A lush oasis flung 500 miles south-west of Portugal’s mainland, Madeira is a volcanic island boasting a sub-tropical climate, breathtakingly beautiful natural landscapes abound with unique flora and fauna plus a wealth of outdoor pursuits.
Funchal, the island’s capital, is home to a vibrant farmers market, an ornate 15th-century cathedral, laid-back squares and cobbled streets which lead to atmospheric bars, cafés and an excellent selection of restaurants. Dine at a local taverna to sample the local espada fish (it tastes far better than it looks) then head to the Old Town to mingle with friendly locals over a glass of sweet fortified wine or poncha – a refreshing alcoholic punch. Ride the cable car up from Funchal to the hilltop town of Monte, then speed back down the steep streets in a cerro de cesto – a traditional wicker toboggan.
Over 1,200 miles of irrigation pathways, known locally as levadas, cross mountainous slopes throughout the island. Keen walkers and hikers from across the globe come to explore these unique pathways that wind through UNESCO-protected laurel forests and past botanical gardens and sugar cane and banana plantations.
The Madeira Botanical Gardens are not to be missed, housing 2,500 species of plants from around the world including succulents, orchids, birds of paradise and those endemic to the island. Other adventures on offer include mountain biking, surfing, sailing, whale and dolphin-watching cruises, and scuba diving with barracudas, monkfish and manta rays among shipwrecks.