts, both mental and physical. Perhaps running lifts your mood, diminishes your stresses, satis es your competitive side, loosens your joints, keeps you sane. Maybe it does all those things; or maybe it does none. But whether natural born runner or not, sight-jogging is worth trying, at least once. For me, it’s now the key to making the most of my travelling adventures, getting o the beaten path and discovering things I would never have seen. Just remember to pack your trainers.