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Madeira Off-Road

From Funchal, you can get up and over the mountains or should I say under them, in just over half an hour. The tunnels towards São Vicente are some of the longest on the island. There's one that's over 3kms long! It was raining heavily on the south side of the island and our driver said, somewhat optimistically that it might change when we emerged in the north. It was in fact worse! The effects of last night's boozy night out and getting home at 4am weren't helping any either!

The road up to São Vicente looking a bit 'drookit' (Scots for very wet).

The north part of Madeira is marked by steep escarpments and deep river-valleys and we were in a 4-wheel drive Land Rover, courtesy of True Spirit, an adventure company to do some off-road exploring. But the weather was so bad, we decided to go straight to lunch!

This is how it was done in old Portuguese Quintas.

This was lunch with a difference! My hangover seemed to be getting worse, I was a touch irritable and this place wasn't up to my usual standard! We were dining in a kitchen but more like a cold storage room attached to the main building. There was an old gas cooker next to an open fireplace and the dining suite consisted of four foldaway tables pushed together with plastic pub seats. Very chichi... Our host didn't speak a word of English and instructed my Portuguese friends to set the table. I played ignorant and stood by the open fire to get some heat. What was in the pots seemed interesting. One was with fish and the other looked like pork. Finally, everything was prepared, (no thanks to me) and we sat. Wine was produced and although it was just past midday, I held out my glass; anything to lift my failing spirits. I hadn't encountered Madeiran table wine thus far and this was, Barbusano, a bit dry but not too bad.

Everyone is free to get involved. I stuck to tending the fire and taking photographs.

There were 5 different types of fish and a litre of white wine in there. The dish is called Caldeirada de Peixe.

After a couple of healthy gulps to steady my nerve, we tucked into the food. Let's just say this was possibly the best meal I've had in Madeira. The fish was succulent, full of flavour partly thanks to a litre of white wine. I picked my way through the chunky bits of the flavour was fabulous. Then it was onto the pork with great slabs of fat still attached. Sumptuous. We washed it down with some Barbusano Madeirense Tinto (Aragonês Touriga Nacional). This is a locally produced table wine and I was curious to see how it stood up to the absolutely fabulous mainland Portuguese wines we'd been discovering.

This was pork with all the fat left on. "It's good for your brain" said Rocha da Silva, former Secretary of the Forest Department in Madeira. The dish is called Carne da Noite (night meat).

Rocha da Silva, the owner of the estate in Rosario Parish, spent his career in the forests of Madeira, no better custodian of this remote and wonderful place.

Barbusano is drier than the Douro Valley wines and you notice the tannins from the touriga grape but it was a good pairing with the fish being that bit tart and peppery but by the time we tucked into the fatty pork it had settled on the palate and seemed the ideal pairing. The meal was rounded off by some of homemade rum. I took a sip but apparently this wasn't acceptable. Down in one! The tangerine made it quite pleasant but the explosion as it hit my stomach radiating down to my legs. Just what the doctor would have ordred.

Rum of Madeira made by Rocha da Silva - with no sulphites - and a twist of tangerine. It got rid of my hangover and chills.

The rum hits the tum!


I don't know how we got talked into going out into the rain. It was probably the rum but next thing I was wearing a waterproof of sorts and hiking up a hill to God knows where. We were like Hobbits trekking through Rivendell, the rain pounding down. It, along with three tugs on the rum bottle was actually the ideal cure for the hangover! He had constructed handrails paths and it wasnt far from the farmhouse that we were into some interesting terrain. We stopped to look down at water flowing under a bridge and I was impressed but although he couldn't speak English, I got the message there was much more to come. Rocha da Silva also has assembled a Zip Line facility, the biggest on the island that goes from one mountain to the other in a dramatic swoop across the jungle. International Companies fashion and production company just to shoot on that slide. Amazing scenery to advertise your mountain clothing... The mountains look like you are in China. Madeira is a small island where you can have the five continents. If you travel round the island, jungle of S Africa, desert, high mountains of the Alps or Colorado and looks like you are in the Prairies. And by the sea you have fishing villages like Greece and then you have the elegance and sophistication of a French village. That's Madeira for you. You have a gimple of the landscape of the five continents of the world. Its ush a diaspartate because you get a change every few miles. You never get tired. You drive for an hour and you could be in Morocco, the desert and appealing. That's why people love to come to Madeira and get out and about. So the message is clear! Don't just opt for Funchal.... get out and about and relish this wonderful island.


Here we go. We got back in the jeep soaked through, but happy.

The rain continued as heavy as ever but our spirits were high.

I did have this thing about cutting back on the wine. It's funny how when you make these resolutions they go completely in reverse.


One of the most interesting aspects of Madeira is how they captured the water courses ot ferilise their terraces and soils and nowadays they are still used. There are 2500 kms of levada on the island and to corss the island is only 60kms. Through the last two centuries levadas have known engineers came to do this work and it was a major feat. You think that the tunnels but this is actually more impressive. To go up into the mountains and to build the paths and courses, men hanging from ropes to form a pat to have the water coming at the same level. Impressive. Modern technology is easy compared to this. The Levada da Serra do Norte is in the heart of the Laurissilva Forest, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site. Sod, and then at the trout you can have a nice lunch and leave their brand forever plating a tree in the big book of tree planters. That guy, the owner Paulo Rodrigues was an engineer who has turned his . This land was his family for a centuries and he decided to develop it as a social and educational project to bring awareness about man's impact on nature and how we need to interact with nature, and how to find again the balance.

David J. Whyte


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