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Let's raise a glass to Madeira! Why the Portuguese region is sweet like the wine it's known for, says Frank Barrett

Tenerife is like fizzy pop: sweet, delicious but generally unremarkable. 

Madeira, on the other hand, is like a fine wine which you can savour and enjoy long after the first taste. It’s an interesting comparison. 

Tenerife is the best known of the Spanish Canary Islands, famous as a package-holiday haunt. Portuguese Madeira occupies a similar stretch of the Atlantic – 300 miles off the North African coast – but has a different vibe.  

Beauty spot: Portuguese Madeira occupies a 300-mile stretch off the North African coast

Beauty spot: Portuguese Madeira occupies a 300-mile stretch off the North African coast

It doesn’t really do ‘sun and sand’, for a start – it has a couple of beaches with sand, but this has had to be specially imported. 

Madeira has been a part of our language for many years thanks to its fortified wine. 

It was the wine which gave its name to Madeira cake (a sweet cake which was the perfect accompaniment to Madeira wine, rather than – as I thought – cake which originated in Madeira).

In the island’s capital, Funchal, you will find no shortage of places serving both cake and wine. What you won’t find, however, is a frenzied night life.

The island attracts a more thoughtful crowd. 

On the flight over, Nordic walking poles will be much in evidence in the overhead lockers because the island is the perfect place for hiking. 

Delicious: Madeira has been a part of our language for many years thanks to its fortified wine

Delicious: Madeira has been a part of our language for many years thanks to its fortified wine

Mesmerising skyline: The lights of Funchal, the island's classy capital, twinkle in the evening

Mesmerising skyline: The lights of Funchal, the island's classy capital, twinkle in the evening

For an island which has become practised at serving a discerning clientele, there are lots of excellent hotels, including the legendary Belmond Reid’s Palace – for my money, one of the best in Europe. 

The Portuguese in general and the Madeirans in particular have a soft spot for us. 

If you want to trigger a heartfelt conversation, ask about local hero Cristiano Ronaldo. Locals were happiest when CR plied his footballing trade in Manchester.

‘Ah, when he played for Sir Alex,’ a taxi-driver told me. ‘Those were the days. Perhaps he will return to Manchester…’ He may not return to Manchester, but I’m definitely going back to Madeira.

TRAVEL FACTS 

TAP Portugal flies to Funchal via Lisbon. One-way fares start at £78. For more information visit flytap.com or phone 0345 601 0932.

Belmond Reid’s Palace offers double rooms from £346 per night including breakfast. Visit belmond.com or call 0845 077 2222. 

For further information go to Visit Madeira.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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