Having discovered a bench within the sizzling spring sunshine, I used to be unwrapping my bolo de caco – a superb toasted candy potato sandwich, slathered in garlic butter – when “Michael Jackson” walked previous. He was dressed Thriller period, and accompanied by a number of pirates and a brass band in orange Afros. The band struck up. Michael strutted. The bystanders on Funchal’s energetic Avenida Arriaga cheered.
That night, the flowery gown and frivolity have been absolutely unleashed. It was Madeira Carnival’s predominant parade – one of many Portuguese island’s greatest celebrations (10 March this yr). Fairylights twinkled within the airplane bushes and round cafes serving poncha, the native tooth-rotter of aguardente de cana, lemon, sugar and honey. I risked a cup and waited for the razzmatazz to start out.

Filled with punch … the favored Madeiran drink, poncha
Madeira is on the identical latitude as Morocco, over 400 miles from the coast, and temperatures push 20°C, even in March. However I didn’t envy the revellers. Troupes flashed by in a scanty dazzle of jewelled bras and barely-there thongs; there have been flappers, flower maidens, lions and gods. Numerous hip-shaking, numerous flesh. Whoever stated Madeira was for “newlyweds and practically deads” most likely hadn’t seen this. Certainly, over a spring lengthy weekend, on which I’d exchanged disappointing British climate for the subtropics in lower than 4 hours, I discovered an island far wilder and extra adventurous that its repute suggests.
“Madeira is constructed for path operating,” Daniel Ferreira, founding father of GoTrail Madeira, instructed me as we trotted into the hills above Funchal. “The terrain is good; it’s a terrific possibility when Europe’s mountains are below snow.”

Runner on a Go Path journey
Path operating is booming right here, thanks partially to the MIUT (Madeira Island Extremely Path), a 115km race throughout the island, by way of 1,862m Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s highest level. The race, held each April, now attracts among the greatest names within the sport. I wasn’t about to try that, however becoming a member of certainly one of Daniel’s excursions, which includes sight-seeing at your personal operating tempo, appeared a great way to get my bearings shortly.
It was additionally a very good historic primer, with Daniel filling me in. He instructed me that Madeira was first found by Portuguese explorers in 1419, precisely 600 years in the past; that it was colonised round 5 years later; and that, by the tip of the 15th century, it had already turn into a significant producer of sugar cane. This was thanks, partially, to its levadas, artifical channels constructed to hold water from the sponge-like laurel forests to the thirsty cane fields. In the present day, greater than 2,000km of levadas permeate the island, offering each irrigation and an intensive community of footpaths. Daniel and I ran alongside a levada that wound by means of Funchal’s suburbs. We adopted it by means of quiet lanes and banana palms. And we adopted its vertiginous course excessive above the Socorridos valley, ducking by means of tunnels and, briefly, hanging in mid-air, with solely a railing between us and the sheer drop.

The Ribeira Brava valley on Madeira’s north coast.
Madeira was definitely turning out to be extra thrilling than most give it credit score for. Particularly, as I discovered the subsequent day, should you go on a jeep jaunt with Ricardo Carvalho. The highest of a giant, historic defend volcano, Madeira is a geological drunk: its land appears unable to face, at all times rising or falling, seldom flat. Negotiating this by 4WD, with a information adept at not crashing on precarious backroads, is good. Ricardo took me on a tour across the east of the island, zipping spherical hairpins whereas exhibiting off the websites.
We stopped to stretch our legs on the damp Ribeiro Frio, the place a levada led by way of moss-draped forest to a misty lookout. Then we descended to Santana, the place sunshine blazed over the city’s conventional triangular homes. Throughout, steep terraces nurtured greens and ripening vines, whereas spring wildflowers exploded – jasmine, mimosa and red-hot poker, African daisy and Echium candicans, aka the Satisfaction of Madeira.
We drove by means of the city of Machico, the place these first explorers landed 600 years in the past, the place the MIUT race ends and the place Ricardo was born. “I’ve pirate blood,” he instructed me as we handed Machico’s seashore. “Pirates typically landed right here; within the years after raids, many births have been registered as ‘unknown father’ – together with certainly one of my ancestors.”

Parque Pure do Ribeiro Frio. {Photograph}: Juergen Sack/Getty Photographs
As a second job, Ricardo does historic analysis for the modern Museu da Baleia within the fishing village of Caniçal. “This was a whaling base,” Ricardo defined as we moved between shows on the island’s whaling historical past. The previous picket boats, smaller than lots of the whales they hunted, strengthened how harmful a occupation this was for each sailor and whale. Luckily, whale-watching is much less problematic. Journeys run year-round on Madeira, with spring one of the best time to see fin whales and striped dolphins.
Nonetheless, I caught to land. You possibly can, after all, come right here and simply chill within the solar and discover at a mild tempo, however my plan was to suit numerous exercise into a brief period of time. I walked the Vereda do Larano, a precipitous path hewn from steep seacliffs, with dramatic views in the direction of the island’s wave-crashed far east, and hiked up from the pure sea swimming pools of north-westerly Porto Moniz to Fanal, a plateau cloaked in Madeira’s best laurisilva, the first laurel forest that was as soon as ample throughout southern Europe however is now extremely uncommon. Right here, I touched time-bent, bearded bushes that felt magical and smart. Dependable however intriguing. Previous, however removed from boring. Very like Madeira itself.
• Keep: The Allegro Madeira in Funchal is a shiny, up to date lodge in a revamped tower; doubles from €60 B&B (adults solely). Aqua Natura is a pleasant base by Porto Moniz’s pure sea swimming pools; doubles from €80 B&B
• Do: Go Path Madeira organises trail-running excursions, guided runs and mountain climbing journeys. Mountain Expeditions presents 4WD adventures throughout the island. For extra data see madeiraallyear.com
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