Disappear in Madeira, a wild island retreat off the coast of Portugal

After a long day of wine tasting, our group observes the movements of the chef at Quinta do Barbusano with great interest. He hoists a skewer of Portuguese beef grilled the old-fashioned way, espetada, and attaches it to a thread above our heads which extends along the table. A Madeiran delicacy, the dish basically consists of large chunks of meat seasoned with garlic and salt, then roasted on laurel branches over hot coals. Our host, who is also a winemaker and owner of the vineyard, made it using huge sword-shaped laurel branches cooked on his outdoor grill to get the right taste. After letting the meat rest, he delicately slides the sizzling steak onto a waiting tray. Like most Madeiran cuisine, it is simple, unpretentious and utterly delicious.

A few days before the espetada revelation, another local guide mentions the “Madeira effect”. You can’t visit just once, she explained with a laugh; after the first trip, people keep coming back. This close-knit island community jokingly calls it “the Madeira Effect”, with a hint of pride that their little island is such a magnetic force.

So where is the world Madeira? Triangulated between the African coast and the European continent, it is a sort of untapped retreat for American travelers. One of four islands in an archipelago also called Madeira – which is the Portuguese word for “wood” – the region first impressed early explorers with its propensity for hardy plant life, and fresh produce like apples of ground and other vegetables are abundant and very tasty. One of the most impressive aspects of Madeira culture is the food, most of which is grown on the island, or hunted and fished locally, either on the Portuguese mainland or by native fishermen.

Swimming in Madeira

Andre Carvalho

Steep cliffs dotted with stucco houses and an idyllic coastline offer constant ocean views and draw a first comparison to Mediterranean hotspots like the Amalfi Coast and Greece. But that’s just the island at sea level: the rugged mountains and rich volcanic soil add an extra lush jungle feel, and the plant life takes over the island’s temperate climes with such force. that a large amount of familiar vegetation reaches ten times its size. would be elsewhere. Combine the idyllic coastline with jaw-dropping aerial tramways, cliffside lookout points and secluded mountain towns, and you’ve got the look of Madeira. It’s a still unexplored European island, making it a great choice for anyone looking to embark on adventurous international travel.

Although it has long been a destination for European and British travelers, who are about two hours away by air, logistics have prevented American travelers from visiting the island as easily as their European counterparts – until now. In the past, most trips between America and Madeira involved flying to Lisbon, seven hours from New York, for example, then taking another two-hour flight to finally get to Madeira. A newly introduced direct flight from JFK to Madeira is set to change all that, arriving at around seven o’clock and landing directly in Funchal, at the only airport on this still remote island. Operated by Azores Airlinesa Portuguese airline named after the neighboring islands of the Azores, the direct flight takes place once a week, making a seven-day passage to Madeira suddenly very accessible.

With the ocean flight behind you, the island is small enough to easily navigate for day trips and other adventures, and big enough to handle a week-long stay. Unlike Amalfi, which seems like a must-see for Americans visiting Europe, this island still feels wild, though plenty of luxury hotels dot the shoreline. For those looking for a classic, but more practical hospitality experience, the Pestana Carlton is a central resort with a relaxed atmosphere. With ocean views from most rooms, a generous breakfast buffet, and a more affordable price due to the property’s slightly dated layout, this guesthouse still manages to feel cozy and welcoming despite its fairly large size.

At the other end of the spectrum, the brand new Palace of Savoy is a state-of-the-art property that opened just before the pandemic, in the summer of 2019. With lots of marble and velvet, a lobby bar and tea service, and incredible views from the rooftop terrace , this high-end hotel sits well above most other coastal properties, literally towering over both sister hotels and more formal Royal Savoyor the most affordable, Next hotel. Lunch and dinner service on site at Terreiro and lavish breakfast service — either via an a la carte menu at the 17th-floor VIP lounge or buffet style downstairs — means guests are well catered for when dining at the property. And while staying at the Palace means access to nearly every amenity under the sun, visitors should definitely explore the island further.

Sunset by the sea in Madeira

Sunset by the sea in Madeira

Andre Carvalho

Consider taking a winery tour to learn about the history of Madeira’s namesake fortified wine and the vineyards that grow and also produce table wine. Discover MadeiraWine tours from included a visit up north for a taste of espetada as well as several other family-friendly places to soak up the local wine. One of the most Instagrammable sights on any island is always the sunrise, so book a jeep tour to catch this beautiful moment early in the morning, with a brief visit to a few other historic towns on the island, is a good way to cover a lot of ground in a day. Of course, the Laveda walks are also not to be missed: these guided tours take visitors along the island’s historic irrigation systems that helped distribute water in the early days of the island’s settlement.

Finally, a word of warning for any travelers wishing to make the trip – definitely purchase travel insurance when visiting Madeira. Landing on the island can be a daunting task due to the fact that it is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and there is a possibility of rainy weather or clouds making landing or leaving dangerous. Covering your bases with insurance is recommended due to this sometimes uncertain logistical piece. Although Madeira is a bit off the beaten path, the combination of island views, plant life, and unrivaled food and drink make it the kind of destination travelers looking forward to getting out and seeing the world are looking for. . And with the Madeira effect in full force, new visitors will likely be planning a return trip as soon as they get home.

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