WITH my nose a few inches from the ground, I breathe cool, crisp air and break the silence of dawn with a labored gasp.
It’s right after sunrise on the Portuguese island of Madeira and I’m halfway through a forest yoga class.
In the shade of a thousand-year-old native laurel, our teacher guides us through a one-hour class of contortions and poses.
And that’s a good job, there are no early morning tourists in sight. My attempt to shoot a dog would spoil any vacation photo of this exceptionally beautiful area.
At 8 a.m., it’s 20 ° C and my hoodie is thrown on the grass.
The best part for me? It’s late October and it’s raining at home.
Madeira is approximately 500 miles off the coast of West Africa and enjoys a climate of shorts and t-shirts all year round.
With a flight time of just three hours from London, you could bask in the bright sun while watching the latest Bond film.
The island seems like the kind of place that should be uninhabitable.
Buildings tower over towering cliffs, and winding roads climb impossibly steep mountains like climbing vines.
The island is reminiscent of Jurassic Park
Hopping in a taxi, we travel 30 minutes from the airport to the Socalco Nature Hotel, a small, self-contained guesthouse perched on a hill in Calheta, on the southwest coast of the island.
Dinners here consist of locally caught fish and vegetables grown on the table. Each dish is accompanied by a local wine.
The next morning, we get into a Land Rover Defender to begin our adventures.
With a “vamos” from the Rui guide, we set off into the mountains, our 4×4 along terraced vineyards and banana plantations to the highlands.
The first stop is Pico do Areeiro, at almost 6,000 feet, it is the third highest mountain on the island and the only one accessible by car.
From the top we can see down to the coast, deep valleys, sheer cliffs and plunging ravines slightly obscured by sea mist that hovers above the thick forest, to which we then head.
As Rui skillfully maneuvers along the bumpy dirt trails, we get up to take in the scenery better.
Despite his expertise behind the wheel, he’s too fragile to capture a decent selfie.
But even without photographic evidence, the magnificent sight will be hard to forget.
The breathtaking panoramas don’t stop there. The next day, I watch the same wood, this time from sea level, floating on the Atlantic in a sea kayak.
From this angle, the island is reminiscent of Hawaii or the setting of Jurassic Park.
The cliffs retreat into a smoldering forest as the scorching sun pierces a veil of ocean mist.
In front of me, waterfalls tumble down the cliffs into the ocean 100 m below.
Our guides lead us 800 meters along the coast to what looks like a small cave.
Lowering our heads to avoid a collision with the rock ceiling, we venture inside, paddling deeper until the cave opens into a large cavern.
From inside, the sound of waves crashing against the wall creates a deafening roar and we are encouraged to add to the cacophony with our own echoing cries. Everything is very primitive.
Further down the coast, we paddle under a stone arch, created by the ocean, to an island.
Our guide tells us that at low tide a wonderful lava rock pool forms here. A spectacle so remarkable, moreover, that he spent the night there once, lying by a swimming pool on a rock.
“Five stars,” he said with a smile. I don’t know if he’s kidding or not.
In just three days here, I climbed mountains, watched the sunrise, tried a yoga class, kayaked, hiked, and ate more than my fair share of freshly caught seafood.
As we return home, I can’t help but watch the peaks of Madeira drift away into the fog and wonder what else is hiding in this secluded paradise. . . and when I can come back.