One of the earliest fans of the island of Madeira H N Coleridge, nephew of the poet, wrote after a visit in 1825: “I should think the situation of Madeira the most enviable on the whole Earth. It ensures every European comfort with almost every tropical luxury.”
It is indeed hard to argue with this assessment; even today, this volcanic island offers jaw-dropping scenery, farms on terraces on steep hillsides, waterfalls, sleepy fishing villages, crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean, mountains and gorges and fine food and wine!
There are some top hotels on the island too; including Belmond Reid’s Palace. Set in clifftop gardens overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the capital city of Funchal, this elegant, stylish and historic hotel (Churchill spent much time here during his retirement) does not disappoint and lives up to it’s reputation as one of the best hotels in Europe.
For a compact city, Funchal has a lot to offer; there is Monte, the hill top suburb of the city which can be reached by cable car in about 20 minutes and where you will find the beautiful Botanical Gardens. The trip downhill from Monte can be even more exciting if you choose to ride on one of the Toboggans which originated in the 19th century and are surprisingly still allowed to operate.
Surprising, because these toboggans are primarily made out of wicker and two wooden runners and are ‘driven’ by two men dressed in white, with straw hats and black rubber boots that are used as brakes! All this is possible by using ropes and greased up rags to grease the wooden runners.
The ride starts off below the steps of the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church. This is a 2km long ride down steep and winding roads that will lead you to your finishing point. It’s fast, it’s crazy and it’s considered a highlight by most people who do it!
Without a doubt, a trip to Madeira, combined with a few days in Lisbon (a short flight away) would provide the most amazing itinerary for a group!