Grilled fish with bananas, Atlantic ocean, volcanoes, mild climate and miles of singletrack, does that sound like winter escape?
How much volume actually fits in the white bag in front of my seat? I'm just thinking, while my stomach is looking for his best position. Similar to the plane which is looking to its position at the landing path. A similar indigestion have surely had the Portuguese navigators, as they were on their way to find America and finally discovered Madeira. An architectural masterpiece is this airport. The runway is built on huge stilts into the sea. My flight neighbour, a local guy, told me during the landing approach that this is one of the most difficult European airports to land. A thump and we are actually on it. Finally footing.
Our international travelgroup, Kathrin and Andi from Bavaria, Fien from Belgium, Lisa from Innsbruck in Austria, and I from Garmisch Partenkirchen thought a lot about where we should spend our free shoveled bike days. We mainly wanted to escape away from bad weather and the crowded trails south of the spaghetti border between the south of Germany and the north of Italy and of course we all love flowers. In our research, we came up with the hiking and flower paradise Madeira. What is called a hiker's paradise, is usually also a cyclist's paradise, we thought. An average temperature of nineteen degrees in January also sounded very comfortable for us.
However, when we researched the trails on this island, we realized pretty soon that there are hardly useful maps to find. Even more difficult is to find any description on trails or bike tours. Our pioneering spirit was awakened. The planning started by packing our luggage. Twenty-three kilogram, we were allowed to take on the plane. Not so easy when the bike with accessories already weighs about twenty kilogram. Our Globetrotter Lisa thus determined, one tube of toothpaste for all, a shower gel, a body lotion, a huge can of anti-wrinkle cream had to be there, also a mascara, and for each us five another two kilogram of luggage. So we reached exactly the weight barrier and were very proud at the airport that we did stay free of charge for bikes and luggage.
Two Portuguese bike guides, Sergio and Pedro pick us up at the airport. Our faces look delighted. The Portuguese men know how to behave; the luggage is taken from us, loaded on the truck. And finally the journey begins. Both guys are working for one of the few local providers of mountain bike tours and shuttle services and seem to know the island and its trails very well. After our check in at the hotel in Canico, we are very hungry. On advise of Sergio we check out a nice restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. One meter skewers from the grill (Espetada ) - shish kebab à la Madeira - delicious! The warm wind blows a little while we were sitting on the terrace and enjoying our food, and we are excited about what is awaiting us tomorrow.
The next morning Sergio and Pedro pick us up very much on time in front of hotel and load our ready-to-ride bikes on the truck. Before unpacking our bikes from the bags surprisingly we found even one or the other garment in the Bike bags, which was not in agreement. One of us actually had a second pair of shoes - glitter shoes – in there. Just in case! But that is of course also divided between us five. Gentle, like men usually always do, Sergio drove the shuttle on a plateau called Paul da Serra, from which we had a gorgeous view of the island. On the way up I see huge eucalyptus trees.
A major plague on this island, our local told us, but it is a big business. Suddenly, the eucalyptus became gorse. All is lighting in beautiful yellow. But this colourful monster, says Sergio with a bit of a grin, we will get to know more in detail. A beautiful purple flower keeps coming back again and again. Pride of Madeira it is called. Madeira is considered the flower island in Europe. And rightly so. But for us it is now the mountain island.
It was only twenty years ago, since road and the tunnel system in Madeira was developed. Since then one can reach the highest mountain of the island, the Pico Ruivo much faster and in comfort, via shuttle. And so of course the Freeriding in Madeira became popular. downhill pros and even mountain bike World Champions now use the Island for their winter training. We make a brief stop at a bar. Espresso for fifty five cents. We could not believe it since we are not yet in Italy. While enjoying our tasteful Portuguese Espresso, Pedro tells us that Madeira is also very famous among the world's best surfers. The Billabong Surf Contest is held annually there. Fien gets a little sparkling in her eyes. Surfing also means that somewhere there here must be an Armada of cool Surf dudes. But now we wanted to first head Madeira's best singletrails.
After a few meters pedalling up, we turn right and go up a bright grass pasture always with a view of the sea in the yellow gorse. Turning right into the trail. Pure flow and joy, peppered with small adrenaline rush we found our endless singletrack. The landscape changes, botany changes, we disappear one after another in the eucalyptus forest. Countless meters of descent, there are occasional small crashes, but nothing bad.
The shuttle picked us up again at a crossroads. Quick uploading the bikes and driving up again to the next trailhead. The drop in does not look very nice to us. The footprints in the meadow below the trails are close to countless biker crashes. Andi, our youngest team member, wants to try it absolutely. Clear to us and not to her, she slipped on the dusty ground, does not get the curve and leaves another impression beside the trail. But not only is she scratched over and over, her face, clothes and hair is powdered with white dust, now the front brake lever is broken. We, the other four of us, did not know whether to laugh or cry. Andi pushes her bike back up and spends the rest of the day with Sergio in the shuttle. Which was not too bad either.
