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Magic of Madeira is treat for all the senses

Camara dos Lobos, Madeira, is the fishing village where Churchill loved to paint
Camara dos Lobos, Madeira, is the fishing village where Churchill loved to paint

Madeira, with its dramatic mountains and hidden valleys bursting with colour, is an utterly charming place to visit.

I didn't know much about the Portuguese island before my visit, except that they made two of my favourite things, cake and wine - so it was odds on I'd love the place.

The cable car over Funchal
The cable car over Funchal

It is an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping volcanic isle which was formed more than 20 million years ago and a great way to find out all about the island is by visiting the Madeira Story Centre in the capital and port of Funchal.

The interactive museum is a great way to learn its history and culture and so is talking to the locals.

Everywhere you go people welcome you with a smile and everyone wants you to know how proud they are of their island.

Remote parts of the island look prehistoric, as if you'd stepped back into the Jurassic era, with many natural waterfalls scattered across its 36 miles long by 14 miles wide terrain.

Up on the mountain plateau, on the west side of isle, the views are stunning and it's a marvel to be looking down on the clouds.

A tour of the island to see the levadas (canals used for irrigation), the forests and the remote steep terraces where the locals grow their bananas, grapes, sugar cane and vegetables, is a delight.

Porto Moniz village on the north cost has beautiful natural bathing pools and I could have spent all day there. Funchal itself has a cosmopolitan feel about it and with galleries, museums and a fine promenade dotted with cafes and bars and restaurants.

From its terracotta roof tiles, which look a bit like a patchwork quilt, cobbled streets and fruit and fish market, there is so much to take in, so do it by cable car.

the Hotel Quinta do Monte, in Monte, Madeira
the Hotel Quinta do Monte, in Monte, Madeira

The car stops at the hilltop town of Monte, where I stayed, and is the home to the Church of Our Lady, which sits in a dramatic position on top of a hill.

It's worth going up there, especially if you travel back downhill by toboggan. Because it's volcanic, Madeira has a rocky coast, but hop on the ferry to the nearby Porto Santo island to see sandy beaches.

As for food, a must the espada (scabbard fish) with banana, a weird sounding combination, but works so well. If you like your meat, try espetada - a long skewer of chunks of beef - which cooked traditionally over a wood fire, the Quinta do Estreito is the place to go for that.

There are so many fruits, nuts and spices to try my taste buds were tingling every time I put something new in my mouth.

Madeira really is magical and I can't wait to see, smell and taste it again.

I was lucky enough to be staying at two of four luxurious hotels owned by the Charming Hotels group, The Quinta do Monte (up high in the village of Monte) was once owned by an Englishman and its quaint colonial style is a welcoming, and its botanical gardens are a delight walk in.

For a special treat on my last day and night, I stayed at the Quinta das Vista hotel, it really is luxurious heaven and my foot reflexology session, made me feel like I really was in paradise.

Quinta das Vistas boasts a boutique spa and gourmet restaurant and a convenient dine around programme and free shuttle bus service allows guests to use all the restaurants, spa and leisure facilities of the group.

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