Madeira is Europe’s Hawaii with spectacular scenery out of Jurassic Park
WITH my nose inches from the ground, I breathe in clean, dewy air and break the dawn silence with laboured panting.
It is just after sunrise on the Portuguese island of Madeira and I am midway through a forest yoga class.
In the shadow of a 1,000-year-old native laurel tree, our teacher guides us through an hour-long class of contortions and poses.
And it’s a good job there are no early morning tourists in sight. My attempt at a downward dog would spoil any holiday snap of this area of outstanding beauty.
By 8am it is 20C and my hoodie lies discarded on the grass.
The best part for me? It’s late October and raining at home.
Madeira is about 500 miles off the coast of West Africa and boasts shorts-and-T-shirt weather all year round.
With a flight time of just three hours from London, you could be basking in brilliant sunshine in the time it takes to watch the latest Bond movie.
The island seems like the kind of place that should be uninhabitable.
Buildings jut out from towering cliffs and winding roads climb the impossibly steep mountains like creeper vines.
Island is reminiscent of Jurassic Park
Jumping in a cab, we travel 30 minutes from the airport to the Socalco Nature Hotel, a small, self-sufficient guest house perched on a hillside in Calheta, on the south-west coast of the island.
Dinners here consist of locally caught fish, and vegetables grown yards from the table. Each course is paired with a local wine.
The next morning we pile into a Land Rover Defender to begin our adventures.
With a “vamos” from tour guide Rui, we’re off into the mountains, our 4×4 trundling past terraced vineyards and banana plantations up into the highlands.
The first stop is Pico do Areeiro, at nearly 6,000ft, it’s the third-highest mountain on the island and the only one accessible by car.
From the peak we can see all the way down to the coast, past deep valleys, steep cliffs and plunging ravines slightly obscured by a sea haze that hovers above the thick forest, which is where we are heading next.
As Rui skilfully manoeuvres along bumpy dirt trails, we stand up to better admire the scenery.
Despite his expertise behind the wheel, it’s too shaky to capture a decent selfie.
But even without photographic evidence, the magnificent view will be hard to forget.
The breathtaking vistas do not end there. The next day I’m staring at the same woodland, this time from sea level, bobbing on the Atlantic in a sea kayak.
From this angle, the island is reminiscent of Hawaii or the setting of Jurassic Park.
Cliffs recede into a steaming forest as the baking-hot sun pierces through a veil of ocean mist.
In front of me, waterfalls cascade down the cliffs into the ocean 100m below.
Our guides lead us half a mile down the coast to what looks like a small cave.
Dipping our heads to avoid a collision with the rocky ceiling, we venture in, paddling deeper until the cave opens up into a large cavern.
From inside, the sound of the waves crashing against the wall creates a deafening roar and we are encouraged to add to the cacophony with our own echoing screams. It’s all very primeval.
Further down the coast we paddle under a stone archway, created by the ocean, to an island.
Our guide tells us that at low tide a gorgeous lava rock pool forms here. A sight that is so remarkable, in fact, that on one occasion he spent the night there, stretched out poolside on a rock.
“Five stars”, he says with a grin. I can’t tell if he’s joking or not.
In just three days here I have climbed mountains, watched the sunrise, attempted a yoga class, kayaked, hiked and eaten more than my fair share of freshly caught seafood.
As we jet home, I can’t help peering back at Madeira’s peaks receding into the fog and wonder what else there is hidden in this secluded paradise . . . and when I can return.
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