Famous for its food and wine, Melissa Barker discovers the beautiful island of Madeira.
Just a three-and-a-half hour flight from London, Madeira is the ideal place for couples looking for a relaxing mini-moon. I was intrigued to find out why the island is so popular and I soon discovered it's because of its subtropical climate, rich history, vibrant nightlife, relaxing beaches and delicious food.
Food a plenty
Shortly after arriving at Funchal airport we were whisked away to the five-star Belmond Reid's Palace just outside of the city centre. We were escorted to our rooms where I was pleased to find a king-sized bed, grand bathroom and even a hand-written letter welcoming us to the hotel.
A few hours later we began our food and wine tour courtesy of Discovering Madeira. Our guide was very impressive and helped bring the city's rich history to life through her stories and demonstrations. We walked through the quaint streets until we came across a charming establishment called Espaço Café where we tried some of the island's delicacies including black scabbard fish. The fish lives deep in the sea and reports say nobody has ever seen it alive and that the fishermen have to use specially made nets to capture it. We spent some time discussing the island's rich history before moving onto a brewery that served traditional Madeira wine. We were lucky enough to sample a selection of flavours paired with Madeira cake – delicious. We also visited a traditional chocolate shop, each sweet was made using rich natural flavours and hand-crafted into a piece of edible art. Our last stop was an outdoor café where we enjoyed garlic bread and scabbard fish. It's situated in a street that used to be considered a rough area by the locals until a group of artists decided to paint each resident's door with rich and vibrant colours. After a thorough tour of the island's cultural delights it's safe to say that I was extremely full!
Once the tour was finished we decided to take a trip in a cable car so we could see some of the island's beautiful sights from above. At the top we were lucky enough to try Madeira's famous toboggan sled ride. These wooden carts were once used as a form of transportation; members of the public would ride these down steep hills and the staff would then have to carry the toboggan back up the hill on their backs ready for the next customer to use. It's something that everyone should experience once in their life – it was so much fun and unlike anything I'd experienced before. After a busy day, we ventured back to the Belmond Reid's Palace for a delicious three-course dinner. Our candle-lit table overlooked the sea and created a truly romantic atmosphere. For starters we had Venetian-style crab, followed by ricotta and spinach tortellini for main and a cheesecake with cherry compote for dessert – a must-have if you’re visiting the hotel. We then retired to our room where I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time.
Mind your step
The following morning, we checked out of the Belmond Reid's Palace and got ready to experience the adrenaline-filled activity known as canyoning. I must admit I'd never tried it before and started to feel slightly anxious. However, our lovely guides from Madeira Adventure Kingdom helped keep us calm and supplied us with the necessary equipment. We spent the next few hours walking through the countryside, abseiling and zip lining down waterfalls. This was the highlight of the trip for me, it was a truly exhilarating experience and is something I'd love to do again.
After an eventful morning, we visited the Quinta do Furão restaurant where we enjoyed a three-course lunch. I started with the duck, which came in a delicious barbecue sauce, and for dessert I tried a chocolate pudding that was so good I would have happily eaten two!
After lunch we checked into our second accommodation the Castanheiro Boutique Hotel – this four-star hotel is situated in the heart of Funchal in the historical zone. We spent the afternoon enjoying the rooftop pool and hot tub, surrounded by beautiful views of the city. After a few hours of pure bliss we tried a traditional Espetada dinner at the Adega da Quinta restaurant. This dish is usually beef served on a skewer that's attached to the ceiling, it's a delicious delicacy that I'd definitely recommend.
A thing of beauty
The following morning I woke up in a king-sized bed overlooking the city and felt extremely grateful to be at such a beautiful destination. We took a trip to the island's natural infinity pools and enjoyed a swim in the beautiful waters before heading back to the hotel ready for an afternoon of pampering. I enjoyed a full-body massage and spent the rest of the afternoon in the indoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, making the most of the luxurious amenities available. The staff were lovely and went out of their way to make sure I felt comfortable and had a relaxing experience.
That evening we went to the Nini Design Centre, a museum that showcases the famous Nini Andrade Silva's work but also doubles as a restaurant. We got to take a look at some of her impressive collection before beginning our three-course meal. It was delicious and I got to try my first ever crème brûlée, something I wish I'd done years ago. After dinner we walked back to the hotel through the city and got to see its vibrant nightlife come alive.
Waking up the next morning I felt a sense of disappointment to be leaving – Madeira went beyond my expectations and is a destination that I'm keen to visit again.