Yeah, the winter is coming! Time to get the lights out, use the waterproof trousers and carry out a full bike cleaning session after every ride, at last! Wait,…. or are dark afternoons, numb fingers, slippery trails and cold wet mud in your clothes not your favourite things?
Then it’s about time you started looking around for a suitable winter destination so that at least for a short time you can escape the dreary weather at home. The island of Madeira off the coast of Africa promises moderate winter temperatures with plenty of sunshine and also boasts an impressive amount of great trails. We visited the volcanic island and can report back whether the trip was really worth it.
Just landing on the Portuguese island is impressive – the landing strip is perched between the ocean and the steep slopes of the coast supported on gigantic concrete pillars. Not really surprising as flat land next to the sea is a rare commodity here. Almost the entire islands is surrounded by steep slopes which rise dramatically from the ocean no more than 100 metres from the shore. But what must be a frequent cause for local land planners to curse is a godsend for the winter escaping enduro biker. The mountain slopes are criss-crossed with small trails and irrigation channels and they offer perfect terrain for countless downhill routes of all difficulty levels. The steep slopes rise up to an altitude of 1800 metres and partly lead to high mountain plateaus.
These offer further biking trails which are mostly flatter and more pedal intensive. But Madeira’s great strength is the variety of descents dropping back to the ocean.
Gently graded meadows with loads of flow, epic long trails with 1400 metres drop, steep technically challenging downhill runs – everything can be found here that will make a biker’s pulse race faster. We were especially enamoured by the constantly changing vegetation accompanying every descent. Trails begin in open, grassy terrain and drop through bushes which get more and more dense. Partly the trails are like tunnels cutting through the vegetation. Further down the trails enter the eucalyptus forests where trailbuilders have the most space to create berms, drops, jumps and small road gaps. On the beach we relax with a tasty Poncha – the national drink made of cane sugar schnaps, honey and freshly pressed orange.
Location and Travel
The island measures just 50 x 20 km and lies 800 km off the coast of Morocco in the warm gulf stream. From Germany the best connections are with Condor or the Portuguese national airline TAP, flights stopping at Lisbon are cheaper. In the low season return flights can be had from Euro 190.
Finding a place to stay is never a problem with cheap guest houses and 4 star hotels located all along the coast. You can either stay in the capital city Funchal where there’s most going on or in the West near to the village of Jardim do Mar or Prazeres (this is where the best trails are).
Currency and prices
Madeira belongs to Portugal so is part of the Eurozone. From a German perspective the cost of living is cheap here. All along the coast you’ll find restaurants and cafes. A beer costs Euro 1.50 and a tasty sandwich with fries can be had for 3 Euros. A three course meal in a good restaurant starts at Euro 15.
Trails, Guides and Shuttles
You’ll be able find halfway decent trails on the whole island with your open eyes. If you want to find the best downhills and don’t have current GPS data available there’s no way round booking a tour with the local guides. A one-day tour with a guide and 4×4 shuttle will cost ~Euro 70. We had a great time with the Bikulture company. The head guide and main trailbuilder Joselino is a great guy, always has a smile ready and has built many of the trails himself so has a perfect overview of their condition.
We think that madeira is definitely worth a visit. The combination of moderate temperatures and genius trailriding makes the island a fantastic winter destination. By the way: If it rains at all, the trails become slippery quickly, so don´t forget to bring mud tires!
Text: Tobias Döring Bilder: Bikulture
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