I almost exclusively use up my annual leave taking “holidays” that come with a guarantee of blisters, backpack chafing, navigational fails, wet feet, several “I wanna quit” moments and the need to eat 5000 calories a day. I forget that sometimes you’re allowed to just go and have a nice time without completing any kind of long, arduous challenge. Take a stroll, drink a beer, have a nap before dinner, not leave the hotel before the breakfast buffet opens, pack clothes that aren’t made of lycra… Yep, it made me feel uncomfortable too.
When Jet2 got in touch and asked if I fancied joining them on a trip to Madeira, it seemed like a good time to practice having some type 1 fun. (If you aren’t familiar with the fun scale, read about it here and then reference it at every opportunity). The itinerary had a few fairly gentle activities on it – a Levada walk, beginners canyoning and, not being know for my coordination on two wheels, what I hope would be very, very beginners mountain biking – interspersed with a very liberal sprinkling of wine tasting, food tours and boat trips. Oh, and instead of the usual broken, leaking tent or snore-filled hostel room? We were staying at The Vine, a 5* hotel with bathrobes, waterfall showers and chocolates on the pillow. Just a small departure from the YHA.
The trip wasn’t to be without any challenges though. Madeira’s airport runway, a manmade structure which extends out into the ocean due to the lack of an any appropriate flat ground on the island, is widely thought of as one of the world’s most dangerous. It was a fairly rocky landing, for sure, but luckily the pilot was dealing with that while I was busy looking out of the window and getting excited by how darn green Madeira was.
I’ll admit that I didn’t know a whole lot about Madeira before setting off. My parents had been the year before and said the food was great but, other than that, I didn’t really have any expectations. When we boarded the plane, we brought the average age down by about 50 years and I guess that’s the reputation that Visit Madeira are trying to shake – that it’s not just a retirement destination, there’s a lot of cool stuff to do on the island too. After 5 days there, that’s something I can wholeheartedly testify to.
First on the agenda was a Levada walk. The Levadas carry water from the high up waterfalls down to farms on lower ground and there are over 2500km of walks you can do following these channels. We set out on the Levada Do Rei walk, an easy 10km out and back route with a waterfall and natural pool at the turnaround point. This would be a dream to swim in on warmer day but, for us, it instead made for a great spot to stop and eat our pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts). Our guide from Madeira Adventure Kingdom kept telling us to be careful and go slow as the paths can be slippery but all I could think about was how much I wanted to run those trails.
After the walk we drove around to Ponta de São Lourenço, the easternmost point of Madeira. The views were great and snaking around cross the headland I could see another trail that shot straight towards the top of my ‘things I need to run’ list. It was at that point I started plotting my return to Madeira.
Next up was canyoning. I’d been once before in North Wales about 15 years ago and it’s one of my all time funniest family memories. My mum had a piece of hair poking out of her helmet and looked like a cabbage patch kid the entire time and my uncle stunned the entire group with the strange screaming sounds he made during one of the jumps. I hoped that canyoning in Madeira would be that much fun but with better weather. Sadly we weren’t lucky on that front but it was a really great morning out with Epic Madeira and probably my favourite thing we did on the trip. Another addition to the quickly growing things-I-need-to-do-more-of-when-I-come-back-to-Madeira list. I also managed to absolutely nail my canyoning wetsuit style, and that is the most important thing I’m sure you’ll agree.
After warming up over a lunch of cheese and stew, it was on to mountain biking. The last time I tried mountain biking can more accurately be described as a walk with a bike. I was nervous that I’d have a similar experience again and slow the whole group down but I needn’t have worried. It really was suitable for the most beginner-y of beginners. The weather set in and we were riding in a cloud for most of the afternoon, but I quite liked that. It made it quite atmospheric, slowing meandering around some very gentle trails. I’m never going to be a serious downhill mountain biker but I didn’t crash or cry, and I even enjoyed it, so I’m chalking that one up as a success.
The rest of our time was spent trying local delicacies (I can confirm that fish with banana tastes exactly how you would imagine fish with banana might taste), drinking a lot of wine (too much, you could say – I came home feeling like I had Freshers’ Flu), whale watching (where we actually saw whales unlike every other time I’ve been whale watching – result!) and generally relaxing around Funchal.
So how did I find my week of Type 1 fun in Madeira? Well, it served as a great research project for when I go back and indulge in some Type 2 and 3 fun activities. Luis, from Visit Madeira, told me about MIUT, a big ultramarathon that takes place on the island each April, which is now firmly on my running bucket list. Any race that happens in a place that green and full of custard tarts must be good. See you soon Madeira!
More about the trip:
This post is in partnership with Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, who offer a range of trips to locations in and around Portgual. Thanks for bringing me along to explore Madeira, “the pearl of the Atlantic”! We travelled with Jet2 from Manchester on flights directly to Madeira.