If the approaching winter is beginning to scare you, you can always head for Madeira. This island in Portugal sits in the Atlantic Ocean on about the same latitude as Casablanca in Morocco, hence all year round sunshine. The islanders boast it is never too hot, never too cold, and they can grow bananas all year round. To those of us who watch the snow build up outside our windows for a few months each year, that’s envy-worthy.
The island of Madeira is wonderfully mountainous and green with vegetation. Funchal is the main port city, founded in 1508. These days it’s a magnet for cruise ships and popular with tourists as well as being known for its Madeira wine and flowers; the volcanic island is often referred to as ‘the floating garden’. It’s Portugal’s second richest region after Lisbon. Funchal itself is full of museums and art galleries, restaurants, gardens and historic buildings such as the cathedral and Monte palace with its cable car ride up the hill and wonderful views.
The interior of the island can feel like a different world as mists wreath around the high, lush volcanic mountains and valleys. If you want sandy beaches, head out to Porto Santo, a smaller island easily reach by ferry or even plane. The beach stretches for 6 miles (9 km) and there are still only a few hotels on the island so it really feels like an undiscovered paradise. Then there are the uninhabited islands dotted around, which are now nature reserves. The Desertas are home to Mediterranean monk seal, one of the most endangered animal species on earth. The Selvagens Islands are furthest away and are an important seabird habitat. Sun, culture, scenery, nature, wine. Take me there. Now.