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Madeira: first impressions

Madeira is something of a revelation. It has an attractive climate year-round, thanks to being on a latitude with Marrakesh, moderated by maritime influence and sea breezes. Its mountainous scenery is dramatic and lush, but despite the gradients you can reach anywhere on the island by bus. You can do easy walks along its levadas (irrigation channels) ot make adventurous hikes to its highest point (Pico Ruivo at 1862 m/6107ft).

Roads are good and driving standards high: drivers give way to pedestrians and, even more surprisingly, to each other. They use the euro and GMT here, and you can drink the tap water. We flew direct from Glasgow in 3.5 hours, and yet it is unquestionably an exotic place to visit.

Discovered in 1420 by an explorer called Zarco, in the service of Henry the Navigator, Madeira was soon colonised and has been Portuguese ever since. Enjoying a degree of autonomy, the island seems to take pride in its mother country. The population stands at around 275,000 and there is little crime or political unrest, hardly any litter or graffiti. And although unemployment is high, we have seen only one beggar in Funchal.

Most people speak English and seem welcoming to tourists. The museum attendant who didn’t was more than patient with our questions and body language and pidgin Portuguese. Habsburg ex-Emperor Carlos died of pneumonia here in 1922 after only six months in exile. Winston Churchill painted here in 1950. And because our small, family-run hotel has wifi, I can blog about it direct.

Here are some photos from our first explorations: first the wonderful rooftops of Funchal from its very modern cable car:

CableCar.jpg

There's a fine fishing village at Camera de Lobos (lobos means sealion in this case, though also wolf) where we saw them catching the shark-related espada ("scabbard fish") which we had for dinner (truly delicious):

scabbardFish.jpg

Finally, here we are, Keir and I, near the dramatic 600-m high cliffs of Cabo Girao:

K%2BJgirao.jpg

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