We, however, became sheer madness about the trail. Suddenly, before I can react, my bike also drops me off the front wheel. Head forward in the dust. The others had to laugh like crazy. I do not. Gorse thorns in the legs is not funny! I remember the words of Sergio. But the thorns are so long and thick that they can be pulled out carefully one by one. And the ride can go on. After a day on the bike like this we are hungry. Really hungry! But Pedro and Sergio have other ideas. We stop at a bar. The doors and walls are painted Algarve blue. A few locals are sitting on stools in front of the door and peel peanuts.
They throw the peanut shells on the floor. Portuguese sound is welcoming us. We do not hesitate a second and follow Sergio in the bar. Inside is the complete floor littered with peanut shells. The barkeeper has an inviting smile on his face and starts to mix. We see him excited about what he flips in his blender there.
A mysterious looking bottle, something similar to rum, some lemon and orange juice freshly squeezed, and at last a lot of honey. Fien, our Belgian beauty, finally has to take a wooden rod and rub it with both hands against each other.
Caralhinho is his name. Translated Digstick. Of course we amuse ourselves. Even more delicious is the drink which the barman is serving in small glasses on the rocks. The devil Poncha tastes so good that we're trying to take another glass.About Poncha
Poncha is the most traditional drink of the island of Madeira. Who has visited Madeira and tried not Poncha, has not met the pearl of the Atlantic. Although typical of the small fishing village of Câmara de Lobo, the drink is well known and well disposed over the island. It is drunk as a rule with ice. Previously it was made with rum and water in equal parts; with cane sugar and lemon peel. Over the years the recipe has been refined. Still, rum is the main element. He is refined today with honey and lemon juice. Who is adventurous enough should definitely try the different flavors such as passion fruit, tomato, orange, or whiskey.Recipe
¼ l Sugar Cane Rum, 3-5 spoons of honey and the juice of two lemons; to make it a little sweeter add one orange. Then stir and it's ready!
Kathrin and I are so hungry that we make it clear to the boys unequivocally that we now need to have some carbohydrates. We throw ourselves on the bike and with a lot of giggling we roll down the road towards the sea. At the first tavern in Jardim do Mar Pedro stops and speaks some Portuguese sentences with the waiter, while leaning his bike against the door of a kind, welcoming restaurant. Pedro gives us a sign and do the same.The nice waiter leads us to a great table overlooking the sea.
Instantly food is served. Snails! Tiny snails, such as those found in our garden, just with this small cottage on top. Caramujos is the name. Sergio shows us how to elegantly pick them with toothpicks and get their small delicate meat elegant on the tongue. Andi shows a disgusting grimace on her face, but she is finally brave. And the Caramujos taste really absolutely terrific. In addition there is more Poncha! The evening so takes its way and eventually we fall into bed.
The next morning it is John's turn. Of course it is not easy for him. None of us feels fresh after this late evening. But the farther he moves the shuttle upwards, the more our mood increases. We arrived in thick fog at the top of Ruivo de Santana. The bikes are unloaded. John is from another local provider that has also notably completely dedicated to the freeriding. He must of course give anything to us to get five girls to a good mood in this fog.
Therefore, he is not wasting a lot of words instead just disappears in the fog horror. We must follow him quickly, otherwise we will be completely lost riding around all day alone. Little downward view, and no clue what will come up, we follow a mystical adventure trail through lush green meadows, eucalyptus and mimosa forests. This one rapidly turns our mood to a good one. At the lowest level, it clears up and we get into a laurel forest. This turns out to be a damp rainforest. The Madeiran trails are challenging anyway, but the wet slip layer on the stones makes it a real adventure. Madeira is definitely not for the squeamish. Freeriding is the bike sport here. Knee protectors are mandatory and lots of travel on the fork as well. Also, good to have a thick tread pattern drawn on the rim and at least two to three tubes per tour to carry in your backpack. Gorse thorns love not only naked woman calves but also tires.
With the last bit of trail we land the sea in Porto da Cruz. Fien is the first leaning her bike against the wall at the cool Surfer bar. She takes off the shoes and dances with her red-painted toenails towards the water. She spotted surfboards. The water is not cold, just refreshing and we follow Fien.
The waiter of the bar introduces us immediately to his son. Surf teacher here on the island. And cook. And his bar, of course, the best restaurant on the island. There are black Espardus, Caramujos, sword fish with banana and passion fruit, and Sparda, the meat skewer. Again Poncha and plenty of wine. Late at night, we take the shuttle back to our hotel. Unfortunately, we have to go home early the next morning. With a lot of scrapes and bruises on the legs, but a magnificent biking experience we leave this trail and flower paradise and promise to come again soon.5 of the best things to do on Madeira
- Drink Poncha in a typical bar
- Try Scabbard fish with banana
- Bike or shuttle up to the highest mountain
- Check out the Surf spot in the North
- Visit the Funchal market
Big thanks to Lokoloko Madeira for the guiding!
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