Madeira adventure holidays are adrenaline seekers’ best kept secret

Hanging above a sun-drenched waterfall, I let the suspended rope edge through my fingers. After a lifelong fear of heights, I was abseiling down a vertical drop.

Forests of eucalyptus and pine, sweet blackberry bushes and towering prune trees framed my descent, and as I plunged into waist-deep mountain water, I knew I’d left all my preconceptions about Madeira at the top.

I was canyoning on the third day of a one-week trip to the Atlantic island, an autonomous region of Portugal famous for its wine, flowers and Cristiano Ronaldo.

It is a destination for retired Brits, Portuguese honeymooners and natives returning to settle after spending a wild youth in Lisbon.

Or so I thought. Madeira, rich with lush, imposing landscapes, rugged coastlines and steep, volcanic edges, is also a playground for the adventurous.

Among the abseiling, swimming and jumping, canyoning brought an unexpected delight

 

Among the abseiling, swimming and jumping, canyoning brought an unexpected delight.

As we ­clambered through remote gorges and bushy overgrowth, we picked fruit and herbs straight from the trees. It was an experience illustrative of the entire trip, because if you want to sample Madeira, you have to taste it.

A short food and wine tour in Funchal, Madeira’s capital, provided me with a whistlestop tour of an exceptionally exhaustive menu.

Tasting Madeira is savouring a glass of medium-rich reserve after a generous meal of freshly baked “Bolo do Caco” bread, limpets slathered in garlic butter, and the ugly but ­delicious black scabbardfish served with passion fruit sauce.

Other typical dishes include beef roasted to perfection on laurel wood skewers, fried corn and a paradise of fruity chocolate puddings

Other typical dishes include beef roasted to perfection on laurel wood skewers, fried corn and a paradise of fruity chocolate puddings.

With a 500-year history, Madeira wine is recognised and appreciated around the world. George ­Washington liked a glass, and Shakespeare, Napoleon and Churchill were also big fans. But it’s not the most popular drink on the island.

Instead, locals mix aguardente de cana – distilled alcohol made from sugar-cane juice – with honey, lemon and orange juice.

The result, Poncha, is drunk everywhere at all times of day, and it certainly hits the spot.

I was canyoning on the third day of a one-week trip to the Atlantic island

 

Walking off a food-induced coma is also not a problem as Madeira’s unforgettable landscape provides a whole host of on-foot activities.

Walking in the mountains along the levadas, a unique irrigation system of narrow water channels, is breathtaking.

My base, the well-located VidaMar Resort Hotel, offered multiple freshwater swimming pools

The channels were carved by early settlers (or, more likely, their slaves) and now form an unofficial hiking network through beautiful and otherwise inaccessible countryside.

Madeira’s crumbling landscape of deep troughs and gnarly ridges also offers multiple sport opportunities for adrenalin seekers. Mountain-biking, trail-running, climbing and jeep safaris are just a few on the list.

And despite a lack of sandy beaches, watersports are abundant. Whether you want to paraglide high above the waves or paddleboard on to the surface, there is an activity for everyone.

Watching the animals in their natural habitat – so playful and in such a large quantity – was incredibly beautiful

When I took to the sea it was on a catamaran and we were in search of some other Madeiran locals.

Thanks to its ocean location, whales and dolphins can be seen off the coast all year round. As guides with ­binoculars scoured the waves, our lazy eyes wandered the coastline until, suddenly, a dolphin calf flung itself against the horizon.

Within minutes, we were among a 300-strong throng.

The dolphins were not afraid of the catamaran and swam alongside us, jumping, flipping and racing as though the vessel was a big brother. Watching the animals in their natural habitat – so playful and in such a large ­quantity – was incredibly beautiful.

I also spent four days of my trip doing nothing but swimming, relaxing and venturing into Funchal’s old town

A couple of hours before boarding the catamaran, I took a cable car to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden. High in the hills, overlooking Funchal, 100,000 native and exotic plant species enjoy a perfect climate and extremely fertile soil.

I got lost in a maze of azaleas, orchids and proteas before suddenly emerging at the central lake, heaving with koi, turtles and swans.

On my way back to Funchal, I decided to ditch the cable car for a sled ride. The traditional Monte Toboggans – which look like wicker baskets on skis – were used in the 19th century as a means of transport by locals in a hurry.

Today, straw-hatted “carreiros” steer nervous tourists down polished tarmac at speeds of up to 30mph. The descent from Monte to Livramento is a mile or so and takes about 10 minutes.

There is an amazingly mild climate of between 25C in summer and 17C in winter, with warm winds and moderate humidity

All good things that traditionally attract older folk to Madeira still exist. Within 10 minutes of landing at Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira ­International Airport (yes, you read that correctly) a taxi driver told me every Madeiran’s middle name is “hospitality”.

There is an amazingly mild climate of between 25C in summer and 17C in winter, with warm winds and moderate humidity.

My base, the well-located VidaMar Resort Hotel, offered multiple ­freshwater swimming pools, ­attentive bar staff, live music, a gym – including exercise classes – and a beautiful spa overlooking the ocean.

While I took advantage of the endless activities on offer, I also spent four days of my trip doing nothing but swimming, relaxing and venturing into Funchal’s old town for dinner.

One thing is for certain – the older folk have it exactly right.

Book the holiday

loveholidays offers seven nights at the 5 star Vidamar Resorts Madeira in Funchal from £612 per person on a half board basis (breakfast and dinner) including return flights from Gatwick on 10th June 2019 based on 2 adults sharing.

£687 from Manchester on 14th June (on same basis as above)

You can find out more and book at loveholidays or call 0203 870 6844.

Price subject to availability and change.

Read More

Summer 2019 holiday deals

Source

more recommended stories

  • Disney shares first look at new Star Wars themed hotel in Walt Disney World

    Star Wars fans are going to.

  • Should you recline your seat during a flight? Passengers weigh in on debate

    There are plenty of unwritten rules.

  • Epic cruise around the world to sail 245 days but you need £82,999 to be on board

    An epic cruise around the world.

  • Cheap hotels in Dubrovnik and budget-friendly apartments to bookmark

    Dubrovnik’s medieval buildings and historic sites.

  • British Airways’ latest sale has thousands of flights for less than £50

    British Airways is giving holidaymakers the.

  • Scenic Eclipse mega yacht has private helicopters and a submarine for guests

    First pictures have been released of.

  • Scenic Eclipse’s helicopters can be folded away into the ship and it’s so cool

    A ship with hidden helicopters sounds.

  • James Bond fans can stay in Ian Fleming’s villa where he wrote all of the books

    James Bond fans could go on.

  • Inside the dreamy safari lodges with private valets and Zambezi river views

    Your bucket list could be about.

  • Inside the double decker bus transformed into unusual UK glamping spot

    Sleeping in a double decker bus.

  • Ryanair and Irish pilots union enter talks in bid to avoid strikes this summer

    Ryanair and union Forsa have entered.

  • Las Vegas breaks are going for temptingly cheap including your hotel and flights

    Las Vegas has everything you could.

  • Best UK places for thrill-seekers looking for their next adventure

    Not everybody wants a holiday that’s.

  • British kids reveal the simple things that make a holiday special

    Family holidays are meant to be.

  • Harry Potter fans can ride the real-life Hogwarts Express in the UK

    Not receiving a Hogwarts letter is.

  • Brits don’t know popular UK landmarks and only 50 per cent recognise this castle

    Brits lack basic knowledge of popular.

  • Best things to see in Punta Cana and where to find cheap holidays

    Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

  • Best dog-friendly hotels in the UK with afternoon teas and spas for your pooch

    Any dog owner will know that.

  • Top tips to reduce the risk of getting DVT from a flight

    When you’re on a flight, getting.

  • UK courthouse and jail becomes hostel and you can sleep in former inmates’ cells

    Spending a night in the slammer.

  • Rome named cheapest major city for tourists to visit in 2019

    Rome has been named the cheapest.

  • Dreamy New Zealand cruise explores the best of the fjords and cities

    New Zealand is one of those.

  • Gatwick strikes to go ahead as strike dates confirmed for August

    Brits heading on holiday this summer.

  • Name the mystery location where you’ll find this palace and you could win a prize

    The Mirror Travel mystery picture for.

  • Jet2.com introduces new gluten-free and vegan in-flight meal options

    When you’re vegan or gluten-free, finding.

  • Hotel delivers puppies and Prosecco to your room in new room service offering

    Puppies and Prosecco are two of.

  • Twilight fans can now stay in Bella Swan’s house as filming spot turns Airbnb home

    Twilight fans can live out their.

  • Eurostar passengers face long delays as French workers carry out heatwave repairs

    Passengers travelling on the Eurostar between.

  • What to do when your luggage is lost or missing including your compensation rights

    There’s nothing like lost luggage to.

  • Stansted Airport strikes suspended this weekend as staff vote on new deal

    Passengers flying on easyJet from London.

  • British Airways pilot strikes – what we know so far about potential action

    British Airways pilots could potentially go.

  • You can now book stays inside a giant avocado where everything is themed

    We’ve seen some pretty quirky holiday.