Madeira is a dream of Eden; a place where fairytales surely come true. (I’m pretty certain I saw a smiling polka-dotted dragon and Eeyore looking happy, oh and Aslan, the lion from Narnia…….) The warm air, fragrant with eucalyptus and pine, is heady and pure. Wild flowers spill over every hillside and valley. Vivid blue Agapanthus and wild hydrangeas line the roads that wind dizzyingly up into mist smudged peaks. There are strelitzias, those floral birds of paradise, poised haughtily on slender stems and red hot pokers compete with waxy white camellias as tall as oaks. Wild lilies, exotic orchids and nasturtiums cascade down mountain sides and swathes of glowing orange succulents crawl over walls and roofs like a living net.
The interior is awesome – in the most literal sense of the word. As you wind higher and higher the spiraling peaks rise through ribbons of mist above the valleys, crystalline streams and cascading waterfalls. The thickly wooded slopes that gave the place its name: Ilha da Madeira (island of wood), rush to meet the darkly glowing basalt cliffs and then plunge in a dramatic dive to the diamond- glitter ocean below.
Do you believe in fairies?
You can climb the towering peaks and watch buzzards riding the thermals or walk a levada, the old irrigation channels that snake their way round the entire island. Cut by slaves imported by the Portuguese from their former colonies in Africa; these men were sometimes suspended by ropes from baskets to hack ledges across the steepest cliffs. The levadas are extraordinary feats of engineering, each cut at just the right gradient to allow a steady flow of water and often bored through solid rock to form long tunnels.
One of the most endearing things about Madeira, in this age of mass tourism and the resultant Disneyesque feel to ‘places of interest’, is that it is a real life, living, breathing working island. There are shops selling hardware and fishing tackle, groceries devoted to dried salt cod and olives, cafes and bars in back streets where few foreigners penetrate, and a covered fruit, flower and vegetable market where stalls are heaped with shiny peppers, tomatoes, aubergines, jewel-like berries, a dozen varieties of fruit and tropical flowers so fresh that the dew has barely dried on the petals.
....and fish so fresh it's still swimming.
Many of the bustling little coastal towns have promenades of Edwardian prettiness, lined with old Portuguese houses: pale stucco, dark wood and decorative carved windows. Sit for a while at a pavement café and delight in the slow pace of life while sipping a frosty glass of VinoVerde, accompanied by a small pan of fried limpets cooked with oodles of garlic and drizzled with delicious, unfiltered olive oil.
mmmm...is dat my limpets, lady?
New Year, new growth - Madeira style.
The youngies wait for the wrinklies...and look quite pleased to see them!
The shadows lengthen....
special moments are shared.....
and, with the bronze fisherman at Paul do Mar, we look forward to a New Year.
Happy happiest 2009, dear bloggy friends around the globe!