Why Portugal’s wild archipelago is the perfect place to hit reset right now
Beyond ready for a rejuvenating break abroad, but put off by quarantine restrictions? Meet Madeira – the slow travel destination still within reach.
One of Portugal’s greenest sunshine outposts, this nature-rich retreat is one of the few destinations still in the UK’s official travel corridor, which means that – providing you test negative for Covid-19 on arrival – you’ll be free to return to the UK without having to self-isolate afterwards. Reason enough? It’s also an easy three-hour hop from London (taking it straight to the top of our hit list for a long weekend) and offers a moderate year-round climate, too. Hello, winter sun…
Geographically, Madeira is a picturesque patchwork of crumbling volcanic basalt, ebony scorched sands, tumbling canyons, ragged rock faces, rampant swathes of green and endless Atlantic surf. In short, it’s wild – and restorative. In the past few years, Madeira has become big with the mindful and wellness crowds, who come to reconnect and immerse themselves in the island’s plethora of dramatic landscapes (spoiler: there’s more than 20 microclimates to explore).
Quinta das Vinhas – a charming family-run vineyard hotel in the sun-drenched western corner of Calheta. The property’s 17th-century farmhouse (complete with former chapel) has been sensitively restored in recent years to retain its history and heart, and many of the rustic-style rooms now overlook its secluded pool and surrounding 30,000 acres of vines. There’s also a series of cottage-style outbuildings to choose from that have been stylishly transformed into contemporary suites for families. Think hand-painted tiles, antique furniture and a second pool with vistas out to the undulating hills and strips of blue beyond. Don’t forget to book a wine tasting and tour before you leave, either: Quinta das Vinhas’ signature fortified vintage is (literally) Madeiran sunshine, bottled.
Other properties across the island range from the ritzier Belmond Reid’s Palace, Savoy Palace and Cliff Bay Hotel to the more boutique Caju, Castanheiro and Pestana Quinta do Arco, which offers great value for money at just €57 per night, plus its very own Nature and Rose Garden.
Anywhere with an ocean view. The glittering sea here is endless and fresh seafood dishes are exceptional, so bag a linen-clad table at Quinta do Furao, which sits near the northern tip of the island in Santana, or head to slick Estalagem da Ponta do Sol for its rooftop terrace. Set on the sun-baked cliffs of Ponta do Sol, you’ll love the modern design details and a seriously good wine menu.
Hit Madeira’s iconic network of levada trails, which weave their way from the north to south, like veins. Spanning more than 1,200 miles of natural woodland and emerald green laurel forests, this extensive network of water channels was created almost 600 years ago and, today, they still serve to irrigate the fields – and even produce around 15 percent of the island’s total energy. Walks can get muddy and may include steep inclines, but you’ll be too busy marvelling at the views to give your sodden trainers much thought. The best bit? There’s barely another soul in sight. Thanks to low tourist numbers right now, the levada trails are particularly tranquil, reminding me more of the mist-cloaked rainforests of Uganda or Ecuador than Europe.
Up for something a little more action-packed? Try your hand at surfing in buzzy Porto da Cruz, reef diving in golden-beach-lined Porto Santo, or hop into a rib with Madeira Wildlife for a spot of dolphin and whale watching. Needless to say I saw huge shoals of tuna and flying fish on our coastal exploration – but zero bottlenose and humpbacks. However, that’s rare – especially during migration seasons, which occur in May and September.
If you’re looking for more kicks on land, take an alternative island tour with Adventureland, whose junky jeeps provide the perfect off-roading experience – and give you access to some of the most remote parts of Madeira. You’ll end the day on a secluded clifftop, watching the sun dip over the Atlantic with lashings of crisp white wine. It doesn’t get more mindful than that.
For more ideas on where to go and what to do, check out madeiraallyear.com.
EasyJet offers direct flights from London; B&B stays at Quinta das Vinhas cost from €83 per night.