Madeira is a little piece of Portugal in the Atlantic just 540 miles south west of Europe and 360 miles west of North Africa. This location, almost on the same latitude as Marrakech, guarantees a mild climate, with temperatures rarely rising higher than 85 degrees in the summer, or dipping lower than 56 in the winter months.
This is a very popular spot for British people to visit during the English winter. It is only 3 hours 30 minutes from London. It’s a perfect year round island destination that is perfect for sunshine and flowers and reasonably priced. My parents went there regularly in February to escape the bad weather in the north of England. I have seen it on several cruise ship routes, and it is worth visiting. It is warm enough for shirtsleeves during the day and the flame trees and bougainvillea are a riot of color, heralding more of the year round floral delights to come.
In the 15th century, the early Portuguese settlers found plenty of water in the mountains and the north, but not enough for irrigation elsewhere so work began to build the levadas, a system of aqueducts that carry water all over the island. This was a great feat of engineering for its time, with workers being suspended on ropes over precipitous drops. It not only solved the islands agricultural problems, but created around 1300 miles of footpaths through some of its most spectacular and often otherwise inaccessible scenery.
Originally maintenance paths alongside the watercourses, walks along the levadas attract thousands of visitors each year and range in difficulty from a simple stroll to treks that can challenge even serious walkers.
We used to do “a taster” along part of the Levada dos Tornos, which traverses the mountain above the capital, Funchal, for 16 miles from Monte to Camacha. You take a bus ride from Funchal, and join the footpath at Curral dos Romeiros and walk a couple of miles to the Hortensia Tea Rooms and spend a pleasant hour in the garden enjoying afternoon tea and a slice of delicious home made apple pie.
There are any number of other ways to get around the island. Madeira is only 35 miles long by 13 miles wide, so hiring a taxi to tour is easy. Do fix a price before you set off.
You can join a tour bus, and it's a good value, including lunch at approximately 40 Euro per person.
Funchal is a charming city, hosting most of the island’s hotels and holiday flats. Grand old dames such as the famous Reid’s Palace are now joined on their spectacular seaside site by newer resorts such as the Pestana Club. This is a popular stop over for cruise ships, and a bustling marina has lots of good waterside restaurants and pleasure boat skippers vie for your custom. You will see whales and dolphins if you take a cruise.
The market hall in the old quarter of town is where you can taste and buy exotic fruits and boggle at strange fish such as the espada (black scabbard) that’s on many of the local restaurant menus.
Great place for information is the Portuguese Tourist Office at www.visitportugal.com
Flowers, both exotic and more familiar varieties are everywhere. If gardening is your passion, a good time to visit would be during the annual Flower Festival normally held two weeks after Easter when the streets are awash with flowers and floats.
Take the cable car that runs from the harbor up to Monte, where you can try another iconic Madeiran experience by sliding down the hill on one of the famous wicker-work sledges. Or, you can continue up further still on a newer cable car to the delightful Botanical Gardens.
Madiera is a great place to buy tablecloths, lace hankies, and pottery.
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.