THE four-island archipelago of Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, is a nature-filled paradise off the northwest coast of Africa. It’s the perfect location to get sunshine all year round and has myriad things to keep you busy with for such a small spit of land.
The vibrant green island is 1,000km away from the Portugal mainland but has been attracting travellers looking to exploit the 20ºC winter weather for more than 100 years. Read on to find out what to do in order to have magnificent weekend on the island:
Enjoy the flourishing food scene
Let’s get right down to business – the food. Madeira is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, so seafood is the name of the game. Fresh tuna is traditionally served with a piquant vinegar, garlic and oregano sauce, then one of Madeira’s staples, black scabbard, is a long fish only found in the depths of the ocean and is served with fried banana.
Another speciality is Espetada – meat cuts ranging from prime fillet to offal cooked on long skewers over hot coals, finished off in a local flatbread made with sweet potato filled with garlic butter.
Madeira’s climate provides the ideal conditions for lush vegetation to grow, producing some incredible fresh fruit. Cherries and plums grow in the lowlands, while higher up you can find mangos, avocados, guavas, passion fruit, cherimoya and araçais. Travellers can also find out how bananas are grown and harvested at a banana plantation guided tour.
Appreciate the exceptional wine heritage
The world-famous wines of the Portuguese mainland may be 1,000km away, but Madeira’s famous fortified wine is some of the best in Europe. Grapes are harvested between late August and early September, so this is the best time for wine aficionados to visit.
If those dates don’t work, Blandy’s Wine Lodge is open all year round and can be found in the centre of the capital city Funchal. Visitors here are invited to taste the finest wines on the island and explore 200 years of Madeira wine history whilst staying at a luxurious apartment.
Take your pick from the luxury hotels
Beautiful villas are scattered all over Madeira and are great for large parties, but they lack the level of pampering you may find in a luxury hotel. Luckily, Madeira’s south coast also has some great options for those seeking a healthy slice of opulence during their stay.
Reid’s Palace is a luxury hideaway in Funchal with heated outdoor swimming pools, a spa, sauna, tennis club, and sea views everywhere you look. Hotel staff can organise mountain walks and botanical tours, while the hotel’s Michelin-starred William Restaurant celebrates the island’s unique bounty. Meanwhile, Les Suites at The Cliff Bay is an exclusive five-star hotel that blends the island’s culture and history with comfort and relaxation, with its infinity pool looking out over the vast Ocean.
Get your dose of adrenaline
As well as being the ultimate spot to get some R&R, Madeira’s natural geography also makes it a thrill seeker’s paradise. Spectacular cliffs and deep valleys provide excellent paragliding locations (have a look at Aeroclube da Madeira or Madeira Adventure Kingdom), then the Parque Ecologico do Funchal offers a natural setting for canyoning – abseiling 15-metre cliffs or jumping from waterfalls into natural pools and swimming in forest rivers.
Madeira’s unique levadas are man-made irrigation channels built to provide the south with water from the north in the dry season and have created amazing waterfalls. Hotel guides can take guests on hikes to see the best ones, notably, Levada do Rei and Levada das 25 Fontes.
Furthermore, you cannot leave the island without a boat trip to see the 29 species of whales and dolphins that inhabit the waters. There is reportedly a 90 per cent chance you will see at least 1-2 species of dolphins and tour guides offer a money-back guarantee if they come up short, so don’t forget your camera.
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