Mad for Madeira

by Jane.Anderson

No longer just a favourite haunt of octogenarians, the surprisingly chic Atlantic isle of Madeira now makes for a great romantic break

Design hotels, extreme sports and cool bars: could this really be Madeira? This dramatic volcanic island a thousand miles off the west coast of Africa still has its botanical gardens and octogenarians, but it’s a great find for couples in search of a laidback paradise with some funky touches. It’s also just a three-and-a-half-hour flight and has year-round sunshine. Roger Moore and Zoe Ball both love it, which kind of sums up its old-world charm now mingled with 21st-century appeal.
A major reason to honeymoon in Madeira is Choupana Hills Resort & Spa. Without doubt the hippest hotel on the island, it’s set high above the capital Funchal, with panoramic views over the city and ocean. Thirty-four upscale bungalows crafted from basalt stone and dark tali wood from Brazil are set down the hillside, dotted between winding paths, pine and eucalyptus trees. Goa (named after the Portuguese colony) is the highest suite and one of the best, with a wide veranda on two sides with dreamy loungers and a sunken outdoor Jacuzzi for two. The eastern-inspired bedroom has a large dark wood canopied bed. Little details make all the difference, such as the wooden box of exotic teas and the Madeira wine waiting for you.
The trump card of Choupana Hills is its beautiful pool, with green and gold-flecked mosaic tiles and decadent loungers from which you are offered tiny mango sorbets and the like. Like all good design hotels, it has a very decent spa, which offers aromatherapy, reflexology, rasul, algae wraps, facials, revitalising baths and a Turkish steam bath.
The hotel’s Basalt Bar is the perfect place to watch the sunset with a poncha, a local cocktail of lemon juice, honey and Madeiran rum. Bag a table for dinner on the outdoor terrace of Xopana restaurant, overlooking the pool and the twinkling lights of Funchal, and tuck into sublime cuisine such as red tuna with Japanese noodles, advocat and ginger sauce.
A nice combination with Choupana is a stay in one of the meticulously restored quintas that dot the island, including the stark white Quinta da Rochinha.
When you are out and about on the island, a must is a visit to Cabo Girao, at 580m the second highest cliff in the world. The island’s incredible geography of plunging ravines and steep slopes lends itself to extreme sports. Adventure company Terras de Aventura  arranges mountain biking, jeep safaris, off-road biking, kayaking, canyoning and paragliding. More traditionally, you can take the Monte toboggan run - a 20-minute ride in a wicker basket down to Funchal. It can be combined with an equally hair-raising ride up to Monte from Funchal by cable car. For more gentle pursuits, the island is criss-crossed with levadas or old irrigation channels, which cut through sheer cliffs or follow aqueducts over deep crevices. Otherwise, the Botanical Gardens Funchal or the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, with its grottos and koi carp ponds, are a must.
If you want to go trendy in Funchal, head to Café do Teatro for cocktails or the Look Lounge on the harbour, with its lounge bar, restaurant and club. And for a pleasantly rustic beachside bar, with freshly caught fish and the sound of crashing waves, Doca do Cavacas is divine.