Sunday, 8 November 2020

Europe's favourite island offers plenty of surprises


The Portuguese island of Madeira - off the north coast of Africa - has been names Europe's leading island destination 2020 at the World Travel Awards.

Despite many travellers being totally unaware of its existence, it has won the award for seven out of the past eight years.

Madeira was one of the first "foreign" destinations I visited and I found it captivating. Returning many years later, it remained a delightful destination.

Madeira beat out several rivals: the Azores, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Crete, Cyclades, Cyprus, Guernsey, Jersey, Malta, Sardinia and Sicily. 

It has also taken the award for world's leading island destination for the past five years, but will have to wait until the Grand Final takes place on November 27 to see if it is the overall winner again this year.

The tiny volcanic island is located 1076km southwest of Portugal and is geologically dramatic, filled with exotic colour and warmed year-round by the Atlantic sun. 

Nicknamed Pearl of the Atlantic, it is a diverse place for vacations. Lovers of the outdoors will enjoy hiking the levadas - narrow irrigation channels that were dug as far back as the 15th century and have been used over the centuries to disperse water. The island's black sand beaches, towering rock walls and gushing streams are also big attractions.

Other highlights include the glass-bottom lookout at Cabo Girao, which sits atop one of the highest sea cliffs in the world.

The island attracts an older demographic and is a place of gentler pleasures, such as tasting the local fortified wines, visiting lush botanical gardens and watching embroiderers and wicker weavers at work.

Visitors enjoy traveling down the steep streets into Funchal from the steep mountainous slopes of Monte village in special wicker sledges on wooden rails that reach speeds of up to 38kmh.

The tradition dates back 100 years, and men known as carreiros transport passengers on the 2km ride. Further information on the winners of the World Travel Awards can be found on its website here.

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