Belfast Telegraph

Have some Madeira, m’dear? Everything you need to know about the islands

The wonderfully mild climate of the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean islands of Madeira and neighbouring Porto Santo have earned them the title of ‘the islands of eternal spring’.

Climate-wise Madeira enjoys hot (never too hot), dry summers and mild, wet (rarely too wet) winters. Inveterate pool-loungers will opt for the lazy hazy days of high summer but visit in spring or autumn and you’re likely to have at least nine hours of beautiful sunshine to enjoy each day with temperatures just perfect for sightseeing.

And there’s plenty to see and do here, with stunning gardens (private as well as public) high on the must-see agenda. The combination of gentle climate and super-fertile soil allows tropical and subtropical plants to flourish in stunning abundance and, everywhere, you’ll see lush and lavish displays to rival the best that the Chelsea Flower Show might offer.

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A real must-do that you’ll find nowhere else in the world is the Monte Toboggan Run, a thrill ride with authenticity behind it!  It first originated in the early 19th century as a speedy downhill public transport option in Madeira’s capital city, hilly Funchal. Today tourists love the frankly terrifying experience of sitting in a large wicker basket with greased wooden runners and hurtling down a supremely slippery two kilometre route.  Thankfully, the baskets are skilfully guided by traditional ‘carreiros’ dressed in white, with straw hats and black rubber boots that are used as brakes.

Authenticity is big here. While Madeira welcomes more than a million visitors every year – many of them cruise line passengers – the destination has retained its charming and distinctive character. Even its shopping reflects quality and elegance and you’re likely to bring home wicker of leather craft creations or perhaps some of the island’s beautiful traditional embroidery. Retail therapy also includes great brand names and glorious shopping arcades and centres. Shops are open from Monday to Friday between 9am-7pm but usually close for lunch from 1pm-3pm. On Saturdays most shops open mornings only from 9am-1pm, exceptions being the island’s gorgeous modern malls which open at 9am and usually close between 10pm-12am.

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One of its most characterful and authentic attractions is Madeira fortified wine, once a favourite tipple with Brits, and currently (remember where you heard it!) enjoying a renaissance.  Sit back in one of those beautiful gardens with a ruby coloured glass of Madeira, possibly served with a slice of something sweet (often Madeira cake) alongside and you will see why. Utterly delicious and stylishly civilised!

Just in case you’re succumbing too readily to that wonderful laid-back Madeira vibe, this is also a great place to get active, with everything from whale and dolphin watching, diving and snorkelling to canyoning, jeep tours and trekking.

Turn your steps to this marvellous destination: meet the Madeira Promotion Bureau at Belfast Telegraph Holiday World over January 18 – 20 at Titanic Exhibition Centre.

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