But back at our hotel, the Golden Residence, on the outskirts of Funchal, it couldn’t have felt further from this.
As we settled back at the Atlantic Restaurant, the sun setting over the ocean in front of us, we tucked in to Mediterranean dishes of bruschetta with grilled courgette and a local cottage cheese and herbs, freshly caught fish and risotto brimming with mushrooms, orange and rosemary. Sipping Portuguese wine it had that touch of luxury you find in the great European cities but without any of the pretension sometimes associated with it.
You can spot whales in these waters too, some year-round but between April and October in particular. And our next stop took us along the craggy coastline to Canical where the Museu de Baleia (or Whale Museum) told the uncomfortable tale of the island’s history of whaling, and the fate of these beautiful creatures as boats raced out to hunt them down.
The museum devotes half of its space to artefacts looking back on the island’s whaling industry, and half to a more positive look to the future and how the whales are now part of a programme to protect local waters.
Turning north again, we explored the timelessly beautiful town of Santana, its fairytale triangular houses with thatched roofs and colourful doorways, before setting off across the island’s centre back to Funchal.
Trusting our satnav to guide us home, we climbed and twisted as we headed up and up and up — realising with horror that the estimated time of
MONARCH flies to Madeira year-round from Birmingham, Manchester and Gatwick airports with fares from £83 return. www.monarch.co.uk
Rooms at The Golden Residence cost from around £78 based on two sharing, including breakfast. www. goldenresidencehotel. com.pt
arrival on the satnav was going up too. The rain started to fall, clouds descended and still we climbed. The rainbow that colourfully arched across the lush green valley was a crumb of a reward for a journey that felt never-ending.
Finding our way safely back down the mountain, we decided it would be safer for us to head out on foot to discover the delights of Funchal itself. This tiny capital exudes European charm, its cobbled streets full EDITED BY CATHY WINSTON firstname.lastname@example.org
Half-day tours with Green Devil Safari cost from around £30 per person, with full day tours from around £40. www.greendevilsafari. com
of tiny tavernas where flat traditional breads stuffed with cheese or chocolate accompany strong, black coffees.
While there are certainly new and exciting parts of Madeira to discover, we couldn’t resist indulging in some of the more traditional activities too, first of which had to be the cable car ride taking passengers from the seafront to the airy cool streets of Monte.
It is a firm tourist favourite but really shouldn’t be missed. The views across the bay were spectacular and it was fascinating to get a glimpse into the world of some of the residents — peering down into gardens with lines of washing swaying in the breeze, dogs tethered, cockerels calling and school children playing.
At the top we walked the breezy grounds of Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, hopping over stepping stones in ornamental ponds, rubbing heads of Buddha statues and enjoying the shade of the exotic plants which have been a fixture here for over fifty years.
And to get back down? A ‘toboggan’ ride. This century-old tradition sees pairs of men in straw boaters pull a wicker sledge down precipitous roads, steering and slowing it as needed. Putting our faith in the creaky sledge we whizzed along, my fists clenched tight, legs braced against the front as we swerved around parked cars and tried to smile at the walkers taking photos of us as we sped past.
As a well-deserved treat, we finished with one final classic: a visit to Reids, probably the island’s most famous hotel, in their spectacular Italian restaurant, Restaurante Villa Cipriani. Aubergine parmegiana was the best I’ve had and dishes of sea bass with spinach and beans, and Genovese vegetable soup were equally wonderful.
Standing on the hotel’s famous terrace as the sun set, beautiful reds and oranges shot through the sky.
Far from its reputation, we found an island that felt invigorated, alive and developing: a perfect mix of old European charm and youthful confidence.