Madeira is a place that had never really occurred to me as a holiday destination. My Mum had mentioned many times that she’d love to go there, and one year when booking a late break for the two of us, Madeira kept cropping up. I wasn’t particularly fussy about where I went provided it was somewhere I’d not been to before, and went with Madeira as my Mum was so keen to visit it.
Madeira is a Portuguese island lying off the west coast of Africa, north of the Canary Islands, so in July the weather was extremely hot. There was barely a cloud in the sky for the entire week, and we definitely needed to seek shelter around lunchtime (which in actual fact was a fantastic excuse to retire to the cocktail bar for refreshment!).
The island itself is a massive volcano reaching up from the Atlantic floor, and Madeira is almost mountainous terrain in places. There is a cable car running from Funchal bay up to Monte, which has some absolutely beautiful gardens to explore, while those who are sufficiently daring can take a toboggan ride down the hill from Monte.
Madeira Toboggan Ride
The toboggan itself is basically a (huge) wicker basket that skates its way down the road, with two Madeiran Gentleman in boaters running alongside using ropes to steer said basket as it slithers its way down the hillside. Now, I’m not that wussy. I’ve done a sky dive and parascending in the past, but frankly I had grave reservations about shooting down a mountain on a precarious bed of reeds with strings as steering apparatus, particularly when one runs the risk of meeting a car coming in the opposite direction, but my Mother had her heart said on it, so in we got, and off we shot. My smile in the photo looks somewhat strained, whereas my dear Mum giggled like a school girl for the entirety. I’ve never felt so old in my life as the day I discovered my Mother could be more of a daredevil than me!!
I love trying the local cuisine when abroad (within reason – things like haggis and black pudding are disrespectfully declined!) and my real reason for writing this post is the Madeiran cuisine. Most people have heard of Madeira Wine and Madeira cake (a nut allergy deprived me of the opportunity to sample Madeira cake. Oh cruel world!!), but there are also two traditional Madeiran delicacies which are not found anywhere else, and one of those totally stole my heart.
The Espada fish (Black Scabbard fish in English) is an ugly little brute that is unique to Madeira. The island of Madeira falls away so steeply to the Atlantic floor, that the ocean is incredibly deep quite close to shore. The Espada fish lives so deep below sea level that simply pulling the fishing net up to the surface kills it from the decompression. It is traditionally cooked with banana, but not being fond of fruit mixed with savoury items, I chose a shrimp sauce, and it was absolutely delicious.
My absolute favourite dish however, was Espetada. Espetada is a traditional Portuguese dish of cubed beef rubbed in garlic and salt, but instead of a metal skewer, a bay leaf stick is used, which infuses the beef with additional flavour whilst it cooks. I’m not generally much of a meat eater (although partial to the occasional steak if eating out) but with Espetada it was love at first taste! I found it so deliciously flavoursome that I couldn’t bring myself to cheat on it, even for a one-night stand with the banana Espada, and had it every night until we left! Ah, what a glorious holiday romance!