In a new series, Thomas Pink offers an insider’s guide to some of the world’s most captivating and unexplored destinations: what to see, do, experience and – of course – wear. This time it’s the turn of Portuguese island, Madeira
My first impression of Madeira was that it was like landing at a small Caribbean airport. Everything from the ’70s-style buses and yellow taxis all felt refreshingly old school. The place I’d dreamt up in my mind was every bit as I’d hoped it would be, amid the frenetic world of the 21st century, such a place really did still exist. Its diversity is astonishing given the whole island stretches a mere 286 square miles. It has everything. It’s no wonder it’s often referred to as the Hawaii of Europe, with its stunning volcanic beaches, lush forestation, otherworldly sunrises, stunning mountain passes, cascading waterfalls and mysterious mist-shrouded highlands, alongside an emerging food and wine scene.
Quinta do Barbusano is not only one of the most beautiful vineyards I’ve had the pleasure of visiting but its lunches are downright legendary too: once you’ve toured the property’s Latadas – trellised vines which cascade down towards the Atlantic Ocean – lunch is served al fresco overlooking the verdant valley below. There is no menu as such, but the traditional Madeiran lunch includes espetada: big, juicy grill-seared chunks of beef marinated on laurel skewers served with boiled potatoes, a simple salad and ample sides of bolo do caco garlic bread which gets the nod over its Italian counterpart for me. A vertical tasting of the estate’s wines helps wash it all down. The white wines benefit from the property’s maritime influence, which lends a rather divine salinity. Book via winerist.com; 9240, São Vicente. You simply cannot come to Madeira and not have afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace, the world-famous five-star grande dame of the archipelago. Every once in a while, it’s nice to go somewhere where you’re lulled back to a grander era, and Reid’s delivers just that. What’s more, afternoon tea, with stunning views from the terrace, comes in at a very reasonable €39. Estrada Monumental 139, 9000-098 Funchal
Galáxia Skyfood in the island’s capital, not only affords diners one of the finest views over the Bay of Funchal but a scintillating menu to match. Be sure to rock up early for a pre-dinner sundowner on the terrace and watch the setting sun cast its artistic magic across the dusky pink horizon, rendering it more reminiscent of a pastelly John Singer Sargent watercolour painting. As darkness falls the bay is engulfed in a crescendo of twinkly lights which combine seductively with the restaurant’s starry-starry night interior. A highlight of the tasting menu is the Wagyu beef skewer, chef César Vieira’s interpretation of the native Madeiran version, served alongside bread and garlic crumble on a bed of flora with a smouldering green leaf still unextinguished. Avenida do Infante, No 25, 9004-542 Funchal
Praia de Formosa, a 10-minute drive from downtown Funchal, is the place to be for sundowners. Once you’ve frolicked around in the natural pools of Doca do Cavacas and sunbathed on the volcanic pebble beach, cool off at the On Water Academy bar with a cleansing white sangria. It’s a great vantage point from which to watch in awe as the horizon turns into a dreamy orange-and-yellow-hued gradient. Architecture connoisseurs will delight at Casino de Madeira and Casino Park Hotel – you could be forgiven for thinking the capital’s casino looks like something straight out of Brasilia, the futuristic capital of Brazil, and you’d be right. For it was designed by the same legendary Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Inaugurated back in 1976, it’s wonderfully executed, blending into the surrounding tropical vegetation in an uncannily organic way. He also designed the neighbouring Casino Park Hotel, now part of the Pestana empire of hotels and resorts. Avenida do Infante, 9004-513 Funchal
Local businessman and master chocolatier Tony Fernandes is the mastermind behind Uaucacau, which he launched back in 2014 using only the highest-quality Madeiran ingredients available: fortified wine, ginger, poncha, cane honey, passion fruit, banana, pitanga and mango among a host of others. The technicoloured results are aesthetic chocolate renditions of marbled paper. R. Latino Coelho 38, 9060- 155 Funchal. Meanwhile, born out of the prevalent English culture in Portuguese society, Fábrica Santo António’s prized biscuits have accompanied pots of tea in homes the island over. Travessa do Forno 27- 29, 9000-077 Funchal
Bringing a touch of Dubai glamour to the hotel scene in Funchal, the vast Savoy Palace is a seriously smart base for your sojourn in the Madeiran capital. Space is most certainly not at a premium here, and it’s a joy to be enveloped by such cavernous surrounds wherever you are in the hotel. With magnificent indoor and outdoor pools, panoramic terraces, rooftop bars overlooking the Bay of Funchal, and high-level dining, what’s not to love? Avenida do Infante No 25, 9004-542 Funchal. There’s also Sé Boutique Hotel, a sedate 52-room accommodation that occupies a quiet backstreet in the historic centre of Funchal. The neighbouring Cathedral’s influence extends throughout the hotel’s natural-light-infused interiors. Stopping for a glass of crisp white verdelho at the hotel’s chic pavement bar is a pre-requisite. Travessa do Cabido, No 17, 9000-715 Funchal
As unforgettable moments in life go, Pico do Arieiro ranks pretty high. One of those occasions when you really don’t mind setting your alarm for 5:30am for a 6am pick-up from your hotel. Half an hour later, having scaled your way up from Funchal to an ascent of 1,818 metres, you may at first wonder what all the fuss is about as it’s still pitch black. But what is about to unfold over subsequent minutes is utterly breathtaking: you feel like a bird, suspended above waves of clouds resembling cotton-wool as the sun filters its way through the smouldering distant horizon until you’re almost blinded by its intensity. Book via Charismatic Mountain.
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