Lying 500km off the west coast of Morocco, Madeira lies on the same fracture zone in the earth’s crust as the Azores and the Canaries but without the active volcanoes. The landscape is rugged. Windswept mountainous peaks and soaring cliffs are softened by amazing colourful flowers and wooded valleys. The island has a justified reputation for year long sunshine and provides a great escape from British winters. Less known is the sheer number of activities available on the island. Walking is fabulous (see below) but it is also a great place to visit for mountain biking, canyoning, trail-running, surfing, paddle boarding and diving. Highlights on the island include:
- Luxury hotel stays in traditional quintas, often set in beautiful gardens.
- Botanical gardens in Funchal and elsewhere on the island.
- UNESCO protected Laurissilva forests.
- A number of festivals throughout the year including a Brazilian style carnival, Flower Festival, Wine Festival, Jazz Festival, Atlantic Festival featuring an international firework competition and the Wine Rally which is part of the Euro Rally Championship.
- The cable car up Monte behind Funchal followed by a descent in a wicker toboggan.
- Cruise to the Ilhas Desertas to spot dolphins, whales, turtles, seals and birds.
- Visit Madeira’s neighbour, Porto Santo, for its long gold sandy beaches.
There is some truly lovely walking on Madeira and with its sub-tropical climate walking is a year round activity here. The island is criss-crossed by old paths and tracks which make for interesting walking. But perhaps unique to Madeira, you can also walk alongside the numerous levadas which convey water around the island in channels, often bordered by colourful flowers. In short, Madeira offers walking for all levels from a gentle stroll along a levada to more mountainous routes. There is a really good walking guidebook, maps are adequate and guides can be hired locally. It is worth noting that many of the walks in Madeira are linear but Madeira has a good bus network and taxis are readily available to drop you off or pick you up at the beginning or end of a walk.