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Madeira, Portugal: Emerging Destination for Adventure and Outdoors

Madeira.  You think of wines, sun and maybe hiking?  Visitors, for more than 200 years, have come for the natural beauty and climate.  And they return to experience the ocean, golf, hiking, deep-sea fishing, diving, and old world charm of the island and its mountains and seaside towns.

Now, Madeira’s volcanic nature is playing host to new outdoors adventures that fit right in:  Mountain biking– for example. Madeira has some impressive mountains, that until recently were not on many cyclists’ radar. Madeira has excellent dirt roads and paths to be explored on 2 wheels, with some very dramatic vistas to discover. Today, more visitors are seeing the island in this new and exhilarating way, with new packages, races and outfitters popping up to meet the demand. Other activities include canyoning, surfing, yoga, and boat and wine tours.

Madeira remains a sophisticated pearl of European charm, where visitors can experience the sea, volcanic mountains, or city culture. But something is changing.

MOUNTAIN Photo credit to Associacao de Promocao da Madeira Promotion Bureau

Madeira is 34 miles long, and up to 14 miles wide, with about 90 miles of coast. But, in sync with its ancient volcanic origin, Madeira rises from the sea to a dizzying 6,106 feet above sea level at Pico Ruivo.The Island is easily divided into 2 zones, the rugged and high mountains to the east, and a mountain plateau at Paul de Serra in the west.  The average interior height is 3,000 feet with ravines, valleys and rocky mountaintops. On the same day you can see snow at the top of the island, and 70 degrees at the coast. The 2 areas are divided by the mighty Encumeada Pass, which runs from south to north. And 2/3 of the island is conservation land. All along the way are centuries old cattle paths, forest trails and no-longer used dirt roads. Here, riders can connect with nature, with the help of a guide.

Free ride is a style of mountain biking closely related to downhill biking and dirt jumping focused on tricks, style, and technical trail features and, it is growing on Madeira.

Trail running is completely different from the kind of jogging we are used to. While once Madeira was all about hiking, today it is more and more about Trail Running, with a challenging route network in mountainous areas with steep slopes and waterfalls. Trail running is a sport/activity which consists of running and hiking trails. It differs from road running because it is best practiced on hiking trails, often in mountainous terrain, where there can be much larger ascents and descents. Each route on Madeira is a unique challenge, with fantastic settings and constant fun.

Run time varies from 1-8 hours and can be adjusted by ability or needs. Some runs may change depending on weather. Some runs will be slow moving, steep, and technical so prepare accordingly. All runs will be measured in time rather than distance due to the vertical +/- and technical aspects of the trails.

Imagine a rugged cliff overlooking the sea that you can climb while hearing the roar of the ocean below. All of your senses are sharp, and reaching the top depends only on you. This sensation, coupled with the force of nature around you, will leave you breathless. If you are a classic rock climber, you have the option of finding new routes. If you are a beginner, you can always practice this sport with the help of professionals. Due to the basaltic rock that lies across the island, the walls will be quite solid.

Madeira provides a true adventure for canyoning, a sport based on exploring a canyon by rappelling, rafting, and waterfall jumping. The sport, which requires both physical prowess and tactical planning, consists of exploring a river or a stream and progressively overcoming vertical obstacles and amphibian ones through various techniques, such as climbing, jumping, rappelling down and swimming.

Madeira has dozens of waterfalls, many extraordinary, surrounded by lush volcanic landscapes. So, this is growing too.

In summer, the streams on the north coast are gushing with season water flows. In winter, it’s warm enough to explore the less steep and more accessible waterfall on the island’s south side.

The new Madeira Sky Race is an example of how new visitors are discovering Madeira. It is a mountain race which follows steep slopes and trails. The race puts Madeira into the world of Skyrunning - an extreme sport of mountain running above 6,600 ft. where the incline exceeds 30% and the climbing difficulty does not exceed an II° grade.  The event is set on the North Coast in Santana, a hiker’s perfect destination.

With a mild climate and the setting of the Atlantic, Madeira is becoming a surfing destination as well. Surfing infrastructure has sprung up on the southwest coast, around the seaside villages of Jardim do Mar or Paul do Mar, and on the northeast coast near Porto da Cruz. Popular spots include Ponta Pequena and Paul do Mar as well as Faja da Areia on the north shore. Faja da Areia is the best spot for beginners. Most surf spots on Madeira are powerful and there are no beach breaks.  The surf season runs from October through April with November to February being the top months.

The magnificent setting and its temperate climate make it an ideal place to visit year round.  Enjoy the vibrant lifestyle in the capital city of Funchal; explore the quaint villages and experience the luxurious resorts. Golf, tennis and countless water sports await you but the islands are best known for their ability to help visitors relax and unwind.





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