“I don’t know if it’s a road,” our driver Rui jokes. This particular path is “only 30% steep,” he says with a smile as we hurtle down one of Madeira’s notorious roads, through some of the lush greenery of the island. In front of the windows, I see tall sugar canes, avocado plants and bananas laden with clusters of green fruits.
“In Madeira, normally the cars are bigger than the roads – you have to fold the mirrors,” Rui continues, pointing to the mirrors. Maybe he’s only half kidding this time. While it is easy to get around through the network of tunnels that cut through the mountains, the ancient narrow roads that wind around the island can certainly seem narrow.
They also offer some of the most awe-inspiring views, and as a non-driving person I’m very happy to sit in the back of the 4 × 4 as we reach a coastal section of the road and contemplate the Sparkling Atlantic. . It’s a warm and clear fall day as we cycle through our tour, the sun illuminating the already awe-inspiring natural colors that surround us.
On a stop in Santana on the north coast – where most people go to see the traditional casa de colmo (thatched roof houses) – I can’t take my eyes off the bright blue hydrangeas growing next to it. the road, the bright orange bird shrubs of heavenly flowers and the pale yellow angel’s trumpets hanging over an archway overlooking the sea. The palm house at Kew Gardens is the palm grove of Kew Gardens, but it is is wonderfully less humid here.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise though. Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, sits just under 500 miles west of the Moroccan coast, and despite three different microclimates, it is relatively warm year round. It is no more than 55 km (34 miles) long and 22 km wide, but from its forests to its mountains and jagged coastline, it is a rich region for any nature lover to visit. .
After stopping for lunch on the terrace of the nearby Quinta do Furao, where I first experience the Madeiran tradition of pairing the sword with a sweet baked banana (honestly, it works), we take another route. winding to reach the viewpoint of Miradouro do Guindaste on the northeast side.
The dramatic coastline juts out into the distance as we walk along a dusty path shaped by the curving edge of the cliff, revealing coves of pebbles and black sand below that are only accessible by boat. On a clear day, you can see the island of Porto Santo, which is part of the Madeira archipelago, in front of you.
Sunsets are special too, and while there are dotted miradouros that promise excellent views of the event, the Sol Poente restaurant in Ponta do Sol on the south coast is a particularly good place to have a drink. watching the sun go down. A short distance east, I wait for the sun to disappear behind a mountain from a lounge chair at our hotel, Socalco, in Calhetta, while taking one last look at the sea before it gets too dark.
Catching the sunrise takes a little more effort. The next morning, I leave an hour before dawn – luckily only at 7 am – to drive to the ancient forest of Fanal laurisilva in the northwest. It’s cold at dawn as we walk a short distance uphill. We are already over 1,000 m (3,280 feet) above sea level, but visibility is poor at dusk.
I still find going up the stairs or walking uphill to be a bit difficult since I have Covid, and I have to stop halfway to catch my breath, but otherwise it’s an easy and accessible climb. It’s worth it when the sky turns red as the sun begins to appear on the horizon. We sit still, watching a dark orange spread across the clouds and the sea, before everything around us is drenched in a pink tint. We celebrate with a flask of coffee.
In the forest, we are surrounded by laurels more than 1000 years old, where ferns grow their trunks and where lichens hang from their branches, marking the purity of the air.
In a small clearing, we enjoy an early morning yoga class. There is no one else around, which helps us meditate after doing a few simple poses and stretches. As we lie down with our eyes closed, our teacher walks between us using different chimes to create a relaxed atmosphere before setting off on foot through the trees. As we are ready to leave, a bus full of visitors appears and we realize how lucky we are to have enjoyed the solitude.
Starting early means it’s possible to pack a lot in the day, and we head to the northern parish of Seixal where we exchange our hiking boots for swimsuits. There are not many beaches in Madeira – and most are pebble – but its coast can be explored from the water if the sea is calm enough, and it is with pleasure that we jump in kayaks for the To do. Hugging the shore, we cross the clear water and gaze up at the towering mountains, past waterfalls spilling out of the rocks. After going around a section, we see the cars above on the winding coastal road, and the view is equally spectacular from below.
Once our kayaks are back on the beach, I take the opportunity to soak up the warm rays of the sun before jumping into the sea to cool off, enjoying how the salt water helps me float. After a few laps, I wash the black sand one last time and we go for a well-deserved drink in the sun.
The Nature Socalco Hotel in Calheta offers sea views and has a vegetable and herbal garden, where the staff cultivate the products used in the restaurant. Bed and breakfast from £ 103.
Follow the path around the park of the organic hotel Quinta de Serra, in Estreito de Camara de Lobos, to discover its vineyard, its vegetable garden and its many fruit and citrus trees. Each room has a view of the sea or the gardens, and from £ 114 for bed and breakfast.
Fish lovers will eat well, with fresh swordfish, tuna, octopus and saber served across the island. Impressive sea views can be found on the terrace of Quinta do Furao (quintadofurao.com/en/restaurant), near Santana, and at Quinta Das Vinhas (qdvmadeira.com) in the town of Calheta, which has its own vineyard. . Both restaurants strive to use local produce, and both have Madeira table wine as well as the view.
What to see
If the sea is too rough for swimming, visit the natural pools of Porto Moniz.
The Adventure Madeira Jeep tours will take you all over the island, from its third highest peak, Pico do Arieiro, to the Ribeiro Frio Natural Park. Private half-day rental for up to six people starts at € 220 (approx £ 185) and € 320 for a full day.
Yoga sessions in the forest with Emilie Mangoni start at € 80 for individuals, € 108 for two to five people and € 136 for large groups.
Arrivals from the UK must show proof of coronavirus vaccination or recovery from Covid-19, or a negative PCR test (72 hours before travel) or antigen test (48 hours before travel) .