Madeira is known for its year-round warmth and relaxing vibe. But visitors are now going there in search of thrills
‘Time to off-road,” says Pedro, our jeep driver and guide for the day. It’s the most enthusiastic he’s been all morning; his 4×4 Land Rover is built for it after all, and he isn’t remotely worried that we’re stuck in mud with our back wheels hanging over the edge of the track. “Are we going to fall down the mountain?” asks my seven-year-old, her knuckles white. “We’ll be fine,” I tell her, as Pedro accelerates over a fallen log and hurtles up a steep hill in search of another panoramic view.
We’re about 1,500m above sea level and close to Madeira’s rugged north coast; mist clings to volcanic peaks further above us. The air is humid, heavy with the scent of eucalyptus and many metres below us are terrace after terrace of banana trees, fringed with sugar cane and palm trees. So far it’s more Malaysia than Madeira, subtropical and lush with waterfalls, lagoons and colourful vegetation. A few days before, I’d been told to expect a relaxing but possibly boring experience – a package-holiday crowd, sedate teas and sweet cake. “It’s nice, but full of old people,” a friend told me, who’d visited years ago. “I stayed in a lovely hotel and two pensioners had died by the end of the week. They had to ship them off the island.”