If a real-life set were needed to represent the Garden of Eden, a quiet corner of Madeira island would fit the bill. With glorious year round temperatures and an incredibly diverse landscape, this place is a slice of paradise within easy reach. Madeira rests in the Atlantic Ocean at the tip of an inactive volcano, 300 miles west of Morocco and less than four hours flight from London or Paris. Various low-cost airlines provide flights here for affordable prices, and there are many well-priced package deals on offer for the budget-conscious traveler.
Geologically speaking, Madeira is part of the African tectonic plate, but culturally speaking it is wonderfully, unashamedly Portuguese. A visit to this beautiful island brings the visitor a strong sense of being somewhere exotic, whilst also feeling safe and welcomed. As the plane lands on Madeira’s incredible runway on stilts, you know you are in for a treat. Surprisingly, Madeira still remains reasonably unknown, in spite of having won ‘Europe’s Leading Island’ at the World Travel Awards for five years in a row. Its status as a chart-topping location is bound to soar, so if you are looking for a fresh holiday destination for 2019 that suits any budget, Madeira is it.
A captivating capital – Funchal is the island’s capital, a bustling place where abundant good food and cultural delights are to be found. The eponymous Madeira wine, a fortified wine made on the island and now famous around the globe, can be enjoyed with a meal in one of the capital’s many tavernas or restaurants, or savoured in more depth through one of the many available tours and tastings. Make sure that you head to the ‘Mercado dos Lavradores’, the main market whose colorful displays look as good as they taste. If you appreciate arts and crafts, the local hand-made embroidery still takes pride of place in many shops. Madeiran women in traditional costume can often be spotted in doorways around the city, sitting quietly and sewing their immaculate floral designs onto pristine white cloth. Or perhaps you feel like experiencing a more exhilarating local tradition? In this case, head to the Monte area of Funchal and take a hilarious, high-speed toboggan ride in a wicker basket sledge. Yes, really.
Swim and surf – Madeira has many coves and beaches to explore, from the unusual black sand of spots like ‘Prainha’ in Caniçal, a favorite of the locals, to the gentle family-friendly beaches available in Machico and Calheta. If you prefer to swim in more protected waters, you can head to Porto Moniz in the north of the island, where black lava pools have been gently shaped into an unexpected and stunning natural swimming complex. Among surfers and body boarders, Madeira is known as ‘the Hawaii of the Atlantic’ – in other words, if you want to catch a wave, this is the place to be. Various surf schools around the island offer lessons for those who want to explore this ocean sport with a little extra guidance. Alternatively, you can venture inland to discover the secret rock pools and waterfalls hiding in Madeira’s interior.
Sports for all – the geography of the island makes Madeira an extreme sports dream. Mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding and canyoning are increasingly popular among tourists, and a variety of companies now offer affordable days of adventure for those who like to live a little more on the wild side.On the less extreme end of the sporting spectrum, Madeira is home to two 18 hole gold courses, so if you fancy teeing off to spectacular views, you’ve picked the right Dolphin watching and fishing trips are also on offer if you prefer to move at a more leisurely pace, with competitive prices to suit even the tightest budget.
Natural beauty – the Laurel Forest or ‘Laurisilva’ is a subtropical rainforest that caps part of the island. It is a Unesco protected World Heritage site. This rare type of forest was once widespread, and Madeira is now home to the largest surviving remnant in the world. The diverse scenery of this little island is remarkable, with the jagged mountains of the interior giving way to swathes of rustling banana trees in the south and a patchwork of cultivated terraces and thatched huts in the north. The whole island is chequered with a network of walking trails known as ‘levadas’. I could wax lyrical for days on end about the scenery that can be experienced on these levada walks, but I suggest you see for yourself by making Madeira your holiday destination for 2019.