Butterflies in December, hillsides bursting with the brilliant red flowers of the poinsetta tree and sunshine so warm that you can sit outside and soak it up until early evening. That is Madeira in winter…the Portguese island of wood…a tiny exotic paradise on the furthermost western edge of Europe…where there is something for everyone, from shopping, to fine dining or getting away from it all on a mountainside – on a short or long break.
It’s my first visit and I see how green the island is, compared to its nearest neighbour, Gran Canaria, more than 200 miles to the south. This is because it is massaged by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, giving it a year-round Mediterranean climate, with an average temperature above 65 degrees. The island is very mountainous which makes for a high annual rainful and lots of micro-climates. But even in December there are an abundance of flowers, butterflies, bees and birds.
In winter there are bursts of rain, then the mists evaporate and the sun comes out. At one point at lunchtime it was so hot that we had to move into the shade…
The island is the second wealthiest part of Portugal after Lisbon and that’s because of tourism, contributing to 20% of the island’s GDP. Most visitors come from the mainland, followed by Brits, Scandinavians and Germans.
The capital Funchal may be very built up but is still a rather elegant city with cobbled streets and cafes, and is the best choice for a first-time visitor since it has a range of hotels to suit every pocket. And its easy to get anywhere else on the island from there.
Madeira is a top destination for hikers and nature lovers, but its also a great for clubbers and fine dining and wining. In particular, you can find your very own refuge for some real peace and quite among the many inlets around the rocky coast.