Madeira adventure holidays are adrenaline seekers’ best-kept secret
With spectacular scenery, a subtropical climate, hiking trails and vineyards, Madeira, 250 miles north of the Canaries, provides year-round entertainment. The super friendly and super funny locals are hugely proud of their island and many told us they see themselves as Madeirans first, Portuguese second: we were made to feel welcome everywhere we went.
The island has just 250,000 inhabitants but welcomes about two million tourists a year. And while tourism is a vital part of national income, it’s not aggressively shoved at you.
In the past Madeira’s been seen as an older person’s holiday destination, but this is changing with activities like canyoning [also known as gorge walking], a growing art scene and very trendy restaurants. Ryanair now flies there regularly from Stansted and Manchester, making it more accessible to all budgets.
Where to stay and play…
VidaMar is a beautifully appointed hotel right on the Atlantic. We loved sitting on our balcony sipping coffee, gazing out at the ocean. There’s a sauna, jacuzzi, indoor and outdoor pools, a ladder to the sea and big fluffy robes too – bliss!
Hiking was what we had come for, enjoying a 12km walk on the Levada – irrigated channels that run through the countryside. We did the breathtaking ‘25 Fontes’ or 25 Fountains walk, catching sight of trout in the crystal-clear waters. Bigger fish can be spotted on the island’s whale watching and dolphin tours. It’s recommended to book in advance.
Take a cable car over the capital Funchal for a bird’s eye view of the red and orange tiled roofs. Or ride a toboggan down from Carreiros do Monte. At €30 (£25) for two people, it’s a bonkers way to experience the capital, perched in a giant basket on wheels pulled along by two guys in boater hats!
Funchal’s most famous local is Cristiano Ronaldo. You can easily spot his imposing house, where he and his family spent lockdown. Football fans should visit the CR7 Museum or take a selfie with his bronze statue outside.
What to do
Madeira is known for its fortified wine and there are a host of tours on offer. We did a full day trip costing €130 (£108), which took in four separate vineyards, all with a different vibe.
We started off in Funchal at Blandy’s, founded in 1811 by Englishman John Blandy, from Dorset. The cellar tour gives an insight into the wine-making process as well as the chance to sample the products.
Next we crossed the island marvelling at its UNESCO World Heritage Laurisilva Forest to Sao Vicente. The Barbusano vineyard in the hills is the perfect rural setting for wine tasting and a hearty lunch.
Many farmers use a pergola system on their vineyards, with vines on top and crops such as potatoes and carrots grown underneath. As the soil here is volcanic, it’s also brilliant for growing their shorter and sweeter bananas, which are picked by hand. You’ll see them dotted everywhere along the terraced landscapes.
Next it was on to Seixal and the family-run Duarte Caldeira and Filhos, some of the few islanders to try their hand at fizz.
And finally to Barbeito’s in Camara De Lobos, where modern innovation and technology produce some very special fortified wines.
Where to eat
Seafood is big on the menu here. We ate at Peixaria no Mercado, a very stylish restaurant next door to the Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal’s fruit, vegetable and flower market that’s bursting with colour.
The produce is incredible and the fish market at the back is also a cacophony of noise and smells on market days.
An island speciality is the meat skewer: chunks of beef cooked simply with herbs and oil and then skewered on a bay branch. For more modern twists on Madeiran food, we sampled many delicious dishes at Kampo, which is one of the places to be seen on the island – book in advance.
Finally, head to the old town and sample the local poncha – rum and orange or lemon juice and honey – a sticky drink that will leave you in a sticky mess if you have too many!
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