i-escaper Emylou is just back from a surprising trip to the pretty island of Madeira.
What comes to mind when you think of Madeira? Do you think of bingo and early-bird specials? Blue rinses and OAP discounts? Tweeness and chintz, and white cake with sweet wine?
Well, think again. Think dramatic emerald mountains and serpentine cliff-edge highways. Think vibrant local culture and lots of history. Think incredible hiking and paragliding, and scintillating wild adventures. In Madeira, you’re one step closer to Jurassic Park than your local park.
Somehow off many people’s radars, Madeira is a shock of green cliffs jutting out of the Atlantic. Not quite Morocco, not quite the Azores, not quite the Canaries – just out there on its lonesome in the middle of the ocean. This geographical isolation has led to its 300,000 inhabitants having a fierce sense of identity and a distinct culture of their own. It’s a cool place!
Not knowing what to expect, we ended up spending most of our holiday getting our boots muddy by hiking the island’s many levadas (high-altitude irrigation canals), then drinking cerveja in the sunshine in small fishing villages.
Our first base was Casas da Levada, a collection of 5 rustic-chic hobbit houses on Madeira’s rugged west coast. These self-catering cottages are simple but stylish, and brilliantly located for levada walks. Small, colourful and supremely cosy, they’re clustered around a central pool and are seriously good-value. The larger houses are great for families of up to 10, and there’s plenty of space for kiddies to run around, as well as friendly farm animals to meet (I loved waking up to the clucking of chickens!).
After enjoying the bucolic joys of the quiet side of the island, we ventured on to the vibrant capital, Funchal. Our stay at lush botanical gardens-cum-hotel Quinta da Casa Branca was perfect in so many ways. It’s a true spa hotel, where you can completely disappear from the outside world – all the fun of central Funchal lies just beyond the walls, though you would never know it. It would be easy to lounge here in your bathrobe and slippers for a week, sipping Portuguese wine and dipping in and out of the heated pools. Pure refined luxury.
Our last stop was The Vine, a striking design hotel smack-dab in central Funchal. We thought it had possibly the best rooftop pool in all of Madeira, with incredible views of the port and the colourful houses dotting the surrounding hills.
I would highly recommend giving this gorgeous little island a shot – and, with great deals on hotels, frequent flights and year-round sunshine, why on earth wouldn’t you want to?