Mountain

Mountain aloes, Madeira. Danny Beath 2009 Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year shortlist

The island of Madeira, hit by deadly flash floods last weekend, remains open to visitors, but walking trails are still being checked for safety.

Local tourism officials and tour operators say the damage is largely confined to the less-visited south of the island, and that the airport and hotels in the capital, Funchal, are open as usual.

Madeira receives over a million visitors a year, drawn by its mild climate, abundant flora and extensive network of 'levadas' - mini canals flanked by footpaths. The island's scenic mountain trails, rocky coastline and hill villages make it a popular destination for UK hiking groups.

Our local agent has confirmed that 60% of the walks are OK, said Catherine Crone, MD of walking holiday specialist Headwater. He was unable to reach the remaining 40% - largely hotel-to-hotel routes - because of problems with access roads, but will do so in the next day or two. All the hotels are fine.

Steve Jack of tour operator InnTravel concurred. The reports we are getting back confirm that the infrastructure in the north of the island [the most popular with visitors] is not badly affected, while parts of the south have been severely disrupted.

I'm told the equivalent of the forestry commission has already started inspecting the levadas, and we should know more soon about the extent of the damage.

The floods were triggered by heavy rains on Friday, and claimed at least 42 lives, including one British tourist whose taxi was swept away by the floodwaters.

A number of people remain missing, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is currently advising Britons in Madeira to make contact with their tour operator, family or the FCO. The FCO's official advice remains cautious: The airport and main roads are open but side roads have been badly affected. Communications have suffered some disruption. Visitors are advised to stay away from central Funchal, where a clear-up operation is underway, and from the slopes of the mountains, which may still be unstable.

However, Sean Tipton of ABTA, the Travel Association, claimed there was no need for travellers to change their plans: The hotels on the island have been largely unaffected, the airport is open and flights from the UK are operating as normal.