The idyllic islands of the Atlantic are about as far from your ‘average package’ holiday’ as you can get! Step into a world full of magic, mystery and natural beauty. And the great thing is it’s only 4.40 hours flight time from mainland USA.
THE ATLANTIC ISLANDS
These hauntingly beautiful escapes are steeped in character, quality and a traditional way of life not overshadowed or adulterated by mass tourism. What you see is what you get! And what you get is something truly wonderful!
Madeira consists of the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and the inhabited island of Desertas and Selvagens. The archipelago stands out for its steep, mountainous terrain, wild beauty and sanguine, subtropical climate making it the perfect anytime-of-the-year escape. It’s also one of the safest, friendliest island destinations on the planet.
There are awards to prove it! “Europe’s Best Island Destination,” said the prestigious World Travel Awards in 2019 as well as “The Best Island Destination in the World’ for no less than five consecutive years. The editors of ‘Rough Guides’ include the islands on their 2020 bucket-list of top 20 destinations and just last year it was tagged as ‘The World’s Best Emerging Golf Destination 2019’. Madeira is definitely doing something right!
WALK THE WALK
What can you do when you get here? Trekking is a distinct possibility taking you head & shoulders high above the clouds to enjoy the most magnificent vistas. You don’t have to scale the likes of Mount Everest to get there. Madeira’s ‘buenavistas’ are quite easily approached. A dramatic coastline, deep luscious valleys and rugged craggy cliffs keep the ‘wow’ factor turned up high!
Then there’s Cabo Girão, the second-highest sea cliff in the world at 580 metres above sea level with views to match. Don’t worry! You don’t have to climb up that one – simply drive to the car park at the rear and walk to the glass-bottomed viewing platform.
Madeira’s network of ‘levadas’ or water aqueducts established centuries ago to distribute water from the mountains to the fertile, terraced banana plantations and vineyards make for relatively easy trekking.
If you want to get your feet wet, canyoning is a fun way to take the plunge. There are plenty of safe options, not too scary and all the gear required is supplied. One of the best canyoning areas in the world is found at the Ecological Park of Funchal where you can explore a 15-meter canyon, perfect for all ages and beginner skill levels. Jump in! You’ll be glad you did!
As you would expect on an igneous rock nicknamed the ‘Garden Isle, parks and gardens are plentiful. From Funchal’s Municipal Garden in the centre of town to the Garden of Herbs & Medicinal Plants to one of the most beautiful gardens in the region, the Madeira Botanical Garden with its marvellous views overlooking the city of Funchal, you soon recognise, this is one fertile little island.
If you want an easy way to scale the heights, try the Funchal Cable Car where you rise above the rooftops from base station at Funchal’s Old Town to high on the hills of Monte. From there you can glide back down in a traditional toboggan or basket, a method of transport that’s been used in this area for more than a century.
If you want to sit back and take in all this glory from the comfort of a 4-wheel drive jeep, there are dozens of Jeep Safaris to choose from.
Mountain Bike trails are aplenty with levels from beginner level to advanced.
Then there’s kayaking, surfing, paddleboarding, parascending and scuba diving. The list of activities is almost endless.
Madeira’s beaches tend towards the pebbled variety, There are several stretches of sand, either volcanic or imported at Calheta, Machico, Prainha and Seixal. But if it’s a stunning, natural sandy beach you’re looking for, they don’t get any better than those found on Porto Santo, the neighbouring island reached by ferry or a short flight.
Madeira increasingly appeals to a younger set of travellers not interested in the excesses of Ibiza, Fuengirola or Tenerife who perhaps enjoy the great outdoors followed by a little late-night recreation with the locals.
There are plenty of clubs, cafes and bars that offer the chance to mingle with Madeira’s hipsters and beautiful people – no matter what their age!
Like any destination, the weekends are the busiest but through the summer in downtown Funchal or by the beaches of Porto Santo, there is plenty going on. You need to wait till after midnight to really get the vibe. Funchal is friendly and it’s a great way to meet Portuguese folks frequenting the clubs and Poncha bars. ‘Poncha’, by the way, is the local fisherman’s drink made up of lemon, honey and rum – a healthy concoction you might think. Don’t get too healthy! Poncha packs a punch!
In less than 5 hours from Boston, you can enter a world so tranquil and diverse, it’s got to be good for the soul.
The Azores are in fact the closest European landfall from the Eastern US and they provide something so uniquely different from any other place on the planet. For that reason alone you should go – but we’ve prepared a few other highlights – just to emphasise the point!
Like Madeira, canyoning is also popular in the Azores and there are lots of rivers and waterfalls where you can leap, scramble, float and swim. Most sites are situated within a rainforest with spring water being fed from high in the mountains. All the equipment you need is provided so it’s a great day out and you’ll feel fabulous at the end.
The Azores are currently one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries. Between resident and migrant species, there are more than 20 different types of cetaceans in these waters and most can be quite easily spotted.
Thermal springs pop up everywhere on the Azores and you can combine a sightseeing trip of the likes of Sete Cidades and Vista do Rei, with their stunning lake and mountain views with an end-of-day-dip. The Furnas boilers is a phenomenon of constant volcanic activity, providing interesting geothermal phenomena that can be observed in the village of Furnas.
One of the many natural reserves on São Miguel island, “Caldeira Velha” is a ‘must’ where you can enjoy a lush green landscape amidst geothermal pools and lakes. There’s an Environmental Interpretation Center promoting the natural heritage of the area and taking the visitor on a journey through the volcanic origin of the islands.