Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Travel: Pour the ponchas! The tastes of Madeira

© Press Association ImagesThe coastline of Funchal, Madeira.
The coastline of Funchal, Madeira.

As our 4X4 climbs the mountain slopes, the tangled arms of vines and fruit trees reach out to greet us. The mist is thicker the higher up the mountain we travel, and the scent of eucalyptus become increasingly intense.

I land in Madeira after a four-hour flight from Gatwick. Our first day is spent visiting our tour guide Diogo’s favourite corners of the island, from hidden coves and volcanic beaches, to craggy mountains and misty forests. “Wait!” says Diogo, leaping from the driver’s seat. Perplexed, we watch as he climbs the bank of the little forest road and plucks an oval-shaped fruit from the foliage. He splits it down the middle and holds it out to us.

“Banana passionfruit,” he says. “Here, taste it.” Tart and faintly floral, it’s one of the many fruits I’ll be eating straight from the trees during my visit.

If you’ve never tried it, Madeira wine is a type of fortified wine, somewhere between a dessert wine and a port. It’s a slow drink, between 19 and 23% alcohol, and can only be made from seven very specific varieties of grape.

I sample a glass at Quinta das Vinhas, a 17th Century family-owned vineyard and hotel on the western side of the island. It couldn’t be more picturesque, with its private terracotta cottages and rows of grape vines stretching out to the sea.

© Press Association Images
Discovering Madeira in a 4WD.

Isabel, the mastermind behind the vineyard, talks me through the science behind the flavour, running through the 70 varieties she grows. Afterwards, I dine at the hotel restaurant which serves all island-grown vegetables and locally-sourced fish. I opt for trigger fish, which comes wrapped in a fig leaf and sizzling on a hot stone.

Swapping the countryside for a more urban setting, I continue my journey to Funchal, Madeira’s capital. There’s plenty to see and do, from the stunning Romanesque cathedral to visiting the São Tiago Fortress, exploring the city’s many wine cellars and taking a cable-car trip up the side of the mountain.

For me, food is the highlight. With a classic, Mediterranean café feel, Peixaria do Mercado serves fresh fish. During my visit, there’s a choice of black scabbard fish, parrotfish, red snapper and tuna.We’re also treated to a glass of poncha, a traditional Madeiran cocktail of rum, honey and citrus juice, said to have been taken out to sea by fishermen to help them keep warm and stave off seasickness. It’s the perfect sweet finale to yet another glorious meal.

After a chilled day on land, it’s back into the mountains for a day of exploring. There are more than 1,800 miles of levadas running through Madeira. These man-made water channels, once used to irrigate farms, have been transformed into a network of walking trails. The 25 Fountains Walk is 2.8 miles long and takes about three hours.

As we walk, our guide, Andrei, stops to point out birds, such as the Madeira firecrest with its yellow and blue-crested head, and the trocaz pigeon, nesting in the native laurel trees. It’s a walk you could easily make alone, though a guide is worth the small fee to open your eyes to the otherwise hidden magic of your surroundings. Guided walks by MBTours cost £38.

Having clocked more than 15,000 steps, we return to Castanheiro Hotel in Funchal for a well-deserved afternoon in the Til Spa. It has everything you need to rejuvenate – an indoor pool with hydrotherapy jets, sauna, steam room and a full menu of treatments using luxury organic products.

Now feeling fully relaxed, it’s time for a final supper at AKUA, yet another of the island’s top fish restaurants. Seated in front of the open kitchen, we watch chefs prepare an incredible three-course menu. To start, we share a sweetened ceviche, delicately seasoned sardines and crisped cod tacos. Then on to the mains for seared tuna and a rich razor crab risotto, before finishing with a white chocolate ice cream and olive-caramel puree.

The memory of those fresh flavours lingers as I prepare to head home to cooler weather. Although small in size and so close to home, Madeira promises a sense of escapism that feels a million miles away.


P.S. 

Though technically an autonomous region of Portugal, Madeira island lies just off the north-west coast of Africa, blessing it with a subtropical climate and otherworldly landscape. Two thirds of the island is national park, protected by Unesco and free to grow wildly.

Factfile: 

Doubles at Quinta das Vinhas (qdvmadeira.com) start from £130 a night with breakfast. Doubles at Castanheiro Boutique Hotel (castanheiroboutiquehotel.com) in Funchal start from £152 with breakfast. For more info visit madeiraallyear.com